2 Feb 2016

Responsibility. Sharing knowledge. Community.

I’d guess that as a child everyone who took your hand to cross the road told you to look left, look right then look again. Your parents, a teacher, the neighbour, your big sister, a friend. So many people knew the safest way to cross and were keen to pass that knowledge on to you, to keep you as safe as possible and limit risk.

In my social media workshops the participants range from teenagers to chief executives, and on occasion high profile individuals with literally tens of thousands of followers. They’ve varying degrees of knowledge, some passed on, some guessed, some gained from trial and error. Frequently they’ve ventured across the road alone, in the dark with no hand to hold.

One workshop focuses on crisis management and how to a) reduce the risk of things going horribly wrong and b) considering and planning your options if it does. For those of you reading this thinking ‘Well, just stay off social media altogether that will solve the problem’ I’d respectively suggest that for many, such as athletes who want sponsorship, digital marketing students who want to find work placements, musicians promoting their gigs, and SME’s with very little marketing budget, social media opens up a world of opportunity.

In the workshop we talk through a handful of real life scenarios where someone has intentionally or unintentionally shared an opinion online, and directly or indirectly targeted an individual, group or brand. The incidents are revealed in stages, with the workshop participants giving opinion on who is right and who is wrong. High profile examples which began with a comment and resulted in global media coverage, court appearances, and in some cases careers and futures ruined.

I play Devil’s Advocate questioning viewpoints and reason. Participants are very quick to lay blame, even with very limited information. We are human after all and our emotions take hold. Typically, only a handful ask for more information before deciding who is at fault. Very few change their mind once the full picture is revealed. High profile individuals (with media training and PR teams) are judged in the same way as a teenager who types something stupid, and is alone when dealing with an angry online mob. Empathy is in short supply regardless of the age and life experience of those in the workshop. The assumption is that those using social networks understand what can happen and deserve what they get regardless of position, mental health and personal circumstance.

I find it fascinating! It makes me question responsibilities and what we can do both as individuals and a community to educate, support and watch out for each other. After all, isn't that what community is all about?

I teach business people about implementing social media policy and educating staff but what I feel really strongly about is protecting young people online. And I’m not just referring to online predators, I’m referring to an awareness of the impact of what they share on the world wide web. Tech savvy and worldly wise are two very different things as I see first-hand in workshops.

Teenagers in one session were shocked when I told them that ‘blocking’ your parents on twitter doesn’t stop them …or anyone else…accessing content if an account settings are not ‘private’. (Sign out of your own account, google the username that has blocked you and voila!) The habit of ‘screen grabbing’ content from a private account and sharing openly also caused a few faces to drain of colour, the modern version of your teenage diary being passed around school. Things which are funny at the time may not be so funny later, especially in relation to cyber bullying, libel, or making a good impression when applying for work experience, a job or further education. This applies to whoever posted first, and everyone who retweeted, liked, commented and shared the offensive photo, video or comment.

What I’m writing here is nothing new and I can’t claim to be an expert on working with young people. I’m simply writing this as an observation based on my recent experiences and from the conversations with my many nieces and nephews and their parents. The message needs repeating and real examples demonstrated to show how easy it can be to land in hot water……and how that can be avoided.

There are some excellent free resources for parents, guardians and anyone working with young adults or children specifically Young Scot, ThinkYouKnowand for younger children NSPCC Net Aware for both practical advice and tips on having conversations around this subject.
Please share these resources because a little knowledge goes a long way and together, as adult users of social networks, we can limit risk and keep those we care about safe.
Thanks for reading. Annie Boyd is a marketing consultant specialising in social media strategy with extensive experience in the sport sector. Her clients range from large public sector organisations to SME's. She enjoys working with individuals or teams who are open to new ideas and who like to look for solutions rather than look at problems! Get in touch if you'd like to have a chat about working together or find me on LinkedIn.