I’ve been mumbling and muttering about young people, either interns or younger staff, serving as reverse mentors to senior staff. In The Networked Nonprofit, Beth and I included this idea in the section of how to ease the C-Suite into social media use. Find a friend, we said, and make a regular, weekly time to sit with them and practice using social media.
Our friend, Allison Jones, took this idea further in a great blog post last week. She outlined these specific ways that interns and organizational leaders can create a mutually beneficial experience:
- Interns would make a long term commitment and be involved in organization, executives would commit to learning about social media
- Interns would provide support on technical aspects of social media, executives would share current marketing strategy and reasons for approach
- Interns would help gather data on social media sites to contribute to social media strategy, executives would share goals for outreach online and offline
- Interns and executives would pull in outside supporters to help grow social media engagement and opportunities for learning
- Interns and executives would communicate ideas and challenges with entire staff
- Interns and executives reflect on skills and lessons being learned
Allison rightly pointed out that interns and younger staff don’t have the experience and know-how to develop organizational strategy using social media, but that the experience could be much more of a win/win as the reverse mentors build a partnership with organizational leaders learn the language and process of social media and the organizational mentors teach strategy.
After a great book discussion at Demos the other night, Marci Alboher of Civic Ventures, an organization dedicated to helping Boomers create a second career in the civil sector, raised a concern, and frankly a contradiction in my statement about it. She said that I had just spent a great deal of time talking about the need for organizational leaders to learn how to “be” different in order to use social media well. We had discussed the importance of learning to become comfortable unlearning lessons from graduate school and 20th century hierarchical institutions. We need leaders who are comfortable stepping out from behind the logo, losing control of messages and messengers, learning in real time and in public, we said. But, Marci said, interns and younger staffers, can’t possible teach senior staff these difficult cultural lessons.
Marci is absolutely right. What to do?
I have a few thoughts, but none of them are complete and I would love the input and ideas of others.
First, as I suggested at the Demos forum, I think we need an actual curriulum for the young staff or interns. The more course-like this effort becomes the more likely the senior staff are to block out the time it will take to practice using social media tools. The curriculum can include steps 1 and 2, etc. for teaching the tools, which button to push when. Part of the cultural shift comes from just being on the channels. I think we ought to begin to create that curriculum (although parts already exist with great resources like We Are Media that Beth was so instrumental with NTEN in creating.) Having conversations on Twitter automatically pulls people outwards from the organization.
But there is still another piece as Marci suggested. One of the themes we have heard over and again from staff during the book launch is how to move their senior staff to become more social. Beth has a marvelous post here about ways to lay the fears of senior staff out in the open and help them to overcome them. Senior skeptics are more likely to listen to other senior staff or board members. Not necessarily from their own organization, but there does need to be a peer-to-peer piece to this. So, here’s another idea. What about creating a national cohort of Fortress Fighters? What if we had board members and senior staff members who would volunteer to spend just a little time, on the phone, via Skype or even email, with their peers, reassuring them that many of their fears or myths and describing their own experiences of changing the culture of an institution.
These are my thoughts, but other folks will have better ones. Please share!