We just completed the search for our agency's winter/spring intern ... always a fun process, and we love meeting our industry's incoming talent. As we reviewed the pile of resumes, my business partner casually mentioned that he looked up the top candidates online to see if there were any red flags. He did a quick Google and Facebook search, among others, and spotted some provocative photos of one of our top choices. Hmm ... we are a dynamic, young, pretty liberal, creative agency, so does that really matter to us? Well, yeah, unfortunately I guess it kind of does. One oddball hire can throw off our whole studio rhythm.
It got my wheels spinning about high school/college students' social media activity and how it affects their professional marketability. Is engagement with the Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitters of the world detrimental to their eventual job success? Or how about teens' general relationships with technology in their daily lives – how does that activity impact their ability to succeed?
• We have all read about Facebook's recent decision to relax privacy settings for teens. Those 13 to 17 now have the ability to share their goods with the general public on Facebook. They can turn on their profile's follow feature which allows anyone (read: friends, strangers, marketers, advertisers, did I mention strangers?) to see their public posts. I suppose this is an attempt by Facebook to hang onto the very desirable teen market as the presence of parents and advertisers sky rockets. Who am I to judge ... but is this truly in the best interest of our kids?
• It seems I can't go to a family event without spending time staring at the remarkable tops of all my nieces’ and nephews' heads. Why you ask? Well, because they are texting non-stop of course. According to a 2010 Nielsen survey, teenagers send 3,400 texts a month — that's more than 100 per day – and that was three years ago. And we all have learned, sometimes the hard way, that once the send button is pressed, there is no turning back. It's officially out there. Same goes for social media postings. More and more college recruiters review applicants' online social activity as part of the admissions process. Hopefully, no provocative or reckless posts, otherwise it can be a deal breaker.
• On the flip side, however, there is no protocol for how employers/institutions search for or utilize this information as part of a review. How fair is this given the probability of inconsistent handling of applicants? Not to mention the risk of false information in cyber space which is all too common. Companies like reputation.com offer online reputation management, and often work with parents on a "deep dive audit" to show all the findable data on their teens. Reputation.com offers an important reminder that it's not just social media but any electronic platform including gaming, blogging, cell phones, VoIP, etc. that can be an issue.
I'm interested in which companies are making strides in using social media and other platforms to protect teens and enhance their safety in tangible ways. With a little bit of digging, I found many, but I was certainly moved by the efforts of the rock star non-profit organization, DoSomething.org, the country's largest of its kind for young people (13-25 years old) and social change. A few DoSomething.org stand outs:
• Aeropostale's Teens For Jeans campaign inspires teens to collect jeans for other teens across the country who are homeless and living on the streets. Millions collected/distributed so far and counting…
• Foot Locker Scholar Athletes program gives out a whopping 20 $20,000 college scholarships to honors-student athletes who excel in school, on sports teams, and in their communities.
• The Bully Text is a program that encourages students to stand up to bullying via a text-based game. Participants are encouraged to invite friends to practice bully prevention as they are taken through different scenarios and have to decide how to react.
• Thumb Wars: Teens vs. Texting & Driving was a campaign against texting and driving, which we know all too well is a huge problem. Not only did the campaign provide education about the tremendous risk, but teens could also order thumb socks to prevent them from texting/driving and enter a bumper sticker contest to further spread the word.
So while there are many examples of online teen behavior that is potentially concerning for long-term success, there are also endless cases of teens teaming up (often with brands) to make important changes among their age group … and those extraordinary efforts should be front and center as they embark on their college/job searches.
P.S. Intro story was dramatized for effect. Everyone we interviewed for our intern position was lovely :-)