Need Help with Social Media? Ask Younger Workers

Vol. 55 No. 10

By Bill Roberts Oct 1, 2010
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Employees’ fear of looking stupid is a barrier to adoption of social media.

“Among the excuses I’ve heard for not using social networks are things like, ‘We don’t understand it. I don’t want to look stupid doing it,’ ” says David Coleman, managing director of San Francisco-based research and consulting firm Collaborative Strategies LLC.

Managers at AT&T Corp. found a way to address this problem: Let the employees tutor the bosses—including the CEO—on the use of the company’s T Space social business network.

“We have leaders who aren’t familiar with social media tools, so we put together a group of employees who are reverse mentors,” says Gail Torreano, senior vice president for employee communications and corporate sponsorships. “The CEO has a reverse mentor. The mentor is in her 30s, but most of the others are in their 20s.”

The pilot program includes a few dozen young mentors and business leader mentees, matched by city. The company recruits mentors who are active users of social media on the Internet, and trains them in mentoring, including the importance of confidentiality and follow-up.

The CEO now writes a regular internal blog. The mentor does not tell him what to write, but she helps him understand the logistics of producing a blog.

Torreano has a mentor who helped her fill out her personal page profile.

AT&T is getting ready to roll out the program more broadly, she says.

Other social business network adopters have found ways to tap younger employees’ experience with social media. For instance:

General Electric involves entry-level employees in several ways. Some junior engineers worked with information technology and HR to help develop tools. Managers in HR, information technology, finance and other departments asked entry-level trainees to try the tools and then tell everyone else how to use them.

Managers at NetApp Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., a developer of storage and data management products, have younger employees conduct the usability testing of social media tools and suggest changes in the features and interface before the tools are rolled out companywide.

The author is technology contributing editor for HR Magazine and is based in Silicon Valley in California.

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