I read stories every day highlighting the bad decisions people and brands make when they don’t take a common sense approach to their use of social media. Some of these offenses are forgivable; this is a whole new world after all and we are all still learning our way around. Others, like this one from the NY Times, leave me wondering whether people are taking these new tools seriously enough.  

“At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive.”

Student on her mobile phoneAs a social media strategist and manager, my immediate reaction was astonishment at the recklessness of this young girl. How one person could be so unaware of their public posts, especially while attending a college event, was astounding to me. Of course colleges and universities are using social media to decide who they want to admit – just as employers are using it to decide who they want to hire. Both have to protect their brand and their reputation and an individual who uses social media carelessly is a risk. 

But the more I thought about it and the more I read through the comments below the article from others, the more I realized I might have been too quick to judge. 

The current generation making their way through the minefield of their teen years has grown up with technology that not only allows, but encourages them to share their personal thoughts and opinions online. No different than teenagers of previous generations that thought they were invincible and didn’t give enough thought to the potential consequences of what they said or did. 

But consequences exist nonetheless. 

I graduated from high school 20 years ago and since then the world we live in has changed dramatically. Technology has grown exponentially and the difficulty of being a teenager has increased proportionately. Parents today barely understand the potential ramifications of social media themselves and most aren’t equipped to educate their children on the long term consequences of their actions online.

Should we expect teenagers today to be more capable of making good decisions than we ourselves made in the past? 

Or should educators take responsibility to help guide today’s youth through the pitfalls of social media transparency? To teach them that it’s not just about what’s happening in the moment, but about their online brand which will follow them for the rest of their lives – and maybe more importantly, the rest of their careers. 

Becky Pearce is Owner of Pearce Social, a social media consultancy based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  Pearce Social is JGSA’s principal advisor for marketing and online branding and Becky serves as a senior advisor to the Firm.