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NI Digital Expert interview: Wayne Denner

We’re now five weeks in to my NI Digital Experts interview series. So far we’ve heard from great all-round digital marketers Emma Gribben and Niamh Taylor, UX agency founder Gareth Dunlop, and front-end developer Derek Johnson.

Today we’ll hear from Wayne Denner, who is a well-known figure in the local digital scene as an expert in online reputation management. He was recently featured on UTV to give his thoughts about a PSNI social media gaffe, and has written a great book aimed at students and parents about the pitfalls of sharing your personal information online. Wayne regularly speaks to students and businesses about cyber safety, reputation management, and online well-being.

I’ve known Wayne for several years now, and we share a passion for the internet and a keen awareness of both the joys and dangers it can bring. Although our face-to-face catch-ups are rare (both Wayne and I are hard to pin down, which makes syncing up calendars rather challenging), I consider him a friend in the industry and it’s always a pleasure to hang out with him.

Let’s hear from Wayne and his adventures in the digital industry.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in to the digital industry: how did you discover the internet, and how did you become so involved with it?

I’ve always been fascinated with tech and love having the latest gadgets.

I remember back in the mid 90s, perhaps ‘93 or ‘94, getting my hands on an AOL CD and about 1000 FREE hours of daily internet use. I was instantly hooked. I started to build very very basic webpages putting up early forms of my own content. I loved how even the very early Internet gave you a chance to learn, access new information and build new connections with people you might never have met. Back then social media was just chat rooms. For me, my (some might say) obsession with the Internet evolved from those early days on the family computer connected via dial up to AOL. Or, as I used to call it, ‘AO Hell’ due to being kicked off it constantly when the phone rang or when my 15 minutes was up on one of the 3 computers owned by my college!. Aaarrgh, remember that lovely dial up sound? :) [Ed: I still have nightmares about dial-up modems…]

Your original university degree was in travel & tourism. You’ve since successfully managed to transition to marketing, with a special focus on digital marketing. If you could go back, would you study a different subject at university, or perhaps skip it altogether?

Yeah my journey to university wasn’t typical.

When I left school the Internet was still in its infancy. Opportunities were really limited – compared to what is available today. Strangely enough I originally trained to become a mechanic. This lasted about 6 months. I then switched to a painting and decorating apprenticeship but the early mornings (5.30 AM) – off to Belfast in a white van, again was not for me. I’m a night worker and I finally realised manual labour wasn’t for me. :)

Finally, after some misspent youth and bouncing around, I was given the opportunity to study a BTec National Diploma in Media Studies at Newry College of Further & Higher Education. Then an HND in Travel and Tourism Management and then a Degree in the subject at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle.

I was lucky enough to study for my MSc in Communication at Queens University which focused very much on the principles of traditional communication. My knowledge on digital communications is self-taught and comes from over 18 years of challenging myself every day to learn new things online.

I think looking back, this was actually a good route, as pretty quickly I knew what was and wasn’t for me. Also the media and travel/tourism industries have changed massively as a result of the internet and technology and these sectors were early adopters.

You were an early internet entrepreneur with, and have gone from strength to strength since then. What were the biggest lessons you learned in those early years?

I’ve always had a flair for entrepreneurship. Though some might say I’m just unemployable. :)

Growing up there wasn’t much money around and I always liked the challenge of trying to generate my own income and building something from nothing. At 14 with another friend I ‘launched’ Wayne’s Mobile Disco Roadshow, DJ-ing at 16th and 18th birthday parties as well as bingo calling at local elderly peoples homes. I also DJ-ed and presented for clubs and a few (unofficial) radio stations. Fun days.

Around 1998 myself and a friend had been toying around with an early website which was basically a scrapbook or our nights out. This then became Outlastnight – an early social network platform pre-Facebook and even Bebo which didn’t come along until 2004.

The nights out platform grew from strength to strength; at one point we had around 40 photographers in 8 locations that included Derry, Liverpool, London, and New York! It was really in those early years that I learned a lot about building a business online, especially the aspect of educating businesses as to why they need to be utilising online advertising opportunities for their businesses.

You’re now established as an expert in online reputation management and cyber safety. What made you specialise in this niche? Was there a specific trigger that made you choose this speciality?

Yes there was a trigger for both. Regarding reputation management for business I’ve never been a fan of the ‘jack of all trades’ and I work deliberately to get exposure in certain areas. This shapes the niches I like to work in the most. We live in a world now where social media is everywhere. Business, brands, personalities and individuals are all using social media on a daily if not hourly basis to create content. For many the content does not cause too much of a stir but from time to time – and increasingly now as it’s so integral to our lives – things go wrong. What’s posted and shared online can impact a businesses, brand or individuals reputation. Also for many, so much more can be done to improve a reputation if you know how. So as I saw the development of more and more social media platforms and apps, giving people the ability to create content, and businesses to use these as a way to market their products and services, I knew that businesses and organisations would need help to protect and manage their online reputations.

Re: our cyber safety work, the school talks and events started as a bit of CSR over 4 years ago. This is now a huge part of what we do. The trigger for this was actually back in the Bebo days when profile based systems first became popular. Seeing first-hand the imagery and content young kids around 12, 13 put online – how vulnerable they made themselves in the online world – was why we started the ONLINE REPUTATION MATTERS program (Reputation, Protection, Wellbeing & Employability) in schools.

Our team also provide up to date and jargon-free resources for children and adults as well as daily content on main social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

To date I’ve now spoken with over 250,000 students, teachers and parents in Ireland, UK, and the UAE, on e-safety, digital resilience, and online education topics, and reached many more via our online channels. I deliver the talks personally and they’re designed to inspire and motivate young people to protect themselves online and use social media, mobile and internet technology responsibly – as tools to help them get opportunities in life.

We also deliver to adults to empower and inform parents, teachers, and school community stakeholders with relevant guidance. This is the first generation of adults who’ve had to worry about these things. The rapid rate of new message sharing and video sharing apps being released, as well as risks involved in gaming online, has been tough on parents and teachers. We give them the heads-up. The programme is constantly evolving and takes up about 60% of my time now. Schools are a great environment to work in.

For young people going online, the internet can be a hazardous place. What would your number one advice be for kids when it comes to the internet? And what would you tell parents about how to manage their children’s online presence?

For young people, I know it’s a cliché, but think before you post. Just take a minute. It’s normally what you have posted in the past that comes back to haunt you in the future. That stuff could be up there forever.

Then I would recommend using technology to get opportunities as I’ve been lucky enough to have. Find ways to create positive content about who you are and what you’re all about so that when it’s time to apply for university or the job you want, your future employer/college recruiter will find great things about you online and you’ll be ahead of the pack. You already love your apps. Use them to get a job, travel, connect with people you admire.

Investing in your digital self is where it is at today. Be positive and responsible online. The possibilities are endless.

For parents, educators and anyone who works with children and young people, I would say, please never forget that no matter how good they are with technology, they need your adult input and guidance. Keep the conversations going and keep up with what you need to know to help children and young people protect themselves. You have a duty of care. Be aware of the risks and set a good example. How your child uses technology is key to their future education, career and life opportunities. Oh and (shameless plug) buy them a copy of my book ‘The Students Guide to an Epic Online Reputation..and parents too’.

Tell us a bit about your hobbies outside of work; what do you enjoy in your life outside of the office?

Spending time with the better half and our two boys is very important especially given how crazy the life of an entrepreneur can be. Being a dad to two little boys keeps me busy. In between rugby, footie, and bug hunting, I try to squeeze in the odd cycle on my road bike which I got into a few years ago. I’d love to do more but when I do get out it’s a lot of fun. As a family we enjoy getting outdoors, visiting new places and a bit of fishing.

Lastly, give us one website or app that you feel is vastly underrated and deserves a wider audience.

Never one to miss an opportunity Barry I have to say my new app RepSelfie which helps you take control of your online reputation – and improve it. We’ve been working on this for some time and have just launched in the UAE. It will be available in the UK and Ireland over the next 2-3 weeks.

To put it in context, 93% of recruiters admit to using social media to screen applicants and 67% of college and job recruiters will remove you from the application process if you have a negative online reputation. RepSelfie is the new and exciting tool which allows you to view, monitor, and improve your online reputation.

About Wayne Denner

Wayne Denner
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