Grom Social is a social media destination with a unique mission: it aims to educate users age six to sixteen on how to be productive members of the digital world.

Grom was created by then 12-year-old Zach Marks five years ago after he was kicked off of Facebook. Zach was inspired to create a safe social network for children after his sister Caroline- now a successful pro surfer— was the victim of bullying. Caroline used her experience to help her brother create anti-bullying characters within the app that teach children good digital citizenship.

While several social media networks aimed at children encourage some level of parental control (i.e. Messenger Kids), few proactively work to teach the users themselves lessons on positive behavior and how to address negative behavior, such as cyberbullying. Grom gives children the tools they need to become good digital citizens in many ways.

Grom Social, Interview

Grom Social’s logo.

Among the features offered by Grom Social is support within the app that enables every user—known as “GromAtars”—to be aware of the appropriateness of their content. If a person attempts to post something inappropriate, the GromAtar will stop them and explain why the behavior won’t be allowed.  This experiential learning from ‘peers’ instead of parents resonates with young users.

The site also offers the “Grom Digital Citizenship License” which works in partnership with Netspective web filtering. Via this system, students across the country watch a series of educational videos presented by Grom founder Zach Marks, and must complete a course that teaches them about interacting with others on social. This digital citizenship license program is available to the over 3,000 schools currently using Netspective.

Recently founder Zach Marks discussed the company and its future potentials via an exclusive interview with the Kidskintha blog.

Meagan Meehan (MM): You claim that you started Grom Social because of an incident on Facebook. What exactly happened and what could have been done to prevent it?

Zach Marks (ZM): When I was ten years old I convinced my parents to let me have a Facebook page. My mom and dad got concerned because I had so many “friends” most of whom were adults that I didn’t even know, and I was seeing things I should not have been seeing. When they made me delete my account, I secretly made another one using a false name. It was only a matter of time before they found out from my Dad’s friend that I was on FB again. This caused a big discussion in my house. I decided to make my own social network just for kids and with the help of my Mom and my brothers and sister, we began to put the idea together. I’m not sure anything could have prevented my getting on FB. In hindsight, I don’t think it’s about preventing or denying kids online or social media access. It is about providing them with a safe environment to learn and practice good social media skills. In the end, my ten-year-old mistakes birthed the inspiration for Grom Social, so my story has a happy ending.

MM: On regular social media sites, what kinds of problems have you seen kids get into?

ZM: There are risks associated with being online and communicating via social media. We have all seen the effects of bad social media and the toll it has taken over the years. Cyberbullying continues to be huge problem. Other common problems I’ve seen are kids posting personal info like an address and accepting friend’s requests from people they don’t know. I also think a lot of kids don’t realize that they are actively creating their own unique digital footprint with every click, and every post or comment is going to be there forever. I think it’s important to note that social media can be a wonderful tool and a vehicle for good if you know the guidelines. That is my focus with Grom Social.

MM: What can kids do on Grom Social that both compares and contrasts to Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

ZM: Many of the features on GS are similar to FB and other social media apps, just geared for kids. You can make friends, post pics, chat, stream original content and play games. What makes Grom Social different is the whole site is geared for kids. The content is kid friendly, the messaging and the good digital citizenship prompts and reminders are like road signs along the way to help remind and guide kids to develop good online practices. We really focus on offering positive and inspiring stories and encourage the Groms to share their online experiences. Grom Social is LIVE monitored 24/7 and our staff can answer questions and take action right away.

Grom Social

Grom Social founder, Zach Marks.

MM: Grom Social has strong moderation of posts, so what sorts of posts get flagged and what are some of the most common inappropriate material you run across?

ZM: Sometimes kids share their physical location info and phone numbers. Occasionally, we have someone post a photo or comment that is not within our guidelines so we prevent that from happening. Any kind of bullying is usually reported to a monitor and we are able to reach out to the person being bullied and to the bully directly.

MM: How long did it take to develop Grom Social, how did you select the name, and was it difficult to get it launched?

ZM: The first version of the site took about three months to build and was hosted on a GoDaddy server for $9.99 per month. In the first week, we had so many kids on the site, the server could not handle the traffic. We decided to shut it down and build a better version with more original content and additional safety measures. Eleven months later we launched our new version of Grom Social. The response was amazing. It was like a runaway train and our business hasn’t stopped growing since! The word “Grom” is an Australian surfer slang word for a young kid and upcoming surfer. My whole family loves surfing and we thought since our new site was all about kids and safe social media, Grom Social was a great name.

MM: How did you advertise Grom Social and right now approximately how many people use it?

ZM: Thanks to a great article from Florida Today, the site created instant global attention. Since then, the Grom story has been covered in over 375 worldwide media outlets. We are so proud of our 12 million groms and parents that have signed up!

MM: What are your favorite features of the site and how do you hope the platform evolves over the next decade?

ZM: Some of my favorite features on GS are the original content areas. We spend a lot of time creating fresh new videos to keep our audience engaged and wondering what’s next. We view the Grom platform as a media destination for kids that will evolve over the next decade to become a premiere outlet where additional content providers can share their messages with our Groms.

MM: What do you wish more people knew about online etiquette?

ZM: Online etiquette means being a good digital citizen and the core message here is to be kind online. We need to use social media for good and share positive uplifting stories and examples that encourage our youth to succeed in life. I think two of the most important things kids should know about online etiquette are:

  1. THINK before you post. Don’t share anything that is not positive. It’s just not a good practice in any part of your life to do that. #bekindonline #socialmedia4good
  2. Be aware of your digital footprint and online reputation. Remember, everything you post, like and comment on, sites you visit, ads you click on, and orders you place are creating a digital footprint of your online and social media history that never goes away. #besmartonline #safesocialmediaforkids

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To learn more about Grom Social, visit their official website.

Grom Social

Grom Social’s playful and colorful graphics.

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