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Helping students build their brands

I would maintain that kids are far more dangerous to themselves and their long-term career prospects than the average Internet predator.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

OK, that's it...I've officially become a PR convert. I used to try to avoid using the word "branding" but it just fits too well in this context to avoid. These days, we see a lot of brands being tarnished as our economy tanks. Want to get your life insurance through AIG? How are you feeling about that IndyMac home loan? How about the Saturn you bought a year ago?

Saturn is a great example, actually, of brands gone awry. This company used to represent one of the few American brands that could be counted upon for economy and long-term value. Now dealers can't give away cars made by this GM brand.

Ford, on the other hand, always the stuff of either Marlboro ads or rental car lots, is suddenly an American brand worth buying. They have a vision and, despite continued losses, aren't taking taxpayer money and are on the road back to profitability. People other than Avis and Hertz buyers (or cowboys with some serious brand loyalty) are actually thinking about buying Ford cars.

So what does all of this have to do with Educational Technology? I touched on the idea of building student brands in a Web 2.0 world via progressive resumes earlier this week. However, this goes far beyond a resume. I was struck yesterday by how little 8th-graders knew about their "Internet footprints" during a presentation on Internet safety by one of our local police officers.

Students simply don't realize that this so-called footprint is building their brand as they type, post, and publish. How many kids do you know with a public profile on MySpace showing them drinking? Talking about partying? Using controlled substances? The short answer is "a lot."

Many of the 8th-graders in the presentation yesterday didn't realize how long their chats, emails, profiles, blogs, and pictures posted online could live beyond the time they deleted the blog, made their profiles private, or closed their chat session. "Sexting" rarely lives only on the phones used by teenage significant others. How easy is it to post a picture from a mobile phone on the Internet? I took this picture on my Blackberry last night of my youngest son's bizarre double-tongue curl and had it posted to FaceBook and Twitter in seconds:

The average college student, let alone the average secondary school student, doesn't know what it means to "go viral."

Internet marketers and PR types do. They use the propagating effects of everything posted on the web (particularly in social media channels) to their advantage, hoping, for example, that a video posted on YouTube gets tweeted by an influential Twitterer and retweeted over and over in a day, until the video is shared among countless Twitter users, reposted on their FaceBook and MySpace pages, and ultimately reaching far more people than any marketer could reach on their own.

Even the Associated Press seems to have no understanding of the "viral" nature of Internet content. They have recently received a lot of negative attention for asking one of their affiliate stations to stop reusing their video posted on YouTube:

You cannot make this stuff up. Forget for a moment that WTNQ is itself an A.P. affiliate and that the A.P. shouldn’t be harassing its own members. Apparently, nobody told the A.P. executive that the august news organization even has a YouTube channel which the A.P. itself controls, and that someone at the A.P. decided that it is probably a good idea to turn on the video embedding function on so that its videos can spread virally across the Web, along with the ads in the videos.

If the Associated Press doesn't get this, how can we expect our kids to?

Obviously, kids need to be aware of the dangers of predators lurking online. We hear about cases every day of people luring impressionable youths to meetings for sex or worse. However, I would maintain that kids are far more dangerous to themselves and their long-term career prospects than the average Internet predator. There are a lot more kids posting content on the web than there are predators seeking them out.

Internet safety from a criminal/sex offender/privacy standpoint is obviously a must for education among "Students 2.0", especially in the younger grades. However, before kids even reach secondary school, it is absolutely vital that they understand the implications of their online activities. There is no privacy online; this isn't just Big Brother paranoia. This is the pervasive nature of user-generated content, of which we must make our students aware.

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