We’ve all heard the horror stories of social media mishaps having serious repercussions. For example, Harvard rescinded acceptance for at least 10 students over their behavior in a private Facebook group in 2017. Which makes it clear that what you do privately on social media can affect your chances of getting in (and staying in) your dream school or dream career.
However, it’s important to have a strategy in place for if/when you (or your student) make a mistake on social media. How you react will make all of the difference for your digital footprint, online reputation, and search results. So, we asked 11 experts to share their best tips for overcoming social media mishaps.
1. Before posting, pause, think and reflect
Andrew Selepak, Social Media Professor, University of Florida
Social media is a tool and a tool has a use, but if we don’t think about that use, it is a useless tool. In the case of social media, it is a tool that takes up our time, can cause stress, anxiety, and other problems. Young people need to think about why they want to use social media before they start an account or before they start posting and keep this in mind if they hope to use social media correctly. The best practice for social media posting is the same best practice for being a reporter: it is better to be second and right than first and wrong.
Young people need to learn to pause before posting content and think about how others might view their post, about how well their post was written, and the purpose of their post. In a world of instant gratification, we too often want to post to social media as soon as something happens or as soon as it comes to mind, but in doing so we forget to think about the consequences of our posts. Sometimes even a brief moment of reflection can be the difference between a post we regret and a post we delete.
2. The best defense is building a strong offense in the digital world
Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com
The best defense is building a strong offense in the digital world.
To avoid making mistakes on social media, ensure that you are creating lots of positive content that can be seen as Light, Bright and Polite™ online. You can still have fun, be silly, and show your humor, just make sure it’s positive with a touch of gratitude. If you’ve made a mistake online, remove the post and apologize immediately (but remember that once something is shared on social media it can be posted elsewhere).
To create a positive offense, consider creating a personal website.
Having a personal website is one of the best ways to overcome social media mishaps if a certain negative post is persisting in your search results.
Your personal website is a great way to shine online and show your unique personality. Use your website to highlight school projects, hobbies, passion work, volunteer work, or family vacation photos. We have a Website Workshop that helps you build your website in less than an hour. We create fun, easy to follow videos, and training guides that make your student an expert on their website in just a few minutes.
3. Always own up to your mistakes and remember that jobs/college acceptances are on the line when posting
Allen Koh, CEO, Cardinal Education
This is a critical time for parents to monitor their children’s use of technology. Parents who hadn’t been used to supervising their children must step in and set restrictions on technology. Otherwise, kids will get caught in a spiral of technology use and feel more isolated and unfocused. Excessive social media use often leads to anxiety and depression, and studies corroborate this claim.
However, in a situation where a mistake does occur, one of the best things to do is to own up and apologize, and make the required amends by either correcting the post or deleting it.
There is another side to the coin that students need to understand. Often, one of the first places that recruiters visit after perusing a resume/application in consideration for an interview is social media. As an outsider, many things can be gauged from social media profiles for prospective employees. Companies want to see that you do have a life with family and friends and blend well with society.
4. Don’t panic, time will heal all things
Flynn Zaiger, CEO, Online Optimism
Students so often hear that everything on the Internet is forever, which can cause panic when they make a mistake. They’re not entirely wrong. Once something is online, it can be brought up forever.
It’s worth noting to students that have made mistakes, though, that the Internet can have an awfully short attention span. For their friends and feeds on social media, that’s even more true. The algorithms that dictate what users search on social media, from TikTok, to Instagram, to whatever the next big social network is, have mandated that only what is new, is cool. So students should first take a deep breath, and realize that this moment will pass.
Next, they should decide for themselves what an appropriate next step is. Should a post be taken down? Should any sort of apology be made, and if so, will it be done via DM or publicly. They should take into account their feelings, those of whoever else is affected, and the greater public. On the Internet, your actions are always being watched. Once you make a plan, put it in place, and reassess in a week. Time helps heal all things, including social media mistakes.
5. Turn a social media blunder into a positive blog or page
Samantha Warren, Director of Project Management
Parents and teachers often preach that “once you post something on the Internet, it never goes away.” Unfortunately, that lesson is true. Many students learn it the hard way.
But I think it’s important to acknowledge that humans aren’t perfect. People make mistakes. It’s no surprise that high school and college students sometimes post things online that they regret later on.
When students make a mistake online, they should educate other students about the realities of social media instead of letting the errors get the best of them. For example, they could start blogs or social media pages that provide relatable stories and helpful information on how to navigate the digital world responsibly.
Students are more likely to listen to other teenagers or young adults. Parents can’t always get through to their kids. Therefore, it’s important for students to take the initiative themselves to educate their peers about the risks and responsibilities that come with social media use.
6. What can students learn from their mistakes?
Scot Chrisman, Founder and CEO, The Media House
No matter how careful we are, we still make mistakes sometimes and social media is no exception. When you make a mistake on social media, I think the best thing to do is to identify what mistake you made so you won’t make the same mistake again in the future.
We spend most of our time on social media, so it is important to build and maintain a healthy relationship with social media. To do this, here are some tips I’d like to share:
Choose who you’re going to follow. Only follow accounts that can inspire and motivate you. Try to block negativity from your social media accounts as much as possible.
Be careful with what you post. Make sure to only post positive and helpful, not negative and harmful, content.
Take a break. If you feel like what you’re seeing on social media is becoming too much, take a break.
This may sound cliche but this is important: think before you click. Use social media responsibly.
For more tips on how to do this, read our blog on how to use social media responsibly.
7. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
Debbie Lopez, Director of Content Marketing, Zivadream
If a mistake is made on social media, damage control may be the first step. If possible, take steps in removing the offending comment, picture, or post. Depending on the circumstances, it might be appropriate to post a brief apology. A phone call could be in order. Better yet, resolve the issues with face-to-face communication.
Parents can help. First of all, don’t embarrass your child/teen. They already feel bad enough about their blunder. Instead, assure them that their mistakes do not define them. Start a conversation about concentrating on the functional aspects of social media, and encourage them to steer clear of the emotional piece. Suggest that before making a social media post, they ask themselves if they would say that to someone directly if they were in the same room together, or if it is something that they might be embarrassed about if someone like their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s mother were to see it.
Parents can also lead by example. If mom or dad constantly posts selfies, reports, and posts pictures of every little detail of their vacation, or engages in ill-natured debates over social media platforms, chances are that their children will follow suit.
8. Students should take down the post and apologize
Paula Nolan, M.Ed, @NolanPaulaJ
As a school administrator, almost every day I worked with students who have made a mistake on social media. I saw the fallout in the school setting and how it impacted the student who wrote the post, those who the post was about, and the families on both sides of the conflict.
Usually, these mistakes involve a student being upset with someone and then talking about it online. Most of the time they didn’t mean what they said and they feel bad about what they posted. Or, they were upset but didn’t realize how far and wide the post would go.
When a student makes a mistake, the initial steps to end their social fallout are relatively easy. First, the student should take down the post. Then, they should send a message to the person whom the post was about and apologize. Third, and sometimes this needed some facilitation, was to actually talk to the person who was offended by the post and work out a solution to the issue.
It is also important for the student to tell their friends to also stop antagonizing the targeted person. If they can’t stop it, the school can help by talking with the students who continue to post.
Then, work with the families on encouraging the student to not post or look at social media (both while the mistake was being fixed and for future times when they were upset). It can be difficult for students to take those breaks, so that can be work for parents. However, our students who took the advice above have frequently reported to us that they were happier not engaging in online conflict.
9. Be active and involved while watching for warning signs
Titania Jordan, Bark
Monitoring what your child is getting into online can be scary and feel next to impossible. And when it comes to mistakes on social media, your kids might not tell you when something has happened. That’s why parents must be on the lookout for potential warning signs of dangerous situations. Trust your instincts but know that your instincts depend on you being active and involved. Watch for changes in your child’s:
- Communication (are they more withdrawn?)
- Eating and sleeping patterns
- Clothing (the way they dress)
- Social media posts (the frequency of posting and/or the content)
What should you do if you discover a mistake they have made?
Stay calm. How you react can leave a lasting impression. Have a conversation, not a shouting match.
Be supportive, not scolding. Your child may feel ashamed by their mistake. You want to be able to see through your child’s eyes. Being supportive is the only way to do this.
Build trust while setting expectations. More than likely this is a journey, not a one-time experience. Let your child know how you deal with these types of situations.
Keep asking questions. Continuing the conversation over weeks, months, and years is the best thing you can do. Check in occasionally, and don’t shy away when the subject arises. This way, an awkward situation turns into an opportunity to strengthen communication.
Put filtering and monitoring systems in place. There’s absolutely no way a parent can monitor their children’s entire online world. From searches, to the content they are sharing, the sheer volume makes it impossible. There are amazing tools out there that not only block content, but also let you know what your child is doing online. Put these in place now.
10. Make meaningful apologies coupled with meaningful action
Alexis Moore, Attorney & Author
After making any mistakes online in a social media setting or other online forum, delete the said post and acknowledge that you made a mistake. If an apology is needed, make that apology because somewhere someone has that post that you should not have posted and the best way to put it to be bed is to take care of it by deleting, acknowledging, and taking more time in the future not to repeat the social posting offense. One thing many of my younger clients do not realize is that taking responsibility means correcting course – employers, co-workers, classmates, family, and friends will accept a heartfelt apology but most importantly if one does not take responsibility for the post, repeats the same conduct over and over, and tries to say sorry as a band-aid this won’t work. So, make meaningful apologies coupled with meaningful action.
Social media is not the enemy, however, your relationship with it and utilizing it can be! If you catch yourself spending more time online than with family and friends in person, this is a bad sign. Or, if you find yourself literally unable to avoid checking in on a social site without interrupting an obligation with family, friends, studies, work, or your day-to-day life, then this is a sign that there is trouble. There is no shame in having to find ways to learn how to detox from social media and not to allow it to take over one’s daily life. If you sense that social media is impacting your daily life negatively, (as an interruption rather than an adjunct to a better life) then it’s time to reassess the situation with social media and use it with a purpose as opposed to a pastime.
As the leading expert and attorney in the field of cyberstalking, I strongly suggest for today’s youth (and those that are finding it difficult to use social media without it being a burden vs a benefit) to open up a dialogue with others in person! There are many others experiencing the same problem with social media. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, fellow classmates, or family, what they do to overcome mistakes on social media.
11. Avoid social media mishaps by creating accounts with a purpose
Joel Bennett, Tokeet
Allow your teens to have social media accounts for their projects only, not personal accounts. For example, if your child has a woodworking hobby they can make an account to post their builds and network with other carpenters. Depending on their age, you may need to help them get set up. It’s a sort of compromise for parents who don’t want their kids on social media. It gives them a reason to be more productive and helps them see social media and the internet as a tool rather than a strictly social outlet.
Social media mistakes are bound to happen but how you react will make all of the difference for your digital footprint, online reputation, and search results. Being prepared is the best method for preventing social media mishaps, students should set guidelines around social media posting such as:
- Avoid posting online when they are upset
- Consider how their post can be interpreted by employers, teachers, parents, college admissions officers, or their peers
- Keeping posts Light, Bright and Polite™
- Creating social media accounts with a purpose to highlight their school projects, hobbies, or volunteer work
If you make a social media mistake, it can be relatively easy to fix. Delete the post immediately, apologize for the mistake, then reach out and apologize to the target of the post (if there is one). If a negative post is coming up in the first 2 pages of your search results, create a personal website that highlights your thought leadership to push it further down into your search results. If you want help building the perfect website for your online portfolio, we offer a Learn to Shine Online™ Workshop for SmartSocial.com VIP Members.
What are your best tips for overcoming social media mishaps? Let us know in the comments below!