You're getting Googled already: A social media guide for teens

Think twice before posting! Here's why social media matters

By Michelle Ganley - Graham Media Group

Have you thought about your reputation today?

… Your online reputation, that is?

If you think “it doesn’t matter yet, I’m only 15,” or “No one important is looking anyway,” or anything along those lines, it’s time to reevaluate. Let’s jump into a discussion, shall we? We’re talking apps, social media, your online presence, text messages, your Snap story, even the comments you leave on YouTube.

Nicole Hudson, founder and president of Inbound Lead Solutions, which has offices in Metro Detroit, is offering up some free advice. It’s never too early to chat about the importance of personal branding, or how social media will affect your professional life (and it will), or how to keep yourself safe on your smartphone.

So, we’ll start with high school. This is usually the first place where you’re beginning to do things to showcase yourself: Your best work, perhaps a project you’re really proud of, etc. You should think about playing up all your best attributes online. It could help you land your first job, or even get into the college of your choice, or a top-notch technical program.

Sometimes, high school students aren’t always aware of the power behind social media. You might think it exists just so you can communicate with friends, or for your entertainment. But there's so much more.

Consider that a college recruiter, someone from an admissions office, or even a hiring manager might look you up online -- even for a job as entry-level as McDonald’s. And then, for the person hiring, his or her first impression of you isn’t coming from your interview or your resume. Those people are looking online and asking themselves, “Is this person a fit for us, culturally?” They want to see if you have integrity, Hudson said.

Companies right now are very honed in on culture. When you think of applying for a job, you might ask yourself, “Can I fulfill this position? Am I qualified?” But for the company, the question is, “Is this person the right fit for us?” Almost anyone can be taught the necessary skills, but whether you’re the right person for the position comes down to who you are -- and companies can find out what kind of digital footprint you’ve left, often times just by running a few quick internet searches.

Social media provides a window for the company. They can look in and see how you represent yourself, way before you even sit down in an interview chair.

Understand the impact of what you put out there. The way you treat people online matters -- this is a global platform. People can access behavioral data that shows who you are, before you even have the chance to introduce yourself in person. And if you think your privacy settings are keeping unwanted people out, think again. There are ways around that stuff, Hudson said.

This isn’t meant to scare you, but it’s important to know: If you bully someone online, or you share views on a public forum without being fully educated on the topic, it’s these types of actions that can shape your character, Hudson said.

So, we’ve gone over what NOT to do. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?”, let’s talk about that next.

Be proactive by building a LinkedIn page -- as soon as you can. LinkedIn is where your virtual resume is stored, and it’s a fantastic place to showcase projects you’re working on, and really display your value to the world. This is the spot where future employers will look, so that when they ask themselves, “Do I pick up this phone call or offer an interview?”, hopefully they can answer with a confident YES.

When it comes to your online activity, you have a personal side and a professional side. The problem is, some high school students aren’t always thinking of themselves in a professional way. You might think it’s too early. But it’s not. College is right around the corner -- and that’s where you’ll realize you need to put a professional foot out there. Consider your words, and your posts, on the various social media channels. You can show both sides of yourself, but you have to frame your two selves in very different ways.

Be careful about how you behave, interact and build relationships online. Even when you “share” quiz results, you’re potentially telling the world -- future employers, bosses, strangers -- things like your personality traits. People are sharing more and more information without considering their audience. Also, there are companies who buy and sell that data, like your quiz results, and then they can build a character profile on you. So, share with caution.

Too often the mentality is “whatever, it’s just Facebook. It’s just Pokemon Go.” But it’s never “just” anything. Pokemon Go poses some danger to your personal data. Facebook is arguably the biggest social media platform of them all.

Often when it comes to apps and social media, teenagers can be misled, misinformed, and unaware, Hudson said. Apps aren’t always as private as you might think. It’s easy to be seduced into a false sense of security -- and that’s when things go wrong. It helps to consider these “rented channels.” Think of it like this: There’s nothing in a social media channel or an app that you own. Not your pictures, not your data or chats; none of it. You need to act like there’s someone monitoring and reading everything you say and do, at all times. It’s the same with your text messages, or when you save something to the Cloud. All of those things are accessible. So before you do or say something risky, just ask yourself: would you want your parents, or any sort of audience, reading or seeing this? You’re always better safe than sorry.

It seems like everyone these days has a cellphone, which comes with a video camera. Your photos and recordings can be saved, manipulated, Photoshopped and hacked. Someone has the ability to make your picture look like something it’s not. I know it might feel crazy to be this protective over the things you have saved on your phone, but it’s not.

A few final words: Words matter. Visuals matter. And those are the pieces that represent your character and integrity online. Your digital manners speak volumes about you. Just because a person isn’t sitting in front of you, doesn’t mean your message to that person can’t go out to hundreds of thousands of people. You have to take responsibility for what you say, and take responsibility for your actions. Especially online. It’s when you don’t do that, that social media amplifies the problem.

Graham Media Group 2017