This post is sponsored by Domain.ME
Have you Googled yourself recently? If not, it’s probably a good idea to do so right now to see what comes up. Go ahead, I’ll wait. If you have a common name, add your employer, hometown or other distinguishing factors about yourself to make the search more accurate.
What did you find? Chances are you probably found a link to your Twitter account, LinkedIN profile, link to your blog, and maybe even a Facebook page. Don’t forget to click on the Images tab to look at any photos associated with your name.
As adults, we have pretty large digital footprints thanks to lifetime of online activity. Visiting websites, sharing images, and creating public social media accounts where friends tag us contribute to our digital footprints. This makes for a complicated relationship with our online presence. We’re concerned about how online content about us may harm our reputation, but few of us are actively doing anything to change it.
Recently my friends at Domain.ME conducted a survey of 1,000 adults who frequently use social media and the Internet. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Americans haven’t bothered to search for their name on a search engine like Google. Of those of us who have Googled ourselves, 79% of us haven’t tried to manage the information that exists about us online which is shocking considering that only 22% of us find that the things that we find about ourselves are the things we want others to know. 20% of found inaccurate our outdated information while 8% reported embarrassing our reputation damaging content existing in cyberspace.
With so much misinformation about ourselves existing online, it’s important to know what’s out there and try to manage it by Googling ourselves and our family. Now that you’ve Googled yourself, also Google your kids. What links come up during your search? Are there images tied to their name too?
If your results feature other individuals who have your child’s same name, positive mentions about them and their achievements, or you didn’t find anything about them on the first couple pages of the search results, that’s a good thing! If the images that you see aren’t of your child, that’s good too but you’re not off the hook.
If your child doesn’t have much of a digital reputation, now is a great time to start the conversation about what a digital reputation is, how one is created, and how to always ensure that your online reputation reflects who you truly are and how you want to appear to others.
Talking to Kids About Their Digital Reputation
Kids need to know that their digital reputation is an online extension of them. Let them know that just as they would want to make sure that they make the best first impression when meeting someone in person for the first time, the same is true about their digital reputation.
Every age uses technology in different ways that contributes to a growing digital footprint. Since a conversation with your elementary aged child will be different from the one you have with a teen, here’s an age appropriate guide to discussing reputation for each age and stage.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Digital reputations for our infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are created by us as we share photos of our kids via social media. The excitement of a pregnancy might result in sharing an image of a sonogram and is quickly followed by a photo taken shortly after birth. The beauty of social media is that friends and family near and far can keep up with the growth of your child as you document important milestones like crawling, first steps, messy first birthday cake face, and the first day of preschool.
As exciting as these moments are, take a minute to check your privacy and profile settings to ensure your private moments stay private and are not available for public viewing. Also pause and think about whether your kids will want these images of themselves out there as they get older. Common Sense Media provides great food for thought in Is It Safe to Post Photos of Your Kids and highlights how GPS data from your smartphone raises safety and privacy issues and contributes to a child’s digital footprint.
As our kids grow up, they probably won’t want images of their childhood available for friends to find. Since we’re the ones sharing pictures of our kids with family and friends while they’re young, it’s up to us to manage their reputations. Checking privacy and sharing settings, knowing exactly where are photos are being stored through cloud based systems, and being mindful about the ways we contribute to our child’s digital reputation helps avoid massive damage control as they get older.
Preschoolers are old enough to understand Follow the Digital Trail, a video by Common Sense Media that explains what digital footprints are, how they’re created by our online activity, and why they don’t just go away like footprints in the sand or like muddy ones left behind by dirty shoes. It’s an age appropriate way that preschoolers can begin to learn about their digital footprint and how what they leave behind becomes part of their digital reputation.
Elementary ages are content consumers as well as creators. They like to watch and create YouTube videos, are avid gamers who participate in online worlds like Minecraft, and even start to use private messaging through portals used to complete homework assignments. This age needs to know about what it means to be a good digital citizen and how the things that they do contribute to their digital reputation.
Kids this age need to know that everywhere they go, everything they post, and everything that others post about them can become part of their digital footprint. Since snippets of private conversations and photos shared with trusted networks can be screenshotted and shared, elementary ages must be taught the importance of safe, responsible, and respectful sharing.
Is what I’m posting true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary? Will it make the world a better place?
Is it kind?
There’s also a difference between private and personal. A child should never divulge private information such as their full name, address, telephone, age, birthday, or school through any website, app, or individual. Personal information like hobbies can be ok to share as long as you’re not providing detailed information such as the day of the week, time, and location where you take music lessons, meet for soccer practice, or parks you’re planning to meet friends after school.
In addition to knowing all the difference between personal and private information, conversations about digital citizenship and its impact on your digital reputation become even more important as kids enter the tween years and more of their friends get mobile phones and start using social media and messaging apps.
In What Parents Should Know About Tweens, Juliann Garey writes about the cognitive shift that pre-adolescents are going through as they transform from being literal and self absorbed to caring what others think, wanting to fit in, feeling left out, and comparing themselves to their peers. It’s the age of peer pressure and so many times tweens will do something without thinking about the consequences.
Just in the past couple months I’ve heard stories from fellow middle school parents about how a girl’s comment on another’s Instagram led to her being called in by the school counselor for bullying. Another boy sent a photo of his privates to another girl and both had their phones seized by the police.
While these instances are examples of tweens not thinking of real consequences before they act, the digital collateral left behind affects their in real life relationships. Screenshots of such things get passed around and suddenly there’s a more immediate need for relationship management.
Proactive conversations with our kids are far better than having to do damage control as part of the consequences of their actions especially since communicating through their cell phones and using apps is a huge part of their social world. Provide them with these rules of the road to help them manage their digital reputation.
As teens start thinking about their next steps in life, it’s time to get serious about cleaning up their digital footprint. Kaplan Test Prep reported that 35% of college admissions officers in 2014 visited an applicant’s social media page to learn more. This means that one’s digital reputation carries weight along with grades, teacher recommendations, their personal essay, and test scores (have you read The PSAT and Your Student yet?).
If you’re worried about what years of being on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social platforms might look like to admission officers or potential employers, it’s time to take a look to begin the reputation management process.
If there’s online content that’s wrong, it’s time to fix it. Talk to your teen about deleting any personally published information that could give someone the wrong impression of them. If someone else has posted damaging information or content that could raise eyebrows about your teen, have them reach out and ask them to correct it (by untagging) or delete it. Since friends help friends manage each other’s reputations, tell your teen to offer to do the same for them.
While your teen is actively working towards building their positive digital presence, they can also build a website as part of their personal public relations campaign. Creating a personal blog or website is one strategy that The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recommends in Idea For Building Your Online Presence for College.
Personally branded sites will come up higher in search results and can help your teen take control of their online reputation. According to Search Engine Watch, the top listing on a Google search gets 33% of the traffic, whereas the second position gets 18% of the traffic. Only 4.8% of traffic makes it to the second page of results so creating a personal website and a social media presence to bump any negative information to the second page dramatically helps your teen’s digital destiny.
Teens can secure their name with a domain that ends in .ME. Having a personally branded site allows them to create a place where they can showcase their own writing skills, photography talent, or skills beyond what can be shown through college admissions materials or a job application. It serves as a way that they can take control of the message that exists online as they showcase professional achievements, awards, interests, and all the positive aspects about them that they want the world to see.
To get a .ME domain to create a personally branded site website to control your online reputation, visit Domain.ME.
This post was inspired by Domain.ME, the provider of the personal URLs that end in .ME. As a company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world. All thoughts and opinions are my own.