We are raising a new generation that won’t know a world without digital everything. Most elementary students weren’t around before Google, social media and smartphones, and will experience digital interaction almost as frequently as real-world interaction.
One response to this is to teach young people that their online social behavior should mirror proper face-to-face interactions with not just civility, but kindness. How can advertisers and brands prepare to fit into this growing movement for online kindness?
Be Internet Awesome
Google is now offering an educational program called Be Internet Awesome. Designed for parents, educators and children, Be Internet Awesome is about helping kids confidently make smart decisions online by teaching the fundamentals of citizenship and safety – just as we do in the physical world.
Five Key Lessons
Be Internet Awesome focuses on five key lessons to guide young people as they learn to navigate the internet:
1. Be Internet Smart: Share with Care
Anything online can spread fast, whether it’s good or bad. To avoid the potential consequences, kids must learn to use forethought, and determine if what they’re considering sharing online is something they’d say out loud in a group. An example of something to share with care is personal information about friends and family.
2. Be Internet Alert: Don’t Fall for Fake
It’s not always easy to tell what’s true and what’s not, especially online. Kids need to learn that people, stories and situations aren’t always what they seem.
3. Be Internet Strong: Secure Your Secrets
Just as we keep our bodies safe in the real world, we need to protect our sensitive information in the digital one. Kids must know how to protect their devices, reputation and relationships, as well as location and financial details.
4. Be Internet Kind: It’s Cool to Be Kind
In an era of books and shows like 13 Reasons Why, this is a big one. Digital content is powerful, and that power can be used positively or negatively. Kids are taught to treat others as they’d like to be treated, and disempower, rather than fuel, online bullying.
5. Be Internet Brave: When in Doubt, Talk it Out
Kids must feel comfortable approaching trusted adults with anything questionable they find online. Adults can encourage this openness by being open themselves about social and safety issues in general.
Tools for Kids, Educators and Parents
Google has designed different tools for the various segments that will encounter Be Internet Awesome.
Kids can play the free game Interland, which features four virtual lands in which they can practice good digital citizenship. Opponents include hackers, oversharers, bullies and phishers.
Educators can promote the five key lessons of Be Internet Awesome with a curriculum developed in partnership with the Internet Keep Safe Coalition. The curriculum concentrates on safety, and teachers can use activities, worksheets and Interland to support their efforts.
The Challenge and Pledge
Parents and guardians may not always know where to start when talking to kids about digital safety and respect. Google teamed up with YouTube creators for the Be Internet Awesome Challenge video series to offer guidance for adults. Further, the Be Internet Awesome Pledge is something families can sign as a commitment to being smart, alert, strong, kind and brave on the Internet.
How Brands Fit In: Planning for Future Consumers
As advertisers, our job is to sell things. Historically, successful advertising hasn’t centered around ideas like kindness, but instead attractiveness, convenience, fun and affordability. How can advertisers shift their thinking to gain the interest of future consumers?
In 2015, the Kleenex brand launched a campaign of commercials centering on the idea that someone, somewhere needs a tissue, and offering them a Kleenex is a symbol of help, connection and kindness.
Kleenex knew how their products were used to spread kindness, and created a commercial that encourages consumers to do just that.
Of course, Kleenex’s product is perhaps more associated with care than, say, shoes or power tools. It might be harder for other brand types to promote kindness in a way that is authentic, and authenticity is key.
AdAge discusses authenticity in marketing to Millennials, and it’s likely that following generations will demand it even more if programs like Be Internet Awesome are successful. Here are three tips from the article:
- Don’t name “authenticity” as a brand attribute. Work on being authentic, not saying you’re authentic. Authenticity is better expressed as a nuanced aspect of creative advertising.
- Use content marketing in core communication strategy. Have real people who actually love your brand advocate for it. Give your audience content it wants from people it trusts.
- Expand your brand’s comfort zone. Be encouraging, but don’t tell people what to do. Stand your product up, but don’t be salesy. Be willing to take criticism and even attacks, and continue to let real fans talk about your brand in their own voice.
Let’s be honest – kindness is becoming a business strategy. However, if you’re going to use it, you must have the business culture to match, because consumers will detect phoniness right away. Programs like Be Internet Awesome are meant to promote genuinely good citizenship online, and future consumers will know when brands aren’t following suit.
If you want to adopt kindness in your advertising strategy, ensure you can back it up, and watch today’s trend become tomorrow’s standard.