Thanks to Facebook, getting to know new people is easy. All you need is a name (sometimes not even a last name) and some indication of what they look like, and voila, instant friend! It’s become a new status symbol – if you are unable to reach the latest ‘friend quota’, you are destined to inherit the uncool label for life. However, there’s a new use for Facebook that is becoming very popular – recruitment and retention.

As of last week, Facebook has 200 million users world-wide. Its application to marketing has been explored in previous blogs, but employers are beginning to use Facebook as a new level of reference check, looking up photos, friends, wall posts, comments and other information to see if a potential recruit is really what they’re looking for. Employers are also using Facebook to ‘check up’ on their current employees, and there are many recent cases of sackings due to offensive comments, pictures, and discussions held via the social networking giant. See ‘Virgin sacks 13 over Facebook ‘chav’ remarks’.

Such transparency of information is pushing the ‘online brand’ phenomenon. Candidates are carefully developing their online presence, ensuring the right information is available. Some candidates even go so far as to create their own online resume in the form of a website with blogs, articles, photos, achievements, references, etc.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going off on this tangent and how this information could possibly help you. Well, sit with us strategic folk for a few hours and you’ll hear us talk about the marriage of organisational culture and marketing until we’re black and blue in the face. You’ll also hear us say that your people are vital to the success of your business, more so than the most successful marketing campaign in the world. A wrong recruitment choice can do immense damage to your brand and can sometimes turn a customer into an enemy. Consider the damage to Virgin’s brand from the publicity generated from the Facebook slurs. Reality is that you really do need to do your research. But, I need to caution, that there is a fine line between ‘doing your research’ and ‘breaching trust’. Where you place that fine line is up to you and the culture of your organisation.

Facebook is not only a way to ‘check’ on employees, but you can get to know what’s going on in other parts of their lives. You can see what they support, believe in, and dislike. This information will help you make connections, and perhaps design their work load or position according to their personality and values.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Facebook will be a fleeting commercial fad like Tamagotchis and the Macarena. Social Networking is part of the era of expression, and if it’s here to stay, businesses need to embrace it and use it to their advantage.