Taj Pabari is a 16-year-old, Brisbane-based CEO. The impressive teen entrepreneur is the founder of FiftySix, a company producing educational and interactive products for children to immerse themselves in innovative technology. He is also the winner of The Australian Young Innovator of the Year for 2014; a Young Social Pioneer for The Foundation of Young Australians; a TED speaker; and the founder of two other ventures.
This, and more, can be learned from his LinkedIn profile. After connecting with Taj on LinkedIn, he agreed to talk about the role that social media had played in his success. “Connections,” he said. “It is all about connections.”
The Year 11 student has been using LinkedIn since he was 11 years old, when he started a tech blog for children, written by children. He used LinkedIn to reach out to tech reporters who would connect him with prospective writers wanting to have their work published. “I did not think I would get a response, but through LinkedIn I had about an 80 percent response rate, because they could see my profile and what I was all about. With email I would not have got a reply. LinkedIn enabled me to connect with reporters all over the world.”
A few years later, the first FiftySix investor found Taj Pabari through LinkedIn. “He had also invested in another venture in the UK through LinkedIn,” Taj said. “He had never even met this person. I was a suggested connection – we had a few Google Hangouts and Skype calls, we connected on Twitter of course, and then we met in person in Brisbane. That was in January 2015. I would not be doing what I am without him.”
The teen uses Twitter extensively too. “I did not do much on Twitter initially really, I was just following my favourite tennis players.” He learned the power of Twitter through the Forbes 30 under 30. “I could tell from talking to these people that I needed to sort out how I was using Twitter – what I learned was the power of the chain reaction when you use the right hashtags. I can also interact with competitors in a friendly way on Twitter and have a bit of banter with the odd tweet here or there to keep up with what is happening.”
Anyone that does a Google search for Taj Pabari will quickly find out about his accomplishments, experience, talents and passions from his highly visible social media accounts, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and YouTube. It is apparent that he leads a very active and positive digital life. Whilst the young CEO believes connections to be the greatest benefit of social media, it is the digital story he tells through what he posts and shares on these networks that facilitates the connections in the first place.
Undoubtedly, this teen’s online presence is exceptional for someone his age. He acknowledges that even though his peers know about the power of social media, they rarely leverage it to its full extent. In particular, he flags LinkedIn as the biggest opportunity missed by teenagers. “Those who have even heard of it probably do not have it filled in, but I think everyone needs to put their best foot forward here. This is the way to get connections and mentors so that when you are looking for an internship or partnership, you will have a massive network to reach out to.”
Current social media education rarely focuses on supporting students to leverage and harness the positive power of social media. Instead, the emphasis has tended to be on protecting, rather than projecting, their digital footprint with privacy settings. Despite this, Taj reiterates many young people still have inappropriate public profiles that share everything with everyone.
Fear-based social media education that flags only the prospect of a negative online reputation will, at best, encourage teens to shy away from social media or go towards anonymous or impermanent platforms like AskFM or Snapchat. This strategy will not help them get ahead in a world where a robust online presence is not only advantageous, but increasingly expected too. Everyone only needs to look at the example of Taj Pabari to see the opportunities that can come about through a public, purposeful and positive online presence.
In his recent article The Digital Tattoo: Think Before You Ink, Rob McTaggart similarly suggests that perhaps the biggest threat to students is also the greatest opportunity. He proposes that the time has come to move the conversation about the online world past fear and avoidance and to think about how students can be educated and empowered to establish a strong and positive online presence. He also argues for the creation of a new continuum for students to develop a unique digital tattoo to help them prosper.
Psychologist and digital technology expert Jocelyn Brewer has created the concept of Digital Nutrition, an award-winning framework for teaching the principles of a healthy, balanced relationship with technology. Borrowing from the healthy eating pyramid and food nutrition principles, she advocates sorting the candy from the kale to enable positive, long-term relationships with the online world to get the best out of technology, while avoiding the pitfalls.
Although Brewer points out that it is not so much about the specific network being used, but rather the intention or goals it is being used for, arguably Snapchat is like the candy of social media and LinkedIn the kale. LinkedIn enables students to create a digital portfolio of their education, experience and accomplishments; publish long-form blog posts; join groups, make connections and build their professional network; follow companies and industry influencers to gather knowledge and information; and research universities and the careers of their alumni. Given this and the fact Google ranks it so highly, LinkedIn is like a digital superfood for creating a positive online presence.
However, even Pete Evans cannot exist only on kale. Taj Pabari’s mix of public accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube is widely recommended as best practice for successful personal branding online. These are the social media networks most employers use to find and filter talent. Not only do these networks have the most members, but they also rank highest with Google, which is what matters for online reputation management and controlling a digital footprint. Importantly, Taj Pabari uses these networks mindfully, meaningfully and moderately – key aspects of Digital Nutrition.
Just as teachers educate students on traditional storytelling, so too do students need to be educated on digital storytelling to enable them to consistently represent their own story online in a positive and authentic way. By shifting the focus to what they should be posting on recommended social networks (both on private accounts and public accounts) – instead of what they should not be posting – students can build their own unique online presence that reflects what they want to be known for on the social media platforms most relevant to them. This best practice can and will open many doors for Generation Z as 93 percent of employers now use social media to source and screen candidates.
Using Taj Pabari as an example, his latest post on LinkedIn was a picture of him with the Queensland Premier and the caption: “Insightful evening at the First Advanced Queensland Reception with The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland!” His latest Facebook activity is an updated cover photo of him on stage for his TED talk and his most recent tweet is a quote from Richard Branson, “You do not walk by following the rules. You learn by doing and falling over.” Across all the major social networks, Taj portrays a well-considered image and consistently posts in a way that tells the type of story that opens doors.
This particular teen does admit to already having five years of practice and strong mentorship to perfect his digital storytelling. For others, a starting point for the type of continuum suggested by Rob McTaggart is to introduce younger students to a platform like GoEnnounce. This network was created to give tweens and teens a safe and private way to digitally track all their experience and accomplishments at school and communicate with mentors and relatives to keep them informed of progress. A GoEnnounce Student Page creates a digital representation of who that student is, which can then be used for applications, scholarships or job opportunities.
Encouraging the creation of a digital portfolio on platforms like this can upskill students in positive social media behaviour and give them practice in appropriate digital sharing before they interact on more public platforms. As they progress along the continuum, they can apply their skills in positive digital storytelling online with age-appropriate guidance. With such a staged and digitally nutritious approach to social media education, more 16 year olds could be like Taj Pabari, with an acquired taste for kale.