Last week, I volunteered to speak to a middle school class about “Protecting Your Online Reputation.” Who better to advise kids on this than a seasoned PR Pro? After all, reputation management is rising higher on the list of things we do for our clients. I considered myself to be pretty knowledgeable on this subject.
Turns out, I know a lot less than I thought. As I was preparing for my talk, I asked my 13-year-old son what he and his friends would want to know. He threw out a list of things – mostly topics that I had never heard about. Turns out, my child knows much more than me.
My son told me that every kid in his school had seen the video Canadian teenager Amanda Todd posted on YouTube. Next, my son showed me his Xbox Live account and talked about how you need to have a generic gamer tag, shouldn’t have a detailed bio and never mention anything personal when playing with people you don’t know. Thank goodness, he somehow knew that he should never share his name, age or location with people he plays. I wondered how many of my friends didn’t know their kids were playing online with strangers?
Next, he showed me one of the newer apps – Snapchat. This app allows you to send a photo to a friend or multiple friends. When they receive it, they have 10 seconds to view the photo, then it disappears. Sounds a lot safer than posting a photo that stays on the search engines for years, right? But as I looked into Snapchap closer, I found out that people have already figured out how to save Snapchat photos-either by taking a screen shot of the photo sent, or by figuring out other ways to save the picture. I wonder how many unsuspecting users of Snapchat would be surprised to find that their pictures didn’t actually disappear.
The more I researched this topic, the more alarmed I became. I asked my Facebook friends what they thought I should cover in my talk and the comments piled up. I learned that one of my Facebook acquaintances actually has written a book on this topic. It’s even filled with all kinds of scary, but true stories that happened right here in Alaska, while he was working for the Anchorage Police Department.
Protecting a client’s online reputation is only going to get more challenging, as social media sites and technology continue to be a larger part of our corporate, and personal lives. We all have a lot to learn. If you run a company, or have kids, the importance of managing your online reputation has never been more critical. People are losing their jobs because of something they tweeted. Kids are bullying others mercilessly without realizing the consequence. Students are being suspended from school or being kicked-off of sports teams because of what they say on Facebook. High school grads are not being accepted to a college or not being chosen for a scholarship because of photos they post on Instagram.
All I can say is that this is a topic that everyone – from corporate execs to parents – needs to master. Start by sharing my presentation with your kids. Here’s a link to a video my KD/PR Virtual team member Larry Bottjen recently produced on underage drinking. It’s a great example of a communication tactic that resonates with teens. My advice to fellow PR pros and my clients? Get smart about defending that online reputation today and make sure your employees do the same. Oh yeah, and consider adding a teenager to the payroll. No kidding!
Kathy Day is owner of Kathy Day Public Relations (KD/PR) Virtual, Alaska’s only virtual public relations agency.