How can brands influence young peoples’ approach to their online lives?

A big part of our job as brand consultants is to help our clients manage their online reputation and profile. But an online reputation isn’t only relevant to commerce – it is also important for today’s youth.

However, where brands like to communicate their truths to differentiate themselves, we are seeing the exact opposite for young people. Their online profile is an opportunity to portray an alternative life. Whether its escapism, to be accepted, to be cool or to fit in, this virtual life can consume reality with devastating effects.

In a digital age, where there is nowhere to hide, can we, as an industry, do more to positively influence peoples’ online lives?

As a new mum I find the prospect of raising my child in a digital age very daunting.

We all can recall the pressure of being a teenager – of feeling we have to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to fit in and to be accepted by peers and not to be seen as a social outcast. Thankfully, the pressure for me ended at the school gates and it’s all documented under lock and key in my Forever Friends diary. But for my son it will be a whole different ball game.

A case of note is that of Lucy Alexander. A brave mother to her teenage son, Felix, who committed suicide last year. He was a victim of constant bullying that drove him to continually reinvent himself to fit in because “no-one wanted Felix”.

Multiple instances, including him using a Nokia rather than the latest iPhone, provoked the bullying. Unfortunately, due to the continual connectivity of our times, this didn’t end when he left the playground.  For all its plus points, social media played a pivotal part in the tragedy.

Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.

In an attempt to avoid cyber bullying Felix deactivated his accounts, only for the bullying to continue and for him to feel even more isolated and distressed. Although he moved schools, his mother said ‘he was so badly damaged by the abuse that he was unable to see just how many people truly cared for him.’

It is unusual for an individual not to have an online presence these days and, as shown in Felix’s case and many others, it is hard to avoid.  To not be part of it, only caused more isolation.

In recent years we have seen the rising of businesses and charities specialising in helping people deal with social media and its impact on reality. It can vary from showing them how to cope with negative comments to a comparison-free way to viewing other people’s lives online.

Looking back at my teenage angst, I suppose I should count myself lucky that I didn’t have to worry about the ‘other me’ online. My drunken nights weren’t instantly captured and posted for all to see – thank the Lord! My outfit was checked in the mirror, not by the 100th selfie and filter to make me look my best. And the girly bitching was generally done behind my back not written in black and white for all to see and contribute to.

Social and online has become a double-edged sword. We can list the numerous benefits that it brings to our lives, both business and personal, but the flip side of increasing cases of online bullying and its effect on self-esteem can’t be ignored.

How brands have begun to address the rising issue.

Following the success of the ‘Real Women’ campaign, industry heavyweights, Unilever, recently launched Dove’s self esteem project, while Tarte cosmetics addressed cyber bullying through their Kiss and Make-up campaign. And most recently Gap launched its Fearless Beauty Campaign.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but the cynics will always question how much activity is for commercial gain and brand awareness rather than the cause.

Since 2009, Illamasqua has supported the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a charity set up to help educate young people on bullying and not judging people on appearances.  To raise awareness of the Foundation and pay tribute to Sophie, Propaganda produced a short film of the haunting rendition of Sophie’s story and Illamasqua sales of a ‘Sophie’ eyeliner and palette contribute to the Foundation’s continued efforts for a more tolerant society and campaign to change the hate crime law to offer alternative individuals that are part of subcultures more protection.

To donate please visit: http://www.sophielancasterfoundation.com

As an industry, much of what we do is based on building emotional connections to influence people, culture, and change perceptions. We have the skills to help drive a change in people’s use and view of online reputation management. For me, I would like to see more brands stand for values beyond the product or service being sold and for these to be reflected in their CSR policies. This isn’t about brand sales, it’s about people, and improving our culture, to help combat the darker side to social media so our emotional intelligence overrides the technological advancements of today’s world.