Digital guru advises to post only with plan and purpose

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

“Kids spend up to seven-and-a-half hours a day looking at a screen,” says Chris Vollum, a social media expert, talking to parents and students at Guilderland High School last Thursday. He spent last week visiting each of the district’s schools for Digital Citizenship Week.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

“We’re trying to teach students how to empower themselves and advance their image, their profile for college and job applications, not just to engage with friends,” says Demian Singleton, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for instruction. Banning social media isn’t the answer, he said; rather, students must learn how to use it wisely.

GUILDERLAND — The expert at the center of the school district’s Digital Citizenship Week, Chris Vollum, was discovered through social media.

“I met Chris on Twitter,” said Demian Singleton, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for instruction who arranged for the visit. “It has become my professional network…I get feeds from people I respect and value…I approached Chris virtually.”

Vollum, a parent and educator who runs a Toronto company advising businesses, sports teams, and students about social media, visited every school in the Guilderland district last week to educate students and their parents about Twitter, Facebook, Instgram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and the like.

Singleton said he was “surprised how active children are with social media.” A show of hands at the five elementary schools indicated that about a third were active, with Altamont Elementary the highest at about half. “Who knew?” asked Singleton.

This is despite a Facebook requirement that users be at least 13, while some other social media sites require users to be at least 17. The popularity of Facebook is falling off among young users, said Vollum, as they migrate to outlets less likely to be frequented by their parents’ generation.

“Kids spend up to seven-and-a-half hours a day looking at a screen,” said Vollum.

“We’re not going to say social media is the root of all evil…We’re trying to teach students how to empower themselves and advance their image, their profile for college and job applications, not just to engage with friends,” said Singleton.

At the elementary level, he said, the message to students is, “Be safe, be private.”

Singleton also said it would be “unrealistic” to ban students’ use of social media. “This is their world, the world they live in and will, going forward,” he said.

Last Friday, Vollum’s home page for his business, CMV Social Media Inc., featured tweets from Guilderland, praising him.

“Great week for kids and community,” tweeted Singleton.

“Learned a lot!” exclaimed Guilderland High School student Jason Platsky. “Only good reason to miss PE! Almost hashtagged that.”

“Thanks a lot for coming to GHS and giving us an insightful speech,” tweeted student Sayeed Khan. “Never looked at social media from that perspective.”

“You are what you post”

The perspective Vollum shared with a score of students and parents at Guilderland High School last Thursday night — about 100 attended the session at Farnsworth Middle School the night before — centered on using social media for self-promotion.

From elementary students on up, Vollum stressed they each have a digital footprint. “You are what you post; you can’t get rid of it,” he said.

He advises posting with a plan and purpose. Vollum also advises students to post less and “make sure it really counts.”

Those who post don’t control distribution, he said, “It’s about your friends…If you have great content, they’ll share what you did and comment. If you are negative with bullying and threats…they will compromise your reputation.”

Vollum advises regularly Googling your own name, surrounded by quotation marks.

He said that when students are looking for a job or applying to college or for a scholarship, “You will be Googled; it’s almost a guarantee.”

In his business, Vollum helps companies evaluate candidates based on their social media profiles. A place to start is with the name; candidates can be rejected based simply on the names they have chosen for themselves to use on social media, he said.

Vollum projected an image of logos for various social-media venues, surrounded by these words: character, honesty, integrity, compassion, and values.

“Take a screenshot,” he advised those in the audience, as a guide for what to post. He also advised using privacy settings.

He spoke in glowing terms about a student who had landed a job because of how she had consciously tailored her digital footprint to get that job. She sent an email to the company saying, “Here’s my Twitter account; follow me. Here is my Instagram. Here is my blog. I’m an athlete...Here’s my YouTube,” reported Vollum.’

The company’s response, he said, was, “She was already following us on Twitter, adding value to us.”

Vollum then projected images from various college and university websites. Harvard’s for example, had icons for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. The University at Albany had icons for Facebook, Twitter, Instgram, Pinterest, and YouTube.

He advised that students interested in a particular college start to follow it. “I’d be all over this,” he said, “liking these guys…on their radar. I’d know all about them. The students that do that will create an enormous edge over the students who don’t.”

The first longitudinal study on social media and college admissions was conducted by Eric Mattson, the chief executive officer of the Seattle-based Financial Insite Inc., and Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

In early 2007, they found that institutions of higher education were outpacing Fortune 500 companies in their use of social media to communicate with customers, in this case, students. For example, at that time, 8 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were blogging compared with 32 percent of colleges and universities.

At that time, admissions officers reported using search engines and social networking sites to verify information or research students who were candidates for scholarships or entry into high-demand programs with limited space, the study reports.

“The intent was to protect the school from potential embarrassment,” the authors write. “There were no reports of checking every applicant to an institution, no matter how small the school. Online research appears to be more of a precaution at this point or a source of additional information for critical decision making.”

It’s a rapidly changing field. In 2012, Donald Kluemper, in the Department of Management at Northern Illinois University, was the lead author in a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the first of its kind, that showed a review of social media sites could uncover not just problems with candidates but could provide a legitimate indication of how candidates would perform on the job.

The study found social networking site ratings “correlated with job performance, hirability, and academic performance criteria; and the magnitude of these correlations was generally larger than for self ratings.”

In 2008, Kaplan Test Prep began surveying college admissions officers to find what percentage have Googled applicants or visited their social networking pages to learn more about them. In 2008, barely 10 percent reported checking an applicant’s Facebook page. By 2013, that number had grown to 31 percent with 29 percent saying they had Googled an applicant.

In 2014, the Kaplan survey found, 35 percent of admissions counselors had visited an applicant’s social media page but only 16 percent had found information that hurt a student’s application, compared with 35 percent just two years prior.

“Many students are becoming more cautious about what they post,” said Christine Brown, Kaplan’s executive director of college admissions, in a discussion of the survey results “and also savvier about strengthening privacy settings and circumventing search.”

Social media lawyers have pointed out problems with colleges looking in error at someone with the same name as an applicant or at an imposter page that could sabotage a student.

Vollum cited examples of college football teams asking players to list their social media usernames. “This is going to be the new normal,” he said, advising, “Create a social profile loud and proud.”

Vollum gave several examples of teenagers who had created what he considered to be stellar profiles for themselves. One high school junior raised money for playgrounds in poor communities and had a tweet saying, “I love speaking to engaged youth.” Another was a high school senior who made films of the homeless.

Michael Parker, who works in media and marketing for the University at Albany, said this week he is “fairly certain that a social media review is not part of the admissions process.”  A Nov. 19, 2014 New York Times article by Natasha Singer said that admissions officers within the SUNY system do not research applicants online.

Many state universities, she wrote, use quantifiable admission criteria like grades and test scores and do not have the capacity for individual explorations of applicants’ social lives. She also wrote that some smaller colleges forbid admissions officers from vetting applicants’ online activities, seeing the practice as invasive and subjective, which could result in unfair decisions for students.

Parker said that, as University at Albany students prepare to graduate and look for a job, the career services office helps them not just with traditional skills like writing a résumé or handling an interview but also advises them on using social media.

Asked about the university’s use of social media to recruit students, Parker said, “We look at it more once students get in the door.” Members of each class are encouraged to become part of a “social media community,” he said.

“Privacy is dead”

Vollum began last Thursday’s presentation with an overview of some of the most popular social media venues and concluded by giving advice to parents, in answer to their questions.

Teenagers, he said, are now using Facebook as a “relationship management system.” About 30 percent of teenagers use Facebook, he said.

Instagram, for sharing pictures and videos as well as for social networking, is the most popular with 80 to 90 percent of students on social media using it, Vollum said; it is owned by Facebook with the same rules and policies.

Tumblr is a free blog owned by Yahoo, which is not that popular, Vollum said. “It was created with a broad liberal mindset; almost anything goes,” he said.

YouTube, owned by Google, allows users to share videos.

The third most popular with students, Vollum said, is Vine where six-second videos run endlessly. Companies like Coke, Oreo, and Lowe’s have used Vine videos successfully to promote their products, he said.

Google Plus is a social network that is “languishing,” he said. Google markets it as an authorship tool that associates web content with its author.

Kik Messenger, for instant messaging, has relatively few filters and is “really popular with elementary students,” Vollum said.

Snapchat is the fastest growing, he said; he warned that short-term photos continue to exist “on a deeper level,” which can be problematic with “inappropriate images.” Snapchat allows users to record videos or take pictures and add words or drawings.

Vollum advised parents there is “a huge difference” between parental monitoring and parental engagement. He posed the question, “How do you keep track of your kids online?” and answered himself, “You follow them.”

Vollum’s son, Justin, who is now 16, first got accounts at age 13 after pleading that he was the only kid in his school without Facebook.

“I was his first Facebook friend ever,” said Vollum. He is still on his son’s friends list, said Vollum, adding, “We’ve got a great relationship of trust online.”

Hashtags, written as #, allow a worldwide search for words under particular topics. Some of the most frequent, Vollum said, are #awesome, #YOLO for You Only Live Once, #swag, #TBH for To Be Honest.

The once popular BFF, which stands for Best Friends Forever, is being replaced, he said. A young man in the front row knew that the replacement is BAE, which stands for Before Anyone Else. Currently the most popular hashtag, said Vollum, is #jesuischarlie, memorializing the journalists and cartoonists killed in the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satiric magazine based in Paris.

Vollum advised that elementary students not use hashtags to avoid being part of a global search.

He also advised, “Never share a password, ever, ever, ever, and change it frequently.”

Asked, if a child with poor judgment posts something on Google Plus, is there a way to bury it, Vollum said, “Just post tons of good stuff about yourself.”

A mother asked him about the rights of kids who are posted in pictures they never gave permission for.

“You’re supposed to ask permission,” said Vollum. “The reality is, no one does. It’s impossible to control.”

“We tell kids…when somebody tags them in a picture, you don’t have to have it attached to your account…They can delete and say, ‘Please don’t do that again. I don’t approve of that picture,’” said Melissa Gergen, a Guilderland High School librarian who attended the session with her colleague, Bernard Bott.

“We don’t preach to the kids,” said Gergen. Bott agreed, and described their role as that of “life coaches.”

“I get it,” said the mother to Vollum. “All these cellphones have cameras…Your privacy is gone.”

“That’s the culture; the world has changed,” said Vollum who earlier had stated, “Privacy is dead.”

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