Mentoring in the Social Media Age

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In the past month or so, I have been constantly utilizing the amazing insight and invaluable advice of my many PR “mentors” (the reason why will hopefully be revealed soon). This morning I was thinking about how lucky I am to have all of them, and it got me wondering about the nature of a mentor/mentee relationship. Mentor is a word that I toss around quite a bit, which is interesting because technically a person is only supposed to have one. So am I just using the wrong word to describe the people I go to for PR advice, or has the definition of a mentor shifted?

Typically, a mentor is a person who has a significant number of years on you in terms of experience (and also in age), thereby being in the optimal position to guide and teach you. However, lately I’ve been finding myself going to my peers for advice more and more. Many of the PRBCers are my age, and I truly value their opinions and experiences even though they don’t have that many years under their belts. Is this a smart idea? I think so; since we’re all at the same points in our careers, discussing common problems and issues is helpful, if not necessary. And I don’t just go to them to complain; taking advantage of their different perspectives is incredibly important to me.

Additionally, mentoring relationships are becoming less official. While some people believe there is an advantage to formally extending the question (it gives the mentor a heads up and let’s them prepare mentally), some others are unsure about how to ask in a way that isn’t awkward. (Disclosure: These thoughts were provided to me by this boy and this girl).

I think what I’ve been noticing is an increased importance of something my friend David Teicher calls “social media mentoring,” as opposed to traditional mentoring situations. PR professionals have really embraced social media (maybe even more so than any other industry) and taken the profession to a collaborative level. Think of how many PR savvy people you know that have blogs where commenting is encouraged or a Twitter account where they are constantly interacting with other pros. We are always giving each other our advice and opinions. The immediacy of these platforms has changed mentoring in the PR industry to social media mentoring- sharing experiences as they happen as opposed to sharing lessons that you’ve learned after years of thinking and reflecting. As our industry shifts and changes, we’re all learning together. In fact, the explosion of social media has in a way put us all on the same level as we figure out how to most effectively use it for our clients and our own personal branding.

I have a number of people in my life who I would identify as mentors- both personally and professionally (but none that I’ve formally asked). I’m interested in hearing from all of you. Do you have “official” mentors who you asked to guide you through your career? Or do you rely on the support and advice of your Twitter/Facebook friends and blog readers? Most importantly, do you consider these people a different type of mentor? Leave it in the comments!

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  • jeffespo

    Jess this is a great post and I would say that you are 100 percent right on the collaboration and mentoring across many locals via SM.

  • valeriesimon

    Good thoughts Jess! David Spinks, Arik Hanson and several others have helped me to redefine the way I use the term “mentor”. Social media has exposed me to a wide gamut of people whom I learn from on a daily basis. These relationships include industry leaders, students & peers. If I am consistently learning from someone and able to contribute to their learning on a regular basis, If I am making an extra effort to support someone else's professional development and know that they support my professional development as well… to me that constitutes a mentorship. Will these relationships offer the strength and value of “real life” mentors? Time will tell…

  • Thanks Jeff! I appreciate the support 🙂

  • Thanks Val! I'm glad you can relate, and I think most people in our PR Twitter “community” can too. I know I have learned so much since I started interacting and fully taking advantage of social media!

  • hdueitt

    Great post Jess. I also believe the “mentor” title to often holds the stigma of being someone older and wiser. Some of my greatest mentors have been younger or equal age professionals who may have another angle or view on a particular subject. Especially in the Social Media world, age really doesn't justify experience.

  • Great observation, Jess! I think you're right- the definition of a “mentor” has shifted. It's far less formal than what was thought of as a mentor, and far more collaborative. I certainly can't point to just one person that consistently guides me through particular issues, etc… and I've definitely never formally asked someone to be my mentor. (I imagine I'd write them one of those “check yes or no” notes like back in middle school if I had though…)

  • Alex Anzalone

    I agree with the sentiment that “mentoring” has shifted. Thanks to social media it's happening in near real-time, instead of only during a formal planned meeting or phone call.

    Have a mentor has also shifted to having mentors, plural–and that's a great thing for PR professionals. Certain aspects of our careers benefit from advice from seasoned professionals while other aspects of my day-to-day job benefit greatly from peer or even more junior insight. I am thankful to be able to extend my network of mentors via Twitter/Facebook, but also cherish the more traditional relationships as well. The main thing to remember – nourish the relationships!!

  • First, having a relationship with a mentor can really rock. If you're both getting something out of the relationship, as well as contributing to it, it's awesome.

    Second, I'm right there with you– social media mentoring is here, and it means your mentor can be the same age as you, live in a different country, and can be in a different field than you. And yes, that was possible prior to social media, but there's no denying how much more difficult it was. There are so many people on Twitter that I admire and follow and learn from- every single day. Have I met these people? For the most part, no. Will I? Maybe someday. Would I have had the chance to discover them without social media? Probably not, or if I would, then it wouldn't have been as quick. That's the glorious thing about social media. All these great minds are right at your fingertips, and your great mind is at someone else's fingertips.

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  • Jess, great post! As you know from my vlog for PRBC, mentoring is a topic close to my heart and your post really got me thinking about how social media has changed my mentor/mentee relationships.

    I tweeted this NYObserver article earlier today about the niceties of the social media world, and I have to admit, I have certainly benefited from what's being called the “favor economy” when it comes to social media – but possibly not as aimlessly as the article suggests. I've befriended many a PR pro by retweeting and championing their work, and these acts of kindness are not random, but are for people whose work I respect and learn from as they share it with the world (for which I am grateful).
    Social media, and being “nice” and “supportive” of others' work in that context, has allowed me to find a group of unofficial mentors that I couldn't be more thrilled with. And through things like PRStudChat, and PRBC, act as somewhat of a tangental mentor to others in the industry. The culture of knowledge-sharing and support that SM tools, like say Twitter, have opened the door on has created a whole new dimension of mentor/mentee relationships that I'm thrilled to be a part of!

    Thanks again for your great post!

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