Avoiding the Christmas ‘virus’ for teens and employers

My teenage daughters are just discussing the latest news from their social media sites — their formals, leaving do’s and school year end parties — and it made pretty enlightening listening for me.

The posting of teenage social media activity this Christmas has given rise to my new term — the ‘informal formal’. The name given to events where the young (and not so young) arrive beautifully dressed in their formal attire to school or work parties, but what they get up to and what is recorded online is not quite so formal. My fear — and it is a real commercial fear as a CEO — is that these youngsters of school age and individuals in the workforce STILL have no real understanding of the implications of social media use around their career and personal futures.

In speaking to Queenwood School a few weeks ago, I chose to pull no punches in my discussions with the 80 youngsters in the room to take more responsibility for their ‘digital resume’. As an employer (and mother of three) I told them I would check them online when they came for a job interview with me. And what they post now would have repercussions long into the future, whatever their exam results. It is the same for those in the workforce.

Last week on my way into the Weekend TODAY studio for an interview on social media, the guests at the Channel 9 Christmas party the night before were just leaving at 5.30am. The paper debris was visible in spades — streamers, drink cups, party themes. As Cameron Williams and I discussed – for many parties around the country, the paper debris isn’t all the scars left visible.

The last thing you need at Christmas is to lose that job over inappropriate conduct or online behaviour over the festive season.

Christmas is about heightened emotion, the end of a year’s hard work, a contrast of goals met and expectations unrealised. The final weeks of the year, however joyous, have an element of unrivalled pressure. Obligations to meet, alcohol flowing, relationships under pressure and that final letting go of steam in the form of social lunches and evening gatherings. The move to a slower pace for five weeks releases a whole side of human behaviour and stress we simply do not see in the rest of the year.

This is being reflected online as we speak. At the end of a year on ‘digital and technical steroids’, social networks and blogs are the top online destination for the world’s internet users, accounting for the majority of time spent online. The Christmas festivities are being echoed in a way as never before, providing warning signs for parents, employers, and employees to monitor and watch and manage online commentary in a conscious way.

What was thought of as fun in a party environment after a few drinks, can result in embarrassment, disgruntled co-workers or bosses, or in extreme cases contract termination and lawsuits

In Australia, there are 10.5 million users of Facebook, 11 million on YouTube and 1.8 million using Twitter. What would help? Well education, recognising the consequences, and being fair (without panic) is a good way to start. And a well thought-out social media policy that is well communicated in the home and the workplace (not stuck in the HR department to tick a corporate governance box) will help. I endorse any efforts to minimise the damage to online reputation this season of our young, our employees, our corporations brand and personal brand.

It’s almost impossible and not necessary to stop your children or employees from using social media, but having a policy in place gives you the peace of mind to act in your and their best interest and be mindful of the legal consequences.

Some tips to consider are:

• Be aware of the photos and videos being taken of you — particularly from mobile phones

• Equally, handle the photos and videos you take of others respectfully

• Do not upload inappropriate photos out of fun thinking no one but your friends will see it, your friends have friends, remember the 4 degrees of separation

• Christmas parties often aren’t limited to work colleagues — others such as suppliers, clients are watching your behaviour

• Sounds obvious, but do not share online what you have talked about in the relaxed atmosphere of your work Christmas party.

With alcohol, conversations take a different tone

So far from being a party pooper — as a Taurean I love this season of good food, drink and parties — just be cautious and have fun. Let your hair down, celebrate the year — just retain that valuable personal and corporate brand for 2012. Bring it on. Happy Christmas

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