What follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.
“According to a recent study, 78% of parents helped create their children’s Facebook pages, and 7.5 million users are under the age of 13. The way your kids use social today will shape their future. It’s time for everyone to get educated on how — and how not– to live online.” (Amy Jo Martin from FastCompany: http://www.fastcompany.com/3010034/the-truth-about-kids-and-social-media)
She goes on to stress that helping our children to navigate this online world is no different than teaching them how to ride a bike. It is important because, “…kids are building a personal brand from an early age.”
What does she mean by “personal brand”? Branding, as a practice in the marketing field is all about communicating to a group of people the attributes of a product or service. To create an image and connect emotions to a product so it is memorable, something that people will talk about, and buy. Think of your favorite brands and consider the emotions you connect to that brand. It could be a brand that was in your house growing up, one that, as a parent, you continue to use because it is not only a good product, but one that evokes memories and pleasant emotions.
With the advent of digital communication technologies, most specifically tools that make it very easy to create content that is posted online, in a public forum, we can extend this product branding idea to people. Every time we create content about ourselves, we are building the framework for our personal brand and for what people will think about us.
But now we can see this online branding with our own children. Those teens who are athletically inclined and want to be noticed by college recruiters are building online portfolios of their skills in video and pictures so that they can be easily found when someone does an online search for them. We also see high school students who use pseudonyms so people, in theory, cannot find them in online searches.
And more and more it isn’t our children who are just building their personal brand. Families, parents, grandparents, and siblings are all building that brand for our children before they even have a say or any control. Pictures, videos, status updates, blogs chronicling a mother’s pregnancy, Instagram pictures of baby’s first anything, apps that help you build your children’s timeline – all of these tools have been created to help us share and remember the highlights of our children’s and families’ lives, but at the same time all of this content is being stored in some capacity and, if it is public, it can be part of online search results. These tools are powerful; they create a digital footprint of who we are, what we like and what we don’t like. When we include our children, and sharing content about them, it is hard to think that what we share about them today on the internet, is becoming part of their “permanent record”. But it is doing exactly that.
Parenting is a big responsibility. Want to add an even bigger responsibility to it? Consider this: what you decide now about how you will share content about your child will follow them into adulthood as it never has before. You are starting the digital footprint of their life.
Every tool you use to share content about them has the potential to make that content public, to link it to other data about your child, and to create paths to discovering more about you as a family for marketing purposes or security reasons. What does this mean for your family? It means becoming very aware of the implications for the content you share and how you choose to share it. Remember to always think of your content on a scale of private to public. This is why starting now to figure out what you will share and what you will not share is so important.
Thinking through a content filtering process will help you do just that.
What information will we not share online? This can be anything from phone numbers and addresses to specific types of content, such as pictures of your children, your home, or new purchases.
Who will you share what information with? For example, think about pictures of your children. You might be fine with sharing those pictures with your immediate family and close friends, but you might not want to share them with anyone else. You may even go so far as to segment your children’s pictures into those that you will share more publicly, such as little league pictures and event pictures, but milestones like losing the first tooth may be only for close friends.
Where will we share information? This is where your audit comes in. Using the example above, if you have a Facebook account and Flickr (a photo sharing site) and you write your own blog, each of these tools probably fall on your “private” to “public” spectrum. Facebook may be a space you share with your close friends and friends, your Flickr account may be private for just family, and your blog may be completely open online for anyone to read. A picture of your child in their team little league photo might be something you would post on Facebook (or share, because the little league team has already shared it), but the missing tooth might go on Flickr, and you never post pictures of your children on your blog.
Remember to think about your content in a new way. Before you post anything, pause and consider:
Type of content: Are you sharing a picture or a link to something?
Purpose: What is the purpose for sharing your content? Is it to celebrate something? Is it to stay connected to family and friends?
Audience: Who is your intended audience for your content? Is it your co-workers, the public or your family?
Permission: Do you have permission to post this content? Do you need someone’s permission? I’ll get more into the importance of this idea later in the book. Basically, it is always polite to ask first if you plan on posting content about someone other than yourself.
Level of privacy: How private should this content be? How public can it be?
How will you share this content: Is this better emailed to a select group of individuals? Use your technology audit to determine which social tool you use would be the best place to share this content.
To post or not to post: The final step is to decide if you should post the content online at all. All of the other steps lead to this point which is your final decision mark. Remember, once you post it…it’s out there.
If you follow these steps you will have a much better approach to posting any of your content in a way that acknowledges what it means to be building an online digital identity for yourself, your family, and your children.