01/16/2017 05:16 EST | Updated 01/16/2017 05:16 EST

Let Social Media Be Your New Mentor For The New Year

Oscar Wong via Getty Images

It's the new year, and many of us have resolved to reinvent ourselves both personally and professionally. Whether you're looking for a promotion, hoping to change careers or looking for a steer on how to navigate the ins and outs of your organization, often a critical first step to success is finding a mentor who can share their experiences and their successful strategies and approaches with you so you don't feel like you're facing it all alone.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen wrote: "There is really no secret (to success), and there surely are no shortcuts. In my case, it was a pretty simple equation: hard work + some lucky breaks + great mentors."

The best mentors take time to listen and provide objective advice and support from their experienced perspective. They invite you into a true relationship and hold you accountable to your goals and commitments, keeping you on a path toward success.

In today's connected world, the Internet and social media can provide millions of more appropriate and qualified mentors.

Cindy Robbins, Salesforce's executive vice president of Global Employee Success, identifies three traits to look for in a good mentor. She says employees need to find someone who is honest, who will guide rather than tell someone what to do and will lay down a challenge to think bigger and more broadly.

With 70 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies having implemented formal company-wide mentorship programs, it's clear that there is a correlation between mentoring and employee growth. But what if you're a small business owner or an employee at a company that doesn't provide a mentorship program? Where can you find career advice, motivation, leadership insights or inspiration?

Fortunately, you don't have to rely on those seasoned colleagues down the hall who just want to chat over a cup of coffee but are unable to share the insights you need. In today's connected world, the Internet and social media can provide millions of more appropriate and qualified mentors. Indeed, the web has democratized mentorship and made it easier than ever to solicit guidance and advice from people all over the world who have previously beaten down a path much like the one you're trying to follow.

Here are four ways to make social media and the online world work as your new mentor.

Find, follow, and engage.Business leaders flourish on big social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. (Marc Benioff has 360,000 Twitter followers; Sir Richard Branson has 9 million; Mark Cuban has 6 million; and Apple's Tim Cook, 3.9 million.) Their insights and leadership cues are inspiring. Start following them, friending them, commenting on their posts, or asking questions. While you might never make a one-on-one connection, their advice and perspectives can stimulate new lines of thought.

Connect with Colleagues.The most recent count reveals that LinkedIn has 467 million members, including 12 million in Canada. That's quite a crowd. Take a bit of time to mine through the various LinkedIn profiles, and you'll eventually find like-minded individuals and groups willing to offer guidance. In fact, joining groups in your areas of interest is the single fastest way to find the largest number of potential mentors in your field. It's also possible to start your own group or kick off a discussion to gather a group of helpful colleagues.

While you're at it, click on LinkedIn's Learning tab for a wide range of online seminars that may address your interests. Even if a specific class isn't up your alley, its instructor may be a great contact for you. He or she is there to be noticed, so why not take advantage?

You can also search for mentors by blasting out a query to your personal LinkedIn network, but do so sparingly to avoid being pegged as a nuisance. A subtler approach: comment and ask follow-up questions on the articles and posts that your contacts have contributed to the site.

Ask questions or blaze a new trail. If you don't have a mentor but need quick advice, there are all sorts of places to ask business questions and receive valuable feedback and opinions. For example, you can crowdsource answers to your questions at the massive but carefully maintained Q&A site Quora, which was founded by Facebook alumni. Users - mostly in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and India - freely offer their expertise. A single question can yield hundreds of answers with a wide variety of thoughts and perspectives for consideration. Similarly, if you want to sharpen your own coaching and mentoring skills or gain new skills to make are career move, leverage free online tools like Trailhead, a free and open interactive learning path that offers fun, easy and new ways to learn the skills that employers are looking for today.

Take the inside approach. Some businesses have become savvy enough to tap into the power of social media within the office, offering in-house communication or virtual collaboration tools like Salesforce Chatter that provide a forum for anyone to share insights and propose new ideas, connect with cross-functional teams, brainstorm, share knowledge, and, drive productivity. It's a smart move. It allows employees to gain visibility and participate in ways that enable them to connect with potential mentors within their organization.

And remember, whether you seek mentorship online or in person, there's equal value in paying it forward and becoming a mentor yourself. After all, most people love to talk about their own experiences and successes, and you're probably no different. If you're willing to share your insights to help others, you'll not only expand your network but also discover new and enriching career angles to explore.

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