There are a million ways that you can use social media for professional gain, legitimately millions. Angry cat anyone? One such way that the majority of people seem to avoid like the plague is mentoring. The Internet connects 2.4 billion people every day, and yet the idea of building a relationship with someone who is an expert in their field seems to slip past people. You can follow Dwayne Johnson aka @theRock on Twitter, but did you know you could also follow Inhi Cho Suh (@inhicho) who is VP, IBM Big Data Integration & Governance? Social Media is often defaulted-to as the ‘get away’ from our professional lives, however it is the single biggest asset when it comes to improving said profession.
The power of social media in a professional-sense is something I realized a long time ago. Heck, my first ever start-up was built around improving the real estate process overlaid on the social graph. From the early days I saw social media as making anyone accessible. Simply put, there wasn’t a barrier of entry to meeting someone across the country, across the world, or in a different “income bracket”.
I didn’t join Facebook until 2007. I was the cool kid in college that refused to get it. (Go ahead and take a second to laugh at that if you know me, today) When I joined Twitter in April 2008 the technology was by no means adopted yet. Before Twitter blew up, it would take my feed 25-30 minutes to refresh, not 2-5 seconds. Heck, Facebook didn’t even have business pages yet and the majority of your “friends” in 2008 were actually your friends. But all of the writing was on the wall that there was a huge opportunity for mentoring via social media. The Internet was connecting people to people in very substantial ways, and I identified that almost immediately.
One of the first meaningful connections I made via social media was with Shelly Kramer. I digitally met Shelly on May 17th 2009. I had shared a few of her blog posts, but that was my first tweet to her. I finally nailed her down and got her on the phone in December of 2009 and the rest was history. It’s funny, because looking back at our first tweets I was more in the giving of advice than receiving because I had more experience on Twitter. But from the word jump I knew that Shelly was a brain I wanted to have on my side and someone I wanted to learn from.
Shelly is a perfect match for what I need. She’s intelligent, witty, has a edge of sarcasm about her and carries her confidence in herself and her successes very well. But the thing I love most about Shelly is that she is equal parts supportive and challenging. Shelly doesn’t mince her words, and isn’t afraid to tell me when I’ve f-ed up. She is going to be honest, no matter the brutality, because she knows its what I need to hear. A mentor has to be able to call you out when you need to be called out, and you (as the mentee) have to be able to realize that he/she is doing it because it’s what you need to hear.
Ummm okay yeah so I had an amazing call with @shellykramer. She is every bit as awesome as advertised. You should just send her money.
— Ryan Cox (@ryanleecox) December 16, 2009
The love I have for Shelly is interminable. She’s thrown me work when I was in between contracts, helped me through both personal and professionals ruts, and has been my biggest champion ontheline. I was humbled recently when I was recognized as one of 70 Rising Social Media Stars. Mark Schaefer polled a group of 19 other marketing professionals that are a who’s who of people on best-of marketing lists — to give credence to the next crop of marketing professionals that people should know on a first name basis. When I saw Shelly’s name as one of those people on the panel, I instantly knew who went to bat for me.
Shelly has been a mentor of mine for 4+ years, and social media is the only reason I had the chance to ‘meet’ her. Here’s the kicker though: I still haven’t met Shelly face-to-face yet. Heck, the same goes for Gini Dietrich, Hessie Jones, Sarah Robinson, Heather Ann Carson, Jeff Nolan, Joanna Lord, Danny Brown, Zena Weist, and a slew of other people who have helped me along my professional journey. Every single one of them have added significantly to my maturation as a marketer whether directly or indirectly. Social Media single-handedly connected me with brilliant marketing minds. All it took was consistent effort on my part to engaging those minds, and I reap all of the rewards.
So how do you make the mentoring side of social media work Ryan? Here are the 5 steps I used, along with a real-life example from my personal experiences.
Step 1: Search and destroy
I know you can find all of the Playboy models Twitter usernames. Okay, I know. So now that we’ve identified the pink elephant in the room, why not search for people that influence your professional sphere. I would recommend spending 30 minutes a week finding new people to connect with. Still to this day I’ll try and spend 30 minutes a DAY doing just that. Read something on a blog you like? Dig deeper. The lowest hanging fruit is probably following on Twitter. There are plenty of different schools for thought as far as connecting with someone on Facebook and LinkedIn — but my general philosophy is this: if they’re interesting to you or you want to ‘friend’ – follow on Twitter. If you start to engage and interact more, I then will turn to Facebook (when the relationship has matured a bit). And if you exchange emails or start to discuss business-related stuff, I’ll add on LinkedIn.
Like I said, there are plenty of schools of thought on connecting with people via social media, and the person you are connecting with might practice a different school of thought. Either way, put forth the effort – the worst thing that can happen is they don’t see it or they ignore it.
Real Life Example: Joanna Lord, CMO of BigDoor has been a long-time digital friend. In one of my early-days search and destroy missions I came across the work Joanna was doing at her company (then SEOmoz) and her personal blog. I dug her. She was a data-first person that was just flippin’ smart. She had her own personality and quirks about how she did things and she was so original. Everything about her was vibrant and helpful in nature, so I knew we had to be friends. I started engaging with Joanna around digital marketing trends and best/worst use cases and we haven’t looked back since.
Recently Joanna was cleaning up her LinkedIn and asked me to write a personal recommendation for her, one of just a few people she asked. Needless to say, I felt pretty honored. Joanna and I have never met face-to-face.
Step 2: Provide value with no expectations of it being returned
The Internet is a big place… a lot of screaming heads saying a lot about a lot. But there is one indisputable way of carving out a significant portion of your place ontheline: providing value. Whether it is in blog comments, your own blog, discussions on social media channels, or off-line groups — provide value. Think about this for a second: if a business professional is pitched five times a week to “grab coffee and pick your brain”, and the sixth pitch they get is a thoughtful comment on why you disagree with the premise of their blog post from yesterday, but how you agree with points b and c, and then you humbly ask for feedback related to their expertise as it pertains to the concept mentioned in their blog…which coffee do you think they’re most likely to accept?
When you want to connect with someone, find commonalities between the two of you and expose them, for GOOD. Stroke someone’s ego for the sake of stroking someones ego and show meaningful attribution as to why you’re complimenting them. Stay timely and consistent with your communications. Stay humble. Stay learn-first but don’t be afraid to add to the conversation.
Real Life Example: Zena Weist was someone I found through Shelly. She spoke very highly of her and Zena even guest posted on V3im’s blog (Shelly’s company) so I knew that she was legit. I did my due diligence with step 1 and then started to engage on Twitter. In August of 2012 I wrote this email to Zena:
Zena — I’d love to take ‘this’ to the next level — I’d love to grab your ear for 15 minutes. Even if just to properly introduce via phone is all. I want to add you to my Strategy/Marketing/Digital/Social Media #braintrust and mentoring. Moreover, it means I want to befriend you and learn from you. I’d be happy to prepare questions. You name the date/time and I’ll make it happen. Cheers, Ryan
That is my style, and you undoubtedly have your own. We connected the following Wednesday, and Zena has been a mentor of mine ever since. Zena and I have never met face-to-face.
Step 3: Handwritten thank you cards
I write a handwritten thank you card after every personal meeting I have with someone. Grab coffee? I send a handwritten thank you card. Grab #skypecoffee? I send a handwritten thank you card. Have a mentoring call via cell phones? I send a handwritten thank you card. It will be one of the most memorable differentiators you can create for yourself compared to everyone else. Period. Even if I set the meeting request, even if it is a peer I just want to catch up with — I send a handwritten thank you card. Yes, even if I say “hey lets grab coffee and catch up” I send the person a thank you card for coming. (And I paid for the coffee) It shows I value their time, insight, friendship and otherwise am thankful for them. I will talk about something we discussed in the card and detail something I’m going to do/change based on their feedback.
Real Life Example: Shelly posted this photo of one of my many handwritten thank you cards to her. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than knowing that she is proud, thankful, touched, happy or otherwise enjoys me sending them. Shelly and I have never met face-to-face.
Step 4: Stay consistent, be the one who stays current
We’re all busy. The people that stay “at-it” when it comes to putting time on each others calendar are the people who get ahead in life, I firmly believe this. You don’t know how many times I hear, “I’m so glad you stayed on top of me Ryan, I’m sorry it took so long for this to happen.” There are certain people that are ‘connectors’ (I am), but you don’t have to be a connector to stay vigilant with making time in a calendar happen.
It sucks, I’m not going to sugar coat it. You’ll feel dejected, you’ll feel as if you’re bothering them, heck you might even question if they’re even your friend anymore. Before you jump off the cliff, remember this simple phrase: It’s not you, it’s them. People aren’t wired to step outside of their normal communication patterns and put something on the calendar. It takes someone who is relentless to make it happen to bypass the 10-11 hurdles that are sure to popup. Be the driver. After all, you stand to gain from the meeting, remember?
Real Life Example: Heather Carson and I go back to…I don’t know really. In all of the connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook, I couldn’t tell you when we became “friends.” I can tell you, however, when we became good friends. February 15th 2012 she Facebook inboxed me about writing a blog regarding a client of hers. From that point, Heather and I started to dig deeper. She was someone I saw as wildly talented and had to be on ‘my team’. She was someone I made a point to get on the phone every couple months or so to stay current – and because of my dedication, netted me what turned into a $70,000 client. Heather got approached by someone and it wasn’t a fit, but she and I had just talked a few days prior…I was top of mind and she made the introduction. How is that for an example? Heather and I have never met face-to-face.
Step 5: Why not?
Why not send the CMO of Yahoo! a Tweet, Facebook message, LinkedIn request or blog comment? Why not send someone you deem “above you” in your professional tree a request for coffee with value-add reasons why it would be beneficial to him/her too? Why not recommend something or point something out that you notice doesn’t match with an influential business professionals voice? Why not? Anytime someone tells me why they cannot do something, professionally speaking, I always reply why not? I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret of my success: Because I asked.
How did I get on a walking-coffee basis with former CMO of ExactTarget Tim Kopp? Because I asked. Why has Shelly been a mentor of mine for 4+ years? Because I asked. Why does Hessie Jones have weekly mentor Google Hangouts with me? Because I asked. Why does Gini Dietrich give her input on big professional decisions for me? Because I asked. Stop asking why, and start asking why not?
Real Life Example: Danny Brown and I became friends because of the social sphere effect. We had a gob of mutual friends, he was a really smart marketer, so I engaged with him. I started commenting on Danny’s blogs, usually on Facebook. I would share what I agreed with and where and why I disagreed. I think wrote Danny an email saying that I loved his marketing style and I’d love to learn from him through public and private communications.
His response? “Absolutely mate.” A recent example of his unintentional-mentoring having additional benefits is from a company I started called Feed The Kids. Danny wrote this amazing post about it. Danny and I have never met face-to-face.
The kind of Social Media that gets the attention of the masses is the negativity and backstabbing that can happen. Fact is, people are very quick to pass judgement and speak negatively about someone or something they, for all intensive purposes, know little factually about. Social Media smear campaigns can happen without you even knowing it, that’s just how it goes.
But let me be a shining example that there is a positive side to social media too. Mentoring on Social Media, both intentional and unintentional exists, and if you’re not taking advantage of it, you’re quickly boxing yourself into a corner.