Technology and Innovation in Higher Education: Social Media in Admissions?

Selection research – research into how people are chosen for certain roles – has recently been looking at how social media impacts selection decisions for new employees. While social media is not an accepted nor respected means of choosing new employees, it is being used by organizations, and may eventually be commonplace. Similarly, social media might eventually be used to make higher ed admissions decisions, and admissions counselors might be using it already. Regarding the efficacy in doing so, I turn to the paper “Social Media in Employee-Selection-Related Decisions: A Research Agenda for Uncharted Territory”1 for guidance, which reviews research on social media in employee selection.

In short, the paper’s conclusion is that social media is a poor, ill-advised means of selection. It introduces massive potential for bias and variability into a process that should be objective and standardized. Social media gives an incomplete picture of a person, and people view missing information suspiciously. People also instinctively place much greater value on negatively perceived information, thus swaying their opinions of what information they do find. Social media-based judgements are open to relying on one’s “gut feelings” about a person, too. When people see something relatable in a social media page, they will likely have a stronger positive gut feeling about that person, and they probably won’t recognize its source. Consequently, basing selection decisions off of social media judgements opens up organizations using it to legal retribution, as unfair selection practices are against the law.

Furthermore, using social media was found to be ineffective. In empirical studies, there were correlations of about .3 between validated personality measures and people’s social media-based judgements of those personalities. Similarly, the correlation between job performance and social media-based judgements was about .3. That correlation value is quite a bit lower than other, accepted selection strategies.

Therefore, using social media to make admissions decisions seems like a very bad idea. It would likely hurt diversity, which is already a weak area in higher ed. It might hurt colleges, too, in that they unwittingly admit lower caliber students. I hope that admissions committees are aware of the detrimental potential of social media, seeing as 45% of a sample of 2600 US hiring managers admitted to having used it despite it not being an accepted selection strategy. So I fear that admissions people are already dabbling in it too.

[1] Roth, P.L., Bobko, P., van Iddekinge, C.H., & Thatcher, J.B. 2016. Social Media in Employee-Selection-Related Decisions: A Research Agenda for Uncharted Territory. Journal of Management, 42(1), 269-298. doi: 10.1177/0149206313503018


One Reply to “Technology and Innovation in Higher Education: Social Media in Admissions?”

  1. I do agree that social media doesn’t have much of a place in the admissions process, but what about in cases where a potential employee or student uses social media to be racist, homophobic, or just otherwise completely awful? On applications for jobs and college admissions people always put their best foot forward but having the ability to see how people are when they feel that they’re anonymous I think can be useful. Granted I know that this type of thing is rather rare, but having the ability of seeing who students or employees are in the world can be useful in some circumstances.

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