Editor's Note: Laura Tierney has spent her career developing social media strategy for major brands, including Nike and Disney. Today, the (almost) Triangle mom is setting her sights on helping teens and their role models use social media in positive and meaningful ways through The Social Institute. She shares her philosophy here.
As I type these words, I am 37 weeks pregnant with my first child. It’s no surprise, then, that I have been thinking a lot about parenting recently. But, when it comes to social media, I’ve been thinking about parenting and childhood learning for much longer.
Three years ago, I started The Social Institute to bridge the gap between adults and teens as one of the nation’s leading pioneers in positive social media education. My passion for social began while playing field hockey for Duke University and volunteering to run the team’s Facebook page. The power of that platform to bring people to games and rally behind the team was awesome. It also kept the team connected — and SOCIAL — off the field as much as we were on the field.
What began as a hobby, turned into a career that took me to ESPN and McKinney, where I worked with world-class brands to harness the same power. Social media is the strongest reputation builder, after all. I’ve come to learn that it’s the biggest game in the world. And any smart and savvy brand plays to win.
From brands to families
It’s easy to find information about all the ways brands can use social media to their benefit.
When it comes to kids, all I was seeing were the don’ts: Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know, don’t join that group text, don’t use that platform, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
It got me thinking: Imagine if your coach told you only how NOT to throw, how NOT to block and how NOT to score, but expected you to win?
So, I started speaking at schools about the do’s of social media: how to know who to follow, when to block someone and ways to be the best version of yourself online. I call this “winning” at social. This month, The Social Institute's website launched, and our team is on a labor-of-love mission to help families around the country navigate social media positively.
From rules to standards
Duke taught me a lot about leadership. The learning didn’t stop after graduation. While building the website, I came across this quote from Coach K: “Usually when you’re ruled, you never agree with all the rules, you just abide by them. But if you have standards and if everyone contributes to the way you’re going to do things, you end up owning how you do things.”
Every family technology contract we found online began “I will not …” and required only the child’s signature. Coach K’s approach inspired us to build a contract based on standards that both parents and children would sign.
From don'ts to do's
But the company’s adoption of standards didn’t stop there. Our philosophy of positive social media education is also based on standards. Here’s a taste:
Protect your privacy like you’re famous. Beyonce does not share her Instagram geo-location or photos with her car’s license plate in the background. Neither should you.
Play to your social core. Do you like basketball, country line dancing, lip syncing to J-Beebs, or making clay replicas of famous aliens? Great. Be YOU. Share it on social. You’re bound to find someone else who likes that too. Let’s share our strengths while staying true to the best version of ourselves.
Be a cyberbacking champion. This is how we combat cyberbullying: By backing up one another with kind words, encouragement, high-fives, and fist bump emojis. Shut down a bully by building up the bullied.
Strike a balance. Put down your phone when someone is talking to you. Look them in the eye. Keep it in another room while you sleep. Prioritize your homework, housework and general good times.
Build a strong team. The images and information you see in your social media feeds affect how you think about yourself and the world. This is your team. Build a good one. Fill your feed with people who encourage you, who also play to THEIR core.
This is what social media education should look like, both in schools and at home. We risk depriving our kids of the skill to navigate one of the greatest influencers on their social development when we focus on rules that start with "don’t."
Share these standards or others with your family. Let’s all use this social power in our hands, perhaps the greatest power in the world, to do good. To win.
And if you need a coach, LMK.
Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which teaches students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. By reinforcing character strengths like empathy, integrity, and teamwork, and by teaching teens and their role models (from parents to U.S. Olympians) to be their best selves on all platforms, The Social Institute is helping students “win the game of social media.”