How to keep online profiles light, bright and polite

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Social media is a vast, ever-changing world that can be used to your benefit, or to your demise.

The first step to figuring out your place in that world? Google yourself.

The results may be unsurprising, turning up your photos, things you’ve written, your social media profiles – or, more likely, random photos, inappropriate content or things you’ve never even posted.

Social media expert Josh Ochs spent two days in Copley schools in Ohio, United States, giving tips on how to change those results and curate a more positive search overall.

 During the student presentations, Ochs spoke to kids about what they can do to create a positive impression with colleges, employers and the general public.

“In my eyes you’re all adults, so I won’t tell you what not to do … in fact, I’m just going to show you examples of what can go right and what can go wrong,” Ochs said to a group of juniors and seniors during his last presentation Jan 24 morning. “I want to talk to you about some of the positive sides of the web.”

Ochs took about half an hour showing kids how to search their names in Google in various ways, like a college or company that they apply to might do.

Ochs showed slides of his own search on Google Images – much of it pristine and curated by him, with just a few unrelated pictures thrown in the mix.

It prompted many students to take out phones and Google their own names, uncovering less immaculate results.

For Breea Shephard, an 18-year-old senior at Copley High School, the worst of it was an old YouTube account.

“It’s not really bad … but it’s super embarrassing. I’ll just have to figure out how to take that down,” Shephard said with a laugh. “I’m gonna start putting a lot more positive stuff out there.”

Then, Ochs advised the kids how to fix that search if they’re unsatisfied. He covered the obvious fixes, like removing unappealing content. But he also suggested students add their own content, especially to the picture-sharing Instagram app, to bump down unappealing search results that they don’t have control over.

Ochs’ advice comes from positive firsthand experience.

He said he first learned effective marketing tactics when he worked for Disney. Then, he applied those strategies when he ran for Hermosa Beach City Council in California in 2009. He lost, but only by a small margin.

“I knew they would search for me online, so I set out to flood the web with positive content to show them who I really was,” Ochs said. “My Google results became my new brochure.”

Ochs has since written several books about how to use social media to “be yourself, but keep it positive and grateful” and keep social media profiles “light, bright and polite” – positive, smart and something you’re proud of, Ochs said.

“I think that he’s honestly a really great inspiration to young people, because this generation’s all about technology,” senior Tristan McMullin, 18, said after the presentation. “For him to give us this ‘up’ on technology and what colleges are looking for … it’s a step above.”

The Copley High School PTSA, Copley-Fairlawn Middle School PTSA, the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools Foundation and the Copley-Fairlawn City School District funded Ochs’ US$8,000 (RM30,952) visit.

“There’s so much negative just around the Internet and social media, and so much concern that parents have,” said Pam Knight, the president of the high school PTSA. “For me, what was really awesome was how to get those positive things out.”