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How Teens Can Win The Game Of Social Media

Social Media, Teenagers, McKinney, Laura Tierney

Many high school students are settling into this year’s classes, but there is one class that is likely not on the school roster: A course on the ins and outs of how to best use social media.

But research shows, much of this generation’s social development will occur while they are online.

In order to help manage his social media usage, Teemer Barry's mother organized a "Social 16" birthday party for his 16th birthday.

It was not easy having a birthday party for a 16-year-old boy who did not want a birthday party. Teemer definitely didn’t want to have a birthday party after finding out what kind of party was being planned. The social media curriculum was presented by Laura Tierney. She’s the Social Media Director at McKinney Advertising Agency and the President and Founder of "The Social Institute."

"It’s one of the most powerful tools that you can use today, social media is. And you have to use that tool for good, to build your reputation versus to slash it apart," said Tierney.

The bottom line is – you get only one reputation.

Once the teenagers settled down with their pizza, chips and soda, Tierney got down to business with a presentation she developed on "How to Win the Game of Social Media." Tierney is a Duke University graduate, where she was All-American in field hockey and has served as a social media coach for Olympic athletes and world champions.

Social Media, Teenagers, The Social Institute
Credit Leoneda Inge
Teemer Barry's birthday cake was decorated in what is considered 'old' media.

The teens at the birthday party were asked to pull out their cell phones, open to their profile page on Facebook or Instagram and then pass the phone to the kid on the right.

"And we’re all family here, so just pass the phone to the person on your right, to your right, your right, right around the table!" said Tierney.

The room got quiet, except for some light nervous laughter.

"No, don’t worry, this person is not going to go into your profile and mess with any settings. But what I want you to do with this other phone you have, I want you to scroll through their account and get a sense of what they are posting about and maybe look at their captions a little bit," said Tierney.

Then Tierney asked the teens to think of three words to describe their friend’s account. She’s made this request several times with other groups of teenagers and the adjectives are almost always the same. Teenage girls use words like "pretty," "popular," and "funny." Boys often say, "athletic," "popular," and "fun."

Tierney says teenagers should think about their core values, goals, and interests when posting anything. It might trigger another whole set of words – like "smart," "driven," and "dedicated."

Tierney showed the birthday boy and his friends a YouTube video of basketball star Steph Curry, who she says is smart and driven and masterful at promoting a positive image on social media. In the video, he is lip syncing in his car using, one of the hottest apps for teens.

“You can see that he’s using his microphone and he’s showing up to it day after day after day.  He doesn’t post anything that really reflects poorly of his character," said Tierney.

But what if someone is attacking your character and has posted something you don’t want college admissions officers, future employers, or your parents to see? Yes, they are looking.

Remove post, block sender, but don’t retaliate, says Tierney.

"The problem is, I think when you start fighting fire with fire under a single post, I don’t think there’s many good things can come from that," said Tierney.

The teens at the party seemed to have learned more than they thought they would learn.

"I learned about how easily I make snap decisions about friending people on social media and games and everything," said Jordan High School 11th grader Jordan Archie. "I didn’t realize it until I saw this presentation."

Jordan Bledsoe is in the 11th grade at Durham School of the Arts. He’s making some changes.

"When I do my pictures, and selfies, anything else I do, I need not turn my location on. That’s a dangerous thing," said Bledsoe.

Tierney is currently in partnership with Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, developing a social media curriculum.

Final tips from Tierney: Parents should huddle with their teens regularly to make sure they’re fueling a reputation online they can be proud of. Oh, and teens: Remember to protect your privacy settings like you’re famous.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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