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10 Keys of College Student Reputation Management

Reputation Management for College Students

Reputation Management for College Students  

 

UPDATE: Since this first presentation at OSU last year, John has been asked to speak on college campuses throughout the country.  To book John to speak on your campus or to ask a question, visit us at School of Rep or join the discussion on Facebook/School of Rep page.

 

My presentation to Ohio State University students on Tuesday about the importance of protecting their reputations touched a deep nerve.

People were highly engaged and opinionated, expressing outrage, embarrassment, even anguish.

And that was before I ever saw a single student.

One email

I’ll explain more in a moment, but for those who need instant gratification, this is the most substantive response I received from a student. She wrote:

Mr. Millen,

I wanted to thank you for coming to speak to our Marketing class yesterday evening. The points of your speech didn't quite sink in, until I saw an unbecoming photo of a friend at a urinal on Facebook this morning.

As I graduate and enter into the job market this December I will definitely be thinking of how others perceive me, and what I can do to influence their perceptions. You will be happy to know I Googled myself, and worked on improving my LinkedIn profile shortly after your presentation.

Thank you again for this valuable information.

In my response, I thanked her for making my week and told her she made it all worthwhile.

Most Feedback Ever

Now, back to the beginning.

Last week’s post announcing this presentation received the most feedback we’ve ever had on the blog.  It came from everywhere: business leaders, parents, teachers and others.

I asked for public or private advice and it came in droves: comments on the blog, throughout LinkedIn groups, and on other social media. More, however, came to our email address.

We received dozens of emails from parents, embarrassed about learning unwelcome news from their children’s Facebook pages, leaders and teachers expressing concern about a general lack of judgment, and others reluctantly revealing their own mistakes online.

Suggested Approaches

I received a lot of really good advice on how to get through to the students that their reputations were their most valuable possessions. Also, that their postings online could have permanent, negative effects on their lives.

The suggested approaches generally fell into four categories:

  • Example driven:  Give them clear examples of other students’ horrible postings online so that they know how bad they look. Explain how to do it correctly.
  • Consequences: Talk about the consequences of their behavior in terms of the future, particularly career opportunities.
  • Guilt: Help them understand the embarrassment they are causing their parents, families and friends.  Also, why the students should be embarrassed by what they are doing.
  • Resignation: It seems very generational, but a segment of people expressed a sense that young people they know are beyond change--that their norms of behavior are accepting of, as one person wrote, “extreme exhibitionism.” 

Persuading Students

I wasn’t overly concerned about speaking at OSU since I’ve also spoken at many universities, though mostly to faculty and staff.  I’ve also given hundreds of persuasive presentations over the years.

The difference was I was going to be trying to persuade students to change a behavior that seems to in-grained in their culture.

I opted for some combination of these approaches.

I decided against showing too many examples of stupidity.  They seemed liked cheap shots and somehow too easy.  I also think they have a turn off effect that is easily dismissed.

I call this that the “Red Asphalt” effect. Red Asphalt was the name of a “shocking” film of blood and guts crashes that was shown in California driver education when I was in high school. Students would look forward to it and make fun of the film, thus having what I always thought was the reverse effect.

So I in my presentation I focused on more of a self-interest approach, deeply explaining reputation and brand management and how it relates to them and their success in life.

Upfront I show slides of high profile reputations and asked them to rate, 1-10, the subjects’ reputations before and after: Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, former OSU Coach Jim Tressel.  We reviewed corporate brands and reputation--Apple as the world’s most admired, and BP, as reviled after its oil spill.

I emphasized to the students was that I was not there to preach. I’m not their parents or their professors. I’m a reputation expert, who gets well paid by companies and individuals to help them with their brands and reputations.

My main message was, they should work to OWN their personal brands.  “Don’t just do random things and let others decide who you are. Use the principles of brand management to develop your own personal brand.

“If you want to be a ‘gangster’ or a ‘player,’ then decide that and do it. Don’t let it happen because of random photos and impulsive Tweets.”

Then I walked them through these ten points:

1. You don't control your own reputation (others do. They’re judging you all the time, based on their values and the signals you send them.)

2. Perception = reality (what others perceive IS your reputation, whether you like it or not. On a slide I list all of their key relationships such as family, friends, professors, employers, et al, and explain that we don't accomplish anything in life without relationships. If people don't trust us, they won't help us. See number 3.)

3. Trust is everything (with photos of an open door and a closed door, I explained that the perceptions you create open some doors and close others. Make sure they’re the ones you intend.)

4. Social media is forever (context is everything. That photo you took in a funny moment won’t be as funny to a potential employer. I asked, “have you ever laughed till you cried with someone and then tried to tell another friend about the joke?” It always ends up the same way: you had to be there.)

5. Own your personal brand (noted above)

6. Nothing is private (Is what you’re doing in that photo, OK for the world to see? I also put up a photo of former CIA Director David Petraeus and said I wasn’t preaching to them because adults do stupider things. How can the head of the most secretive organization in the world believe that his affair was secret on a Gmail account?

I also noted the findings of a survey that 79% of employers check applicants’ online/social networks and 70% say they rejected candidates based on what they found.)

In the following points I gave examples of students who had developed their personal brands into successful businesses in speaking, fashion and other areas.

7. Tell your story

8. Be committed

9. Go with your passion

10. Build your digital footprint (I explained how to use the various social networks to build content that would land them on the front page of Google in a positive light.)

Finally, I asked them to take one of these three steps in the next 24 hours.

  • Google your digital footprint
  • Review your linked in profile
  • Send 3 friends your 3 words

Results: Did I get through?

Their professor thanked me and said it was nice to see the students so engaged.

I was really pleased by that.  I’m all about fully engaging audiences.

I’m used to speaking to business audiences where they’re shouting things out in the first couple of minutes (which I encourage and it grows from there.)

With the students, it was somewhat hard to gauge--they weren’t indifferent, but they weren't responding as much as audiences I'm used to.

That is, until I did my personal branding exercise. I have audiences write down three adjectives that they think describe themselves.  (You can read an earlier post about this process.)

Thankfully, a young man volunteered to come to the stage.  He was great.  I interviewed him a bit for his name, interests and who he’d want to have dinner with, living or dead. He chose Arnold Palmer, for his golf skill and business acumen.

I asked for a volunteer who didn’t know him to apply three adjectives.  A tall guy in sweats in the back row was volunteering a woman near him.  She didn’t want to come up, so I cajoled him into coming forward. Then the crowd started cheering.

We had fun on stage as these two guys towered over me at probably 6’ 4” and 6’ 9”. (I learned from Twitter later that the taller of the two is a starter on OSU’s basketball team.)

It was good to have them participate and internalize the idea that people are applying descriptors to our reputations all the time. We need to send the right signals in our actions and speech to shape the reputation we desire.

Final Results

About 10% of the students responded to our survey on Survey Monkey. The ratings on three questions (1-10, 10 being most positive) were Content (8.25), Presenter (8.95), would you recommend the program to a friend (8.06).

I created a hashtag on Twitter (#OSUBrandYou) and received a few Tweets.

I received a few brief thank you’s from the students, and one student sent a complete email. I am satisfied with the response but will test new stronger engagement methods before I present this again. I'm open to offers from other universities.

And, finally, you saw this above, but if you’ve read this far you might enjoy revisiting this email because it really speaks to hope.  They’re listening, if only we reach them in the right way.

As in all things, we can only change the world one person at a time.

Mr. Millen,

I wanted to thank you for coming to speak to our Marketing class yesterday evening. The points of your speech didn't quite sink in, until I saw an unbecoming photo of a friend at a urinal on Facebook this morning.

As I graduate and enter into the job market this December I will definitely be thinking of how others perceive me, and what I can do to influence their perceptions. You will be happy to know I Googled myself, and worked on improving my LinkedIn profile shortly after your presentation.

Thank you again for this valuable information.

As I said in my note back to this young woman, “you made it all worthwhile.”

If you found this worthwhile,  please share it with others.

 

photo credit: Samantha Decker via photopin cc