Each generation has a unique approach to life that manifests in the choices its members make, including how they behave online. While all five generations commit errors in online etiquette, the mistakes—as well as the repercussions these missteps have on a person’s online reputation—are different.
Generation Z – 1997 to 2012
At 27% of the population, Generation Z is America’s largest generation to date. It is also the youngest, with many members still in their teens. Having never known a world without social media and the Internet, Generation Z has a reputation for being addicted to being online. In fact, nearly half of them are online for 10 hours a day.
Many people in this age group are focused on getting into college. As such, they need to be concerned about what their online presence says about them.
Mistake – Posting inappropriate images
Many teens share these kinds of images in order to look “cool” or to fit in with their peer group. However, some do so in response to pressure from other teens or manipulation from adult predators, who are skilled at taking advantage of the fact that teenagers’ brains aren’t wired to fully understand the results of their actions.
The consequences of posting inappropriate images
This breach of online etiquette can have long-lasting repercussions. Most importantly, it can prevent teens from getting into the college of their choice.
This is because nearly one-third of colleges are now vetting applicants by looking at their social media accounts. And if admissions personnel see something that makes an individual look like a bad fit for that institution, then they will decline his or her application, even if the person’s grades and test scores are top notch.
Social media activity can also damage an individual’s college prospects even after he or she has been accepted. In 2017, at least 10 teens who had received acceptance notices for Harvard had their acceptances rescinded when the college discovered a series of sexually explicit and offensive memes the applicants were sharing in a private Facebook group chat titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”
To avoid this happening to you, you need to be extra careful about what you post. Once something goes online, it’s there forever—and it will show up in the results whenever someone searches for your name. Even if you quickly regret your decision and remove your post, there is always the possibility that someone else has already taken a quick screenshot of it to share with his or her social media network.
Millennials – 1981 to 1996
Millennials have a reputation for being the most technologically savvy of the adult generations. Now in their 20s through late 30s, members of this generation are starting their own families and setting up their own households.
A key goal for people in this age range is finding the ideal life partner. And as nearly one-third of Millennials use dating websites to meet new people, this cohort needs to worry about making a good first impression online.
Mistake – Posting rude or insensitive comments
Despite their familiarity with technology, Millennials occasionally fail to review their posts before sharing, which can lead to them uploading content that might come across as rude or insensitive.
Unfortunately, it’s remarkably easy to unintentionally offend someone online. This is because people are much more likely to misinterpret written words than spoken ones. Tone of voice, in particular, is hard to discern in this format.
The consequences of posting rude or insensitive comments
People who don’t take a second look at each post they share might be unknowingly turning away potential romantic partners. This is because more and more singles are googling their dates before meeting them, and they are making decisions based on what they find. In fact, over half of them will cancel a date if their love interest has a bad online reputation.
To avoid getting blacklisted by potential dates, you should refrain from doing these things online:
- Trashing your ex
- Ranting about politics or religion
- Making profane or lewd statements
- Telling off-color jokes
Further, if you have been on social media for several years, you might want to go back and delete any old posts that fall into these categories.
Generation X – 1965 to 1980
Generation X is often overlooked in favor of the more famous Millennials and Baby Boomers that surround it. Now entering middle age, many members of this group are simultaneously supporting their children and their aging parents. Because of this, some refer to Generation X as the “Sandwich Generation.”
Generation X also has a reputation for being entrepreneurial. Famous entrepreneurs of this generation include Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google; Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos; and Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors.
Many Generation Xers are focused on their careers. Whether it’s getting a new job or earning a promotion with their current employer, members of this generation need to understand how their online image affects their employability.
Mistake – Complaining about work or boss online
Everyone needs to vent their frustrations about work now and again. However, doing so online is a serious breach of online etiquette that can have lasting repercussions on a person’s career, especially when you consider that 70% of employers check social media profiles and 54% of employers report not hiring a candidate based on something in that person’s social media profiles.
The consequences of complaining about work or boss online
When people share their work drama on social media, their current employer—as well as potential employers—will see them as a whiner, which can put them out of the running for that new job or promotion. This kind of content can also make the person who posts it appear immature and attention-seeking, which is a real turn-off for hiring managers.
Most importantly, negative comments about one’s employer or ex-employer can damage the brand’s online reputation.
Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee that recruiters and hiring personnel don’t see your work-related complaints is to avoid sharing them online in the first place. This is because, once you post something online, you no longer have control over who sees it.
Baby Boomers – 1946 to 1964
People have been studying, criticizing, and marketing to this famous generation since its members were just babies. Until the Millennials came along, we knew more about Baby Boomers than any other generation.
Entrenched in idealism and imbued with a sense of purpose, this generation has held numerous leadership roles over the last few decades. In fact, President Trump is the fourth consecutive Baby Boomer president we’ve elected.
The majority of Baby Boomers are now in their 60s and 70s. As such, enjoying retirement is the main goal for many in this group.
Mistake – Sharing vacation info on social media
The biggest online mistake Baby Boomers make is posting real-time pictures of their retirement travels. While sharing a vacation photo on Facebook or Twitter may seem like a fairly harmless activity, it is actually a very risky thing to do.
The consequences of sharing vacation info on social media
Sharing vacation plans or photos online makes people a target for burglary. After all, thieves are looking for the easiest way to steal. And what’s easier than robbing a house you know is going to be empty for a sustained period of time?
To avoid becoming a victim of theft, always assume that someone other than your close friends can see the things you post, even if you specified “friends only” in the platform’s privacy settings. This is because even when you limit who sees your posts, someone in your friend group might decide to share your post with his or her own network.
A thief might also gain access to your vacation information by looking over the shoulder of one of your friends while he views your post in a public place. Or, one of your friends might have forgotten to log out of the computer she was using at the local library, which lets the next person who uses it see everything you’ve posted.
The Silent Generation – 1925 to 1945
The Silent Generation—first defined in a 1951 essay—grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Having witnessed the hardships and sacrifices of those around them in their formative years, this generation is known for hard work and perseverance.
Now in their 70s and 80s, members of this generation are the healthiest, best-educated, and wealthiest group of elders America has ever seen. In fact, the median net worth ($228,400) of people over age 75 officially surpassed those of all younger generations in 2010.
A top priority for the Silent Generation is protecting their life savings, regardless of the size of their nest egg.
Mistake – Clicking email links
The biggest breach of online etiquette the Silent Generation commits is clicking on the links in emails without first verifying that the sender is trustworthy. While increasing numbers of seniors are going online, they are not as tech savvy as younger generations. As such, members of this age group are often fooled by online scammers.
In some cases, fraudsters obtain seniors’ personal information by sending phishing emails that ask recipients to update their bank or credit card information by clicking the links in the email. These links take them to a fake website, where they are instructed to enter their financial information.
Thieves also trick older people into downloading phony antivirus software, often called scareware, that gives the scammer access to personal information on the victim’s computer. Scareware usually appears as a popup window similar to the one in the example below:
Online safety expert and author J. J. Cannon suggests that seniors watch for the following signs of a scam:
- “Anything asking you to verify personal or banking info (e.g., social security number, bank account number, online information such as Apple ID and/or passwords).
- Anything saying you must ‘take immediate action’ or other urgent verbiage.
- Anything that appears official, but which is poorly written. Keep in mind, sophisticated scammers are able to mimic what looks like legitimate e-mail from your cable subscriber, banking institutions, even tech giant Apple).”
It’s also a good idea to follow these online safety tips:
- “Look for https at the start of the website before providing personal or financial info. Roll over links before clicking to verify its legitimate and not a (phishing) scam”—Richard Guerry, executive director of IROC2.org
- “If contents in email don’t seem ‘normal’ or ‘like that person’ when they interact with you, there’s a strong probability it’s a phishing email. Create a completely new email to your contact, quote content from the weird email and ask, ‘Was that really from you?’ Never cut/paste links from the original email.”—Julia Hengstler, an online privacy educator
- “Block and ignore messages from people you don’t know. If you have not ordered anything from a company but receive a request for shipping or payment information, ignore and block.”—Scott Driscoll, founder of Internet Safety Concepts
What can you do if you’ve made these mistakes?
Whether it’s sharing inappropriate images, posting rude or insensitive comments, complaining about work, sharing too much information, or clicking email links, your online mistakes don’t have to define you. You have the power to improve your online reputation using online reputation management techniques.
For example, search engines tend to rank social media accounts highly. Therefore, by building up your social media presence (by completely filling out your profiles, sharing useful and informative content, and engaging more frequently with your followers), you can replace negative content on the first page of your search results with social media results. This pushes the negative results onto subsequent pages, where few searchers ever look.
To learn more about repairing or strengthening your online reputation, give us a call. We are always happy to provide a free consultation.