Job seekers aren't the only people becoming well-versed in social media. So are their employers. A recent study from Harris Interactive discovered that 45 percent of employers are now using social media to screen potential job candidates, more than double than last year's 22 percent. Even more alarming? According to the study, 35 percent of employers have decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the results of that social media background check. How's that for a recession bonus? It can seem harsh and like employers are being unfair on new prospects, but there's good reason for SMB owners to be weary. With the rise of social media, it's more likely than ever that a customer will encounter your employees online or that they'll be representing your company to the world when you're not looking. Sometimes protecting your business means not handing a loaded gun to someone who may blow a hole right through it. In the world of Twitter, would you trust an intern with your brand knowing they had a history of being quick lipped on their Facebook wall or berating old employers? As nearly half of all employers have figured out, sometimes the best way to find out how a potential employee will represent themselves online is through a quick Google and social media background check. There are plenty of sites to check out, so where do you start? Twitter, as it will often give you the most complete picture. After that - Facebook. As a small business owner, most of your potential job candidates will be local. That means they'll probably be located in your home "network" so you'll have default permission to access their profile without having to Friend them. Just do a search for their name and you'll immediately have access to their photos, personal and school information, and, of course, their Facebook wall. You should also check to see if the candidate has a LinkedIn Profile, MySpace or even a Flickr or YouTube account. Now, before you go crazy searching their underwear drawer, realize that we were all kids once. A few pictures of a perfectly good candidate holding a beer or a "subtle" big red plastic cup probably won't hurt your company too badly. However, there are immediate red flags you should be looking for while doing background checks. Things like: Employees who badmouth their previous employers Excessive Twittering or social media activity while on the clock Suggestive pictures Lying about qualifications, where they went to school, job history, etc. Obvious drug use Comments containing racial slurs and other offensive language But that's only the bad. When you're doing social media checks, also look for the candidate who has taken the time to optimize their search results and make sure that their best foot was showing when a potential employer searched for their name. It may show initiative or at least that they're paying attention. You may also spot some "red flags" that can be turned into positives. Like a candidate who obviously has a flair for social networking as they spent the bulk of their day at their last job Twittering. Perhaps that's something you could (monitor and) work into their day to better your own goals and social media presence. Social media provides small business owners and employers with a quick way to sniff out prospective employees. It can not only help you scout out red flags, but alert you to candidates and job qualifications you didn't even know existed. If anything, it'll give you something interesting to talk about during their interview.