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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