Mentor Monday: Using Chats to Find Mentors

Photo cred: Kevin Zollman
Photo cred: Kevin Zollman

This is a guest post from Valerie Merahn Simon.

I was fortunate to meet my first great mentor when I was still in college.

Bill Sweeney, who at the time was heading EDS’s global government affairs office, was an alumnus of American University (my alma mater) and a founder of the Campaign Management Institute (one of my favorite learning experiences while at AU).

I met Bill because of my summer job. I didn’t have an important internship that summer, but as a swim instructor at AU swim school, I certainly had the opportunity to meet a lot of parents. Bill happened to be the father of two of my favorite students.

Finding a mentor while still in college can be a challenge. The academic world is often isolated from “the real world.” But social media offers the opportunity to change that. In August, Deirdre Breakenridge and I began #PRStudChat to provide students with an opportunity to connect directly with industry leaders and educators in a new learning environment that brings together the academic and professional world. Three months later, individual relationships and the community are building into important resources.

As one of David’s recent guests, Arik Hanson, points out, mentoring has been redefined as the result of social media.  In a departure from the traditional one on one mentor/mentee relationships, social media has created the opportunity to build substantive relationships with a wide array of professionals, regardless of geographic boundaries.

Participating in Twitter chats can be one way to find new professionals and begin to build new relationships with individuals who bring different backgrounds, experiences and strengths. Last week Miguel A. Llano pointed out the benefit of creating a “Board of Mentors”; I’d like to share how you can use Twitter chats as one tool to help you fill that board.

If you’ve never participated in a Twitter chat, here is a quick guide. As those of you who have participated in David and Lauren’s #u30pro chat already know, twitter chats offer a tremendous opportunity to develop relationships and learn from other professionals.  If you participate regularly, you WILL develop mentoring relationships.  Here are a few tips to help you identify and develop mentoring relationships:

  1. Break out of your current network and get to know experts in different areas by attending different chats.
  2. Listen carefully and actively to the conversation. Ask questions and share knowledge. @ Reply to individual comments, to encourage dialog and assure your response is not lost in the stream.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, when the chat ends, take action to assure that the relationships do not. Follow professionals you have met. Create a special column in HootSuite, TweetDeck, or whatever Twitter App you are using to assure that you do not miss future conversations. Follow their blogs and be sure to add your comments. Continue the conversation

But don’t just look to fill your “Board of Mentors”; add your knowledge and experience to someone else’s board. Young professionals can play an important role in helping students prepare for a career. I urge young PR professionals to take the time to do some “virtual mentoring” by joining #PRStudChat and passing along their own wisdom and experiences.

You don’t have to be a senior level professional to be a mentor. During #PRStudChat, some of the best insights have come from Millennials like Lauren Fernandez. With participants ranging in experience from students to industry thought leaders, one thing is very clear. We are all students. And we are all teachers. As David noted in his post on reverse mentoring, “Ultimately, every mentorial relationship should be a two way street.”

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? Have you been able to build individual relationships from the group conversation? What suggestions would you offer to those looking to develop mentoring relationships from a chat?

Valerie Merahn Simon currently serves as a Senior Vice President at BurrellesLuce media monitoring and measurement, and writes a national public relations column for She is also co-founder and host of #PRStudChat, a monthly twitter chat between PR professionals and students moderated by Deirdre Breakenridge. She can be found on Twitter or LinkedIn.

6 thoughts on “Mentor Monday: Using Chats to Find Mentors

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Valerie! I think you’re spot on with the fact that educating and engaging go hand and hand. You can’t have one without the other. All of these resources add up to great learning and mentorships.

    PS. I didn’t know you taught swimming! How fun. I was a competitive swimmer for a long time and also taught lessons later on after college.

  2. Nice post, Valerie! You have some really valuable information here for young and old alike.

    I’ve participated in multiple Twitter chats in my time on Twitter. It’s a great way to connect with people with similar interests. If you are just starting out on Twitter, chats like #PRStudChat and #journchat are great ways to find new people to follow and learn about the profession. I know that when I first began, #journchat is how I got the ball rolling! I became more and more confident in participating and discussing topics that at first, seemed way over my head, but I soon realized that I could also offer good insight and ask more questions to learn more.

    So, to those wondering if they should participate, GO FOR IT!

    Tom O’Keefe

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