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If you’re anything like most of the teens I know, you spend a lot of time on social media. In fact, you probably came across this article by seeing a friend share it in your newsfeed.
Studies have found social media dominates how teens connect and relate with one another and the world. In fact, a very high majority (94%) of teens who use their phones to communicate online do so daily, according to the Pew Research Center.(1)
So it’s safe to say most of y’all are social media savvy and probably make use of it daily. I say that’s a good thing! By all means stay connected, keep up with your friends, and have fun!
But here’s something else I want you to know: Social media doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In other words, it’s not just momentary—and it does impact your life both today and in the future.
I know some of you would like to think your posts are only going to be seen by close friends and family. Or maybe you believe, as so many young people do, that social media activities do not or should not influence how other people see you. But that’s not the way it works.
If you put your name and face out there on a profile, people will see it as a representation of who you are and what you believe. It can impact anything from your ability to get hired for a job to your chances of being admitted to college.
Don’t believe me? Let me tell you about someone I knew who lost a dream over a stupid social media disaster.
“They Took My Scholarship!”
A few years ago while I was working as a youth pastor, I got a phone call from someone I care deeply about who shared with me how she had been devastated by a foolish choice she made. This young lady had some great things going for her at the time—she had won a full-ride scholarship and was having the time of her life as a freshman at a private college. I was so happy for her!
As you probably know, college students like to have their fun. And my former student wanted to have some fun, too! One night in her second semester, she went out drinking with her friends. As the party continued and my young friend kept turning up the fun, guess what she forgot about? Her friends and their phones!
That’s right—her friends were all around her filming her activities and posting them on social media. And although she probably didn’t think about it at the time, many people in her social circle started seeing some rather disturbing videos show up on their Instagram feeds of her dancing. In fact, seeing those videos on my own Instagram account was how I first realized what she had done. I contacted her right away and let her know as kindly as possible that posting that was probably not the best move she made that night.
Fast forward to our phone call about a week later. She told me I had been right to think there could be trouble ahead for those videos. Eventually the administrators of her college had discovered the posts, and they were very unhappy about what they saw. In fact, she let me know they had taken away her scholarship because of how poorly it reflected on the entire school.
Think about that! This girl went from riding high on a full scholarship to being told, “You no longer have a place here. Your scholarship is gone.” I’m sure it was a painful day for her. But I felt pain for her myself, because I wished she had learned sooner to be more careful about protecting her reputation both in real life and on social media!
Using Social Media to Build a Positive Personal Brand
Don’t let what happened to my student happen to you. More and more employers, college admissions offices and scholarship committees are relying on social media and Google to help them decide who belongs in their organization and who’s too risky to take on. This approach to choosing people is known as checking out their personal brand.
All of your decisions, including what you post online, add up to what we call your personal brand. Personal brand can be positive or negative. Your goal with social media should be to present to the world—including people who may not know you in real life—a healthy, genuine representation who you are.
But here’s where it gets really tricky. Unlike your face-to-face interactions with friends and teachers, people who encounter you for the first time through social media have nothing else to judge you by other than your posts. That should make you pause and think.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to help you build a positive personal brand on social media:
• Do take some time to ask yourself, How will this reflect on me? before you post anything.
• Don’t assume your social media posts will only be seen by people you know in real life who understand you well.
• Do post pictures, quotations and videos that are uplifting, inspiring and positive.
• Don’t post anything obscene, crude or hurtful to other people.
• Do post things that reflect well on who you are and what you believe.
• Don’t post things that could possibly make teachers, employers or even friends question your ability to be responsible and make a positive contribution.
• Do post examples of your activities that match your ideals.
• Don’t post evidence that you’re doing foolish things like skipping school, missing work or drinking if you’re underage.
Keep Social Media Positive and Fun
So what’s my primary point with all of this? First let me emphasize that social media isn’t bad! It can become a bad force in your life if you don’t use it wisely, but the key word here is wisely. All you need to do is give your posting a little bit of thought, and from there you can have all the fun you want.
I also want to repeat this again, because it’s so important: Once you’ve posted something out there on the internet, even if you hit delete, you didn’t necessarily erase it. There are many ways it could continue to be seen long after you deleted it! And as the story of my student who lost a scholarship shows, it can have some heavy consequences.
Even if you think social media is a game, or even if it’s something you don’t take seriously, the truth is it’s that serious. What you put out there does represent who you are, what you think, and how you are asking other people to see you.
Here’s my challenge to you today: I want you to go through your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds and delete any old posts you see that give you any kind of weird feeling. As you browse, ask yourself, How would that appear to an employer? To a college professor? How might it impact how I’m seen by people who have never met me?
When you find something that might not be a good representation of who you are or how you want to be seen, just hit that delete button! Don’t allow anything negative from your past to represent your present and harm your future.