tsu_mobileParents of teenagers and young adults know they have a lot of pressures surrounding college applications, workplace interviews and internships. One more thing too important to overlook is the proper management of their social media sites and the digital footprint they are creating on forums like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

Take this typical scenerio: You’re at a friend’s party; you toasted with a typical red plastic cup in hand and pictures were taken. No big deal, right?

Wrong — that is if the photos are seen online by a college admissions officer or employer who thinks you look like you might be behaving irresponsibly.

What may come as a shock is that 50 percent of college admissions officers admit to looking at prospective students’ social profiles to gain deeper insights into their character, and 92 percent of employers look at social media before making hiring decisions.

A first impression isn’t made with a firm handshake today; it’s made with a Google search. That means you have to take precautions to make sure your social media reflects you in the most positive light.

In short, it’s crucial to keep your virtual self virtuous — and here’s how:

BBFA (Building Better Family through Action) CEO and seasoned educator Julie Fisher launched the Social U — a program to clean up students’ social media profiles during school, college and beyond — as they pursue college, scholarships, jobs and other life opportunities.

A Need for The Social U

The Social U was inspired by an interaction with a young athlete Fisher met during a presentation in front of a group of talented Detroit high school athletes who were looking to make the leap to collegiate sports. As she addressed them on the importance of being smart on social media, one young man with a checkered social media footprint was not sure how he could fix the potential damage he had already done.

Julie Fisher
Julie Fisher

This became a recurrent theme during her presentations on the management of social media. Fisher realized she was unable to point parents, students, teachers and administrators to a trusted resource to help them find their way in the shifting social media landscape. So, she created one.

“Today’s kids are practically born with a smartphone in hand and start using social media as early as elementary school. Pair this with imperfect decision making, and social media mistakes are bound to happen,” said Fisher, a Bloomfield Hills resident and mother of two.

“The Social U includes proprietary software that reads and interprets online social media data, and flags and grades the content so it can be eliminated before they limit a student’s academic and employment potential,” Fisher said. “Students can see what kind of first impression they will make so they can quickly correct problem posts. In a full report, they have one-click access to every problem and can learn why it was flagged, get adjustment recommendations and instantly edit or delete the flagged content.”

Parents and students are surprised by things that are flagged by the Social U for removal, but missed by their own eyes.

Melissa Gould of Birmingham has a son, Alex, who is a graduating senior at Seaholm High School. “Because I know as a parent I didn’t fully understand the social media world and knew that certain posts can impact your future, we wanted to use the Social U to clean up the sites,” Gould said.

Nicole Wagner, mother of a daughter who is a junior at Frances Parker High School in Chicago, said, “Posts of retweets from friends, her ice-skating costume photos and questionable language on my daughter’s sites were all flagged and then removed.”

Mitch Boorstein, 20, attends the University of Michigan and is using the program now that he is looking for internships. “I’ve heard from friends that things like pictures from a party or tailgating that are innocent may look different to a recruiter, and I want to be smart about my image,” Boorstein said.

How It Works

sq2The Social U helps students ensure their social media profiles and related online content are optimized for success.

The feedback comes in a form students are already familiar with — a numerical calculation that is their Social GPA. Students can secure their Social GPA for free. To access a full report — with the ability to monitor social media content, view questionable posts and learn how to improve a Social GPA — three-day, one-month and full-year subscriptions are available, ranging from $9.95 to $149.95.

Many school districts have shown interest in securing the program for their students, and some, such as Alcona Community Schools in Lincoln, Mich., and Orange City School District in Pepper Pike, Ohio, have already purchased student subscriptions as part of their college prep process.

“Using a cutting-edge technology suite, including IBM’s Watson, the Social U grades each social network using a proprietary algorithm that scans for high-risk words, phrases and images,” said Robb Lippitt who works in tandem with Fisher providing the service.

Lippitt, a Bloomfield Hills resident, is part of the Social U’s team, and is active as an executive board member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Tamarack Camps and past board member of Temple Shir Shalom, where he and Fisher both attend synagogue.

sq4_2Ted Spencer, another member of the team, is former executive director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan and current senior adviser on admissions outreach at U-M. He advises the Social U on what students and parents need to know and provides insider’s insights direct from the college admissions office.

A CareerBuilder study revealed the top five red flags recruiters are looking for in your social profile: inappropriate photos, alcohol or drug use, negative posts about past employers or coworkers, a lack of communication skills as well as any discriminatory or inflammatory content regarding race, gender, religion or other issues.

The survey also revealed what type of social content made recruiters look favorably on a candidate. This included any background information that supported the candidate’s qualifications, signs that the candidate’s personality would be a good fit for the company, a professional image, strong communication skills and creativity.

“It’s a powerful thing. When you hit ‘send,’ you give up control of your content on social media. The Social U is not about banning teens from social media all together because that can also have a negative impact on students’ opportunities. Instead, our goal is to teach our kids how to use it safely and appropriately so their social interactions online enhance their lives and don’t lead to future problems,” Fisher said.

By Susan Peck | Special to the Jewish News