Should you invest in your kid’s digital footprint?
Meet Lucy Boudreaux, the queen of social media. She has a personal website at Lucyboudreaux.com, is @lucyboudreaux on Twitter, and has her own Gmail address, as well as an active Facebook page.
Lucy Boudreaux is eight months old.
At an age when most babies are clutching their binkies, or spitting out pureed squash, Lucy Boudreaux has a fully realized online presence. And her primary employee – dad H. Jude Boudreaux, founder of New Orleans’ Upperline Financial Planning – wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Domain names are like other forms of real estate,” says the elder Boudreaux. “They’re not going to be easier to come by, and I figure it’s easy enough for me to manage her accounts right now. I even use the Twitter account to send out updates and pictures to family members.”
In one sense, the online setup serves as a kind of endowment. Once Lucy is of age, she’ll be able to slip into the pre-formed digital identity to house her resume, run a blog or a business, or do pretty much anything else she can envision. And unlike a 529 college-savings plan, it doesn’t need to be constantly fed with tens of thousands of dollars.
“I think of it as her digital trust fund,” says Boudreaux. “And with the exception of the domain name, it’s all free.”
In a world where our online presences matter almost as much as our physical presences – indeed, maybe more – more and more parents are getting the same idea. Some Web-savvy parents are registering addresses almost as soon as children emerge in the delivery room.
“Get your kids’ names locked down,” advises Howard Lindzon, CEO of online investing community StockTwits, who’s done exactly that for his own children. “It’s one of the best lessons I ever learned. If someone’s squatting on the name, you should even pay to get it. Because you should always be able control the algorithms of yourself.”
But, as with all online ventures, be wary of what you’re putting out there in the universe. Flood the Internet with embarrassing baby pictures, and they will stay online in perpetuity. Here are a few tips from the pros on ways to shape Junior’s online presence the right way:
Set it and forget it
Once you have websites for your kids, don’t feel the need to develop them right away. Just park there, until the day comes when you really need them. Tynicka Battle, head of New York City firm ThinkTank Digital, has already registered sites for her two boys, jaibattle.com and bobbybattle.com, but is in no rush to set them up.
“By the time they’re in their teens they’ll have the opportunity to redirect to blogs they may start, or set up their own eBay shops, or whatever they desire,” she says. “As they get older they can launch full sites showcasing their high-school sports reels, resumes and bios. The opportunities are endless, really.”
Don’t hand over the reins too early
You might think of personal websites and Twitter handles as precious Web real estate, but your kids might not appreciate the value. If they use them to do nothing but upload Jackass-style pranks, then they’re actively torpedoing their future prospects. So keep the sites under lock and key until they’re mature enough to handle the responsibility.
“The most realistic risk to children is future harm,” says Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, a firm that helps individuals and businesses shape their online presence. “For kids, their indiscretions are captured and made permanent online. Employers, college admissions and peers are evaluating online content — and making critical judgments and decisions based on what they find.”
Realize you’re playing defense as well
A personal website, Facebook page and Twitter handle aren’t just useful places from which to launch a future business. In an age of identity theft, online impersonators, and anonymous critics, a powerful online presence is your first line of defense against such Web nonsense.
With that in mind, don’t just register sites like firstnamelastname.com, but other variants as well, like nicknames. Then once they’re ready to develop those resources, help your kids to shape a positive presence. “The most powerful thing that your child (or you) can do is to take control of their reputation before somebody else does,” says Fertik. “If your child has a positive online profile now, then he or she is less likely to be at risk down the road.”