Has learning social media turned your business world upside down? Are you still struggling with how to apply social media to your business strategies? Does your business have a strong online presence? All this tweeting, tagging, liking, following, is information overload, AND what does it really have to do with business? Kinda scary, right?
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In”, she asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Learning social media and embracing technology puts you in a vulnerable spot. I’ve spoke with countless boomer-age executives who admit that they only have a “surface knowledge” of social media, but know they need to learn more.
Learning Social Media with Business Leaders
I worked with a team of early career professionals to create a reverse mentor program to teach senior executives about social media and emerging trends and technologies at a Fortune 100 company. It was interactive with a structured curriculum with topics such as Knowledge Sharing, Networks and Collaboration, Power of Search and Online Presence, Multi-media, and Technology and Devices. Most importantly it created a safe environment to ask dumb questions- a Sherpa-like experience to work through the technology vs. having it explained to you.
The program was incredibly successful. We completed the first round with the top leaders in the company, and then expanded the program to their direct reports and others in the company, focusing on the top 100 leaders in the company. Over 100 ideas were generated- project teams were formed- and results delivered. Executives were better able to evaluate technology opportunities and prioritize digital spend and it opened their minds to how social media is impacting and quickly transforming our lives, the way we do business, consumer purchasing habits, etc. (For more details, here’s a link to the white paper.)
One of my “Aha moments” from the program was on how to teach the materials to ensure that it is absorbed and understood- which I now call my “trying to feed a baby quickly” analogy. Have you ever tried to feed a baby quickly? (I have twin boys who are now 15.) We’ve all been there- you get home late, racing around the kitchen, the babies are hungry and you’ve got 10 minutes to get an entire jar of baby food into their tiny mouths. So you start off by putting a BIG spoonful in and they’re trying to process it- they’re gumming it, doing that thing with their tongue, some of it’s coming back out, so you start using the spoon on the sides of their mouths to get it back in, and the faster you move, the worse it gets.
What I came to realize, is that to be successful, I needed to slow down, let them enjoy each bite, take a swig from the bottle, and give them time to swallow and digest. The same is true with social media- you have this huge pressuring goal to launch several major social media initiatives and you need executive buy-in. So you set up an “immersion session” to teach the leaders about social media, and quickly shove it down their throats, AND… it doesn’t work. Our reverse mentoring program was successful because we allow leaders to take small bites, chew, chew, chew, swallow, let it digest, and then come back a couple of weeks later to take the next bite.
Over 50% of consumers use social media to communicate with businesses- to search for product recommendations, find solutions, and read reviews. Many consumers prefer to interact with an online customer service platform vs. a traditional call center. Integrating social into your business strategies is no longer just a competitive advantage, it’s a business imperative.
Working across generations helps realize the tremendous value of diverse perspectives, which often spark creativity and innovation. Making new connections between open-minded people and bringing together unrelated groups could spark “make-a-difference” ideas.
So take a chance, mix it up and find yourself a reverse mentor to expand your mind and grow your company. And remember the lessons from feeding a baby- take it slow, small bites, allow time to digest and you’ll be successful.