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Group of teens taking a selfie

What’s In Your Organization’s Digital Footprint?

Tips for using digital media safely and responsibly
  • Tweet This Did you know? 76% of teens use social media, and most use multiple platforms.
  • Tweet This Your organization’s digital footprint is the trail of data that your organization leaves behind on the Internet.
  • Tweet This A social media policy governs when and whether employees and youth ambassadors can post on behalf of the organization.

Teens are using the Internet, social media, and texting more than ever. Approximately 76% of teens use social media, and 71% use more than one social platform. However, teens aren’t the only adopters of social media. Among online adults, 52% use two or more social media platforms.

The boundary between public and private has become narrower and blurred as more “social” features and social platforms enter the market. For example, users can share intimate videos and photos with anyone who follows them on Snapchat, while feeling comfortable that the files will disappear after 24 hours. However, these platforms often aren’t as private or temporary as users might think.

As youth-serving organizations, it is important for you to consider the reach and impact of your digital media efforts. Is your youth ambassador using your organization’s Facebook account for personal reasons? Did your employee respond inappropriately to a tweet directed at your organization? Consider educating both the youth you serve and the people you employ about safe and responsible digital media practices. In addition, think about introducing rules, restrictions, and consequences for improper digital behavior in a social media policy to protect your organization’s reputation and brand.

Leaving a Clean Digital Footprint

A digital footprint is the trail of data that is left behind by any Internet user. Helping your organization’s employees and volunteers learn digital responsibility will ensure that your stakeholders focus on what really matters: the positive impact you have on youths’ lives.

Follow these 10 tips to educate youth and employees about the importance of a clean digital footprint:

  1. Consider spelling and grammar. Words and images are the only things your users have to judge your organization in the digital world. Use proper grammar and spelling to elicit respect. Unusual spelling or slang are sometimes appropriate, but use caution and a careful eye to make sure the language is still clear.
  2. Avoid “hashtag-jacking”. Hashtags are designed to unify a conversation around a particular topic. They can and should be added to posts when appropriate. However, using a hashtag—especially to publicize a sensitive event—when not posting about that event is called hashtag-jacking. Not only is it rude, but it can also be very offensive.
  3. Avoid posting content just to get likes. Everyone wants to boost their followers and likes on social media, but fishing for likes by posting outrageous content is not the way to do it. Stay true to your organization’s identity to gain popularity and engagement for the right reasons.
  4. Avoid airing dirty laundry or overly sensitive information. Posting provocative or aggressive content raises questions about your organization’s authenticity and stability, and it makes your platforms less engaging. If your entire newsfeed is a string of complaints, why would anyone want to follow you?
  5. Avoid public threats, fighting, or bullying. Racist, threatening, or harassing language is never okay. Emphasize to youth or employees who post on behalf of your organization that this will not be tolerated. Share examples of what you mean, and be clear about your expectations and potential consequences.
  6. Avoid posting pictures that feature inappropriate content. Your actions serve as a model to youth. Avoid sharing images that show nudity, underage drinking, violence, or other inappropriate behavior. Emphasize to your digital ambassadors that sexting (i.e., posting sexually explicit images on social media) can damage someone’s reputation in real life and in the digital world, and may even be illegal.
  7. Avoid posting pictures in an inappropriate context. It is tempting to document every second of one’s life on social media, but the context is extremely important. Solemn, somber locations and events are not meant for selfies. Sharing your grief is fine, but sharing it with a grin is not.
  8. Avoid public shaming and criticism. Remember that the core principle of social media is that it is social. Once you hit send, assume anyone and everyone can see your post. Naming or tagging specific people in updates means that those people may see negative comments and feel disrespected by your organization.
  9. Double-check that you are posting from the correct account. Encourage anyone who is managing your organizational account(s) to double-check posts and ensure that private updates are coming from their personal accounts. Accidentally posting a personal tweet on an organizational account can hurt your image and authority.
  10. Ensure that you are properly monitoring your account. Your social media audience may try to engage you through direct messages or replies to posts. This engagement is good and helps you build a relationship with your followers, but you should also be careful of any negative comments on public pages. In your organization’s social media guidelines, include how to respond to negative feedback. Often, a good strategy is to ask to continue the conversation via direct message.

Creating a Digital Media Policy

Many organizations find it helpful or necessary to institute digital media policies governing when and whether employees can post to social media platforms on behalf of the organization, or even what they can post on their private accounts. Consider whether your organization needs a policy, and get started with this free social media policy generator.

Maintain a clean digital footprint. Share these tips with the youth ambassadors and employees who manage and interact with your social media platforms.


Page last updated: August 14, 2018
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