What College and Job Applicants Can Learn from Corporate Social Media Fails

Over the past few weeks we have witnessed several notable social media fails by major corporations. College applicants and job seekers concerned with their social media presence should take note.

While Delta and KLM have drawn well earned criticism over insensitive FIFA-related posts, their fails pale against American Apparel's July 4th mishap. American Apparel thought it was posting an artistic image of "#smoke" and "#clouds" as part of their July 4th message on Tumblr. Unfortunately, the selected image was of the 1986 Challenger disaster that killed all 7 astronauts aboard. The original Tumblr post was deleted within a couple of hours but the damage was already done. Thereafter, American Apparel issued one of the lamest apologies in recent memory via Twitter:

For high school and college students grappling with their social media legacy consisting of sophomoric posts, late night party photos, angry rants and an abundance of selfies, here are several important lessons that can be learned from American Apparel's mistakes:

(1) Personal posts unrelated to your core academic or career pursuits can still derail your professional aspirations;

(2) Deleting questionable posts will not make them disappear (see above);

(3) Insincere apologies blaming others will only make matters worse; and

(4) Positive social media content can counter the negatives over time.

Many high school and college students are surprised to discover how far removed their existing social media persona is from the person they are and how they would want others to perceive them. Rather than sophomoric posts to impress their friends, high school and college students should be building a social media presence that impresses college admissions officers and corporate recruiters. Here are some tips:

(1) Create and post professional and interesting content to counterbalance legacy content;

(2) Engage with all constituencies (friends, faculty, alumni, industry leaders, recruiters) on their chosen social media platforms; and

(3) Continuously build a positive personal brand and grow a professional reputation on social media.

These efforts will not only benefit students when seen by college and corporate recruiters but they will also help to negate the impact of legacy adolescent activities.

Remember that general posts showing students having fun and letting off steam will likely be tolerated by most colleges and businesses (but it is always important to know your audience). Students should instead be focusing their attention on any insensitive posts that reflect misplaced aggressive, violent or antisocial behaviors and tendencies. These are the posts that pose the greatest threat to college and business communities and therefore to the student as well.


Alan Katzman