Not long before college graduation, I met with my advisor who notified me that I was one of a small number of students who had completed the required courses necessary to achieve a certificate in Brand and Reputation Management in addition to my degree. I had always been enthralled by consumer behavior and the complexity involved in creating and sustaining a healthy brand, and now I would have a snazzy certificate to prove it!
Soon after, I was invited back for a discussion with my former professors, peers and the CEO of one of Philadelphia’s top advertising agencies about the future of the newly formed, first of its kind, Center for Corporate Reputation Management. We agreed that just as big brands face scrutiny over the content of their social media accounts, students should be reminded of the importance of protecting their own brand as well.
It’s hard for me to fathom anyone not remembering a time when social media wasn’t a major part of our lives. But students today only know a world in which there are a multitude of platforms to express themselves. With this new normal comes a whole new set of lessons to be learned.
Here are some examples of young people who learned those lessons the hard way:
- An 18-year-old in Oregon posted, “Drivin drunk…. Classic 😉 but to whoever’s vehicle I hit I am sorry :P” to Facebook, only to be arrested later that day.
- A 14-year-old girl was arrested after tweeting a terror threat to American Airlines that read, “@AmericanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye”
- An 18-year-old in Pittsburgh was arrested after robbing a market with three other teens, then posting pictures on Facebook of himself and the other suspects posing with the cash, cigarettes and the candy they stole.
“Just use common sense.”
Remember when that was adequate advice? It doesn’t seem to be anymore. Everyone knows someone who “overshares” on social media. Let’s take a closer look at this “oversharing” phenomenon. Below are some findings listed in a 2010 article titled, “What Were They Thinking?,” which are from a study that focused on student Facebook users.
- 40% of users post comments about using alcohol
- More than 50% post photos in which they are shown drinking
- 20% make comments regarding sexual activities
- 25% post seminude or provocative photos
- 50% use profane language
- 25% make derogatory comments about their employers
- 10% use racial slurs
The study found that student users who didn’t mind if strangers had access to their profiles were “significantly more likely to post inappropriate content and to portray an image that would be considered sexually appealing, wild, or offensive.” The results also suggest that “. . . students who are ‘OK’ with family and employers viewing their profile tend not to portray an image that is sexually appealing, wild or offensive.”
Children learn from their parents and/or guardians about the dangers of the Internet and social media. But these responsibilities should be expanded upon and reinforced in the classroom. Students should be taught early on that what they share online may impact their reputation forever. Today’s students are our future. And if we’re going to be truly invested in the future of the world, we need to prepare them the best we can for what lies ahead. And while it may be hard to convince young students to think about whether each and every one of their status updates aligns with their life goals, responsibly managing their own personal brand in the social media space has now become essential.
For more about social media and young adults, check out the Pew Research Internet Project’s latest study.