Educating Executives about Social Media

July 14, 2014

For millions of people around the world, social media is a vital tool for everyday life. However, there are millions more who don’t have a Twitter handle or even a Facebook account. These mostly middle-aged or older absentees simply didn’t get swept in the social networking tide like so many others. To retirees, remaining unfamiliar with the subtle workings of a service like Instagram is not a huge loss. But for managers at many companies, social media skills are becoming a necessary part of the job.

In order to teach these skills to out-of-touch executives, a number of businesses have turned to younger employees for instruction. These “reverse mentorships” pair up tech savvy up-and-comers with older managers in unique working relationships that don’t always work out. After all, younger employees can feel intimidated when working closely with high-powered managers. At the same time, executives can also be embarrassed about their lack of knowledge, placing further strain on an already awkward process.

But success can be achieved through clear communication, established goals, and an open-minded attitude. At MasterCard more than 100 managers have taken part in social media mentoring since 2011. One 50-year-old participant received instruction from a 24-year-old with two years worth of digital communication experience at the company. Though both were initially wary of working with each other, the executive quickly saw the benefits of his young tutor’s teaching as he became more involved with LinkedIn and Twitter. He then recommended the employee to two other managers for mentorship, expanding the staffer’s profile with even more company bigwigs. So not only does this process help executives learn the ropes of social media, it also provides employees with a chance to network with people they otherwise might have never met.



  1. Is “reverse mentoring” likely to grow at many more companies?
  1. What do senior managers need to remember when working with young “mentors”?


Source: Sue Shellenbarger, “Pairing Up with a Younger Mentor,” The New York Times, May 28, 2014. Photo by MKH Marketing.