Do students understand their ‘digital footprint’ and how it can affect their employability?

Last year I presented to a group of 1st year Business School students on the topic of their use of Social Media and Social Networking websites and how this could have implications on their employability.

This year I’ve been privileged enough to be invited back into lecture slots for all the first year under graduate Business School students (Law, Accounting & Finance, and Business). While the topic(s) and reflective activity the students are presented with are the same (including the majority of the responses given) the examples have been updated and improved … there are far more examples to choose from for a start!

Click to view

This year I have been able to incorporate the TurningPoint handsets (clickers, zappers, etc) to get real-time responses (and capture/record them too) to the content. The responses to each question are loaded to the SlideShare presentation above as well as the videos I showed. There were 98 students present, but not every one of them voted on every question (either they clicked their response before the voting was ‘open’ or they didn’t press the button/key hard enough to send the response in).

I ask the question at the beginning of the session “Do you consider your online activity ‘safe’?” and then again at the end when I’ve demonstrated different scenarios and examples of good and bad experiences of using Social Media. I was not surprised, as you should not be either, that there were more people at the end who are less confident of their activity online, but I was surprised that there is a such a wide swing from 41% at the start who thought they were not safe online to 80% by the end! The biggest swing is from students who were unsure if they were safe to ‘not safe’ (30% at the start to 2%).

By using real-world examples of how, in most cases, just one instance can have such a drastic consequence to someones credibility or employment circumstances, whether it is a good or bad ‘instance’, obviously struck a chord with these students who, from discussions I had with a few afterwards, had not considered their activity on Facebook or chat-rooms as something that an employer would be interested in.

For me this process was about joining the dots, in helping them realise that their activity online is not necessarily distinguishable between home, private, work, or professional use. Whether their Facebook use is restricted to their home/private life wont matter too much if they complain or insult their manager, a client, or colleague. If that content is found then it could bring their employer into disrepute, or even lose work/contracts and even respect.

What really warmed my heart was some of the comments left on the Unit blog (as requested during the presentation) about how the students left after the presentation, and how it made them think about their own use of these types of websites. The following comments are reproduced by kind permission from the Unit tutor, and are anonymous:

“This has been probably the most informative lecture I have had most likely due to how interactive it was. As I felt I was so part of the lecture (answering the questions interactively) I walked away feeling like I knew more than when I first walked into the lecture about Social Media which is ironic as I use it everyday! It was a nice touch using modern technology like interactive keypads when talking about such a modern topic such as Social Media as it helped highlight the points made. The warm up questions which might have seemed irrelevant at the time; such as what is your favourite drink was a good idea to get the audience into the interactive questions and to understand the bar charts/pie charts which will appear after. Asking questions such as “Can an employer check on employees through/using Social Media” really hit home how scary it is how advanced technology is and even when you think you’re safe online you really aren’t!  The integration of YouTube videos I felt kept my attention while still making a point on the main body of the lecture.  Leaving the lecture, myself and probably most people in the lecture went home to check that all their privacy settings was actually set to private!”

“I felt slightly alarmed after the lecture at the fact that this is an issue affecting much younger people than myself, it scares me sometimes when I see a friends little sister of the age of 10 on facebook!! With this comes a responsibility and one that I think schools need to be taking on. Schools should be providing the same kind of lecture to their students. I never had a talk on the dangers of facebook and so I’m sure neither have they but at such a young age they should as they are perhaps exposed more to dangers as they might not fully appreciate the need for privacy settings.”

“Some people might think that this lecture was common knowledge but I found it particularly helpful to bring home the fact that what happens on the Internet STAYS on the Internet…forever?”

“I think the most important thing is to think about the consequences of what you say before you say it and do not say anything online you would not say to your mum!! However, the lecture did make me think and when i got home i checked all my setting were on private. I have defiantly learnt not to post things that may jeopardize future employment as it is not worth it in the long run.”

“It [the presentation] really opened my eyes as to the lengths employers will go to find the most adept, and suitable candidate. In many ways it makes sense, with fewer jobs in today’s economic climate and a higher demand, employers are going to want the very best candidates.”

“Originally, I thought the social networking lecture would be like those we had several times at school and college, however, the session was much more interactive and in context to our sector of work which made it appeal to me much more. Many of the real life stories were particularly effective and made me take the comments and updates I write much more seriously. I think the importance of this matter has grown in recent years and it is evidently clear that one passing statement could have drastic consequences upon your future career and therefore upon your life.”

“The statistics about the internet, over all, were shocking and in some respects scary and it was interesting to see how many people changed their minds about the safety of the internet after watching the videos and seeing the articles where people had been affected.”

“It is very true that we live in a society today who are extra sensitive to ‘jokes’ about ‘bombs’ and ‘explosions’ given the events of the London bombings and more importantly ‘9/11’ it is understandable that people may over react with insensitive and immature jokes about airports in particular. Therefore, this example in particular demonstrates, expressing yourself on social networking sites just for the sake of boredom, is just not worth it, it is more productive and sensible to just have a conversation with a friend.”

“I had had many of these lectures in secondary school so I thought I new the dangers and risks of social networks and internet usage, but this lecture really opened my eyes as to what I was exposing myself to by using the internet.”

So, a note to us all: let us be sensible when we use any online service (Facebook, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, etc), think about how we want to be viewed by whoever may find the content (whenever they find it) as it may just come back to bite you.

Here are a few of the examples/links I use in the presentation:

A few more examples that I didn’t include, but could quite easily have done, include: