Around here, we get a lot of questions about girls’ digital lives and the risks associated with social media.
We spoke with Carolynn Carolynn Crabtree, Founder of Cornerstone Reputation. Cornerstone helps students build glowing online reputations, by helping students develop personalized websites and control what people find when they Google students’ names. Carolynn has deep experience and knowledge in online search and has interviewed admissions officers and employers around the country, getting to the bottom of how they use social media to evaluate applicants. We talked about “online reputations” (the impressions girls are making on digital platforms), how to build up positive content, and what you can do to protect your daughter long-term.
You may have alarm bells going off when it comes to the digital life of your child, but with Carolynn’s tips, you can stress less about screen time. In her words, “We’re not interested in fear-mongering at all. We’re interested in the fact that today’s teenagers are the most powerful teenagers that have ever existed given the completely expansive platform the Internet has given them.”
We agree, and we hope you do, too.
Carolynn Crabtree: Teens need to be thinking about two main concepts – impact and audience. Teenagers should really be thinking about the impact social posting could have on their lives and how certain posts might affect others’ perceptions of them. Oftentimes, students can’t think around all of the messages they may be sending with a single post. Students also need to consider the incredibly expansive audience that could possibly view what they’re putting online. They often mistakenly feel that their posts are private, even though the posts can be screen-shotted and shared. We must help them understand the possible reach of their content.
PD: What does a solid online profile look like? How do you start building one?
CC: The end goal is really to have an authentic representation of authoritative information about oneself online, in a way that Google has identified as the most authoritative information on that person. So, basically, the end goal is for teens to be able to tell Google, “This is me. These are the things I care about, and these are the things that people should find first when they are looking me up online.” This matters when students are teenagers, when they are in college, and as they move into their professional lives thereafter. On a more technical level, students should be building a presence on multiple sites that Google gives a lot of credence to. One major place they can do this is LinkedIn. LinkedIn opened up its profiles, so people can join as young as 14 years old. It’s a really great way for teens to start using the Internet as a place to showcase the things they are thinking about, the skills that they’ve acquired, and the things they are passionate about. Another example is About.Me. Students can structure their profile to showcase their interests and strengths and then link their About.Me profile to their other content (including LinkedIn) online. This creates a “nest” of information that Google can identify with them.
Once online profiles have been populated and connected in a very purposeful way to each other, teens should seed them continuously with new content. This allows the world to see who someone is today and how they are evolving.
PD: What are some ways to ensure that what comes up in search results is positive?
CC: What many parents don’t know is that admissions officers, recruiting coaches, and even employers will judge a candidate they search online based on what the candidate’s peers are posting about the candidate or on the candidate’s profiles. So, it’s really important for teens to take advantage of platforms like LinkedIn and About.Me, which allow them to have the sole voice; no one can comment on their content.
Another easy fix for students who want to minimize any negative influence their peers might have on their online reputations is to set their privacy settings, so that they have to approve any comments or tagging that will link back to their public profiles. Teens don’t have to worry about alienating friends in these kinds of scenarios, they simply have more choice about the timing and content of posts that show up in association with their personal profiles.
Another strategy we suggest for teens is to write out whatever they want to post and set any app they are using to ask whether they want to post something publicly or not. Instead of posting instantaneously, the platform will actually send a notification asking if they are sure they want to post and whether they want to make their audience public or private. This is a good way teens can train themselves to consider the lasting impacts of digital posting and who their audience really is.
PD: What are some of the other things parents can do ensure that their kids have a positive online reputation? Should parents be monitoring everything their kids do?
CC: We know that students are getting online earlier and earlier. So we absolutely encourage parents to set strong expectations and a strong set of values early on. One of the things we advise parents to do is to join children in reading through user term agreements of social media sites, which can be long and tedious. Having your child explain to you what those user term agreements mean and maybe even having your child make up the rules for their social media use, helps them understand the implications of their online behavior right off the bat. Students tend to respect guidelines more when they have had a voice in what kind of presence they are going to have.
PD: What can parents do if there is already negative content online associated with their child?
CC: If your student is the originator of the content, encourage them to go back with a fine tooth comb and really go through everything they’ve posted historically and take down things that they aren’t necessarily proud of.
If it’s a peer, they shouldn’t hesitate to tell that peer, “Hey, this could really have an effect on my future, and it could have an effect on your future because you posted this. Let’s get on this bandwagon together and work through this together as we approach admissions season, as we approach internship applications…”
But most importantly what we encourage parents to do is seek out news stories that can help them generate a conversation with their teen. You can say something along the lines of, “This teen did this [online behavior], and it snowballed. Let’s find ways to avoid getting there as a family.”
We all know teens use the Internet in the way we would use a diary back in the era before the Internet. Today’s teenagers are adding layers and layers of personal content, which can be fleeting or reactionary, to a variety of online platforms. And so, teens should know the difference between designated social spaces online and spaces that are for public consumption. We want to help them understand how to use the spaces that are designated for public consumption to their advantage. If teens build up positive content in public spaces, they can increase the chances that future gatekeepers (college admissions officers and employers) will take notice of them in a really positive light.