Straight from the Horsesmouth
When so much talk in the Web 2.0 world is centred around the business of making money, New Media Knowledge talked to the founder of one ‘pro-social’ network, for which the net benefit of the public is core to its ethos.
After building a successful career in advertising, Mary Teresa (MT) Rainey set up Horsesmouth.co.uk, what she calls a ‘pro-social’ network which enables users to pass on – and benefit from – the experience of others. The site covers all aspects of mentoring, from relationship and health advice to setting up a business. She spoke to NMK about the inspiration behind Horsesmouth and where she plans to take the site.
What was the inspiration for Horsesmouth?
I founded Horsesmouth in 2007 as a social enterprise after a successful career as founder and CEO of one of the UK’s top five advertising agencies. I was inspired by the potential of new media to create real social and public value and was also motivated to give something back.
How long have you been going?
The company was started in 2006 and the project was 18 months in research, development and beta. The website launched in January 2008.
What’s your background in social media and IT?
I was founder and CEO of the top UK advertising agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, which is now part of the WPP Group. As an agency leader I had to be a first hand expert in the changes happening in media and the move towards fragmentation and disintermediation driven by the Web. Prior to that, I spent the 1980s in the US working in Silicon Valley with the iconic Chiat Day agency, helping launch the Apple Macintosh and other now famous tech brands. I have always had a passionate interest and belief in consumer technology and its power to change the world in positive ways.
What’s your background in mentoring and coaching?
During my working life I’ve been lucky enough to work in a couple of the best agencies in the world and to have a few great mentors who supported me at different times. As an employer and entrepreneur, I’ve also had the opportunity to support and encourage many talented people but only a few of those I would call mentoring relationships.
A conscious mentoring relationship has responsibilities and rewards for both parties – it’s not just coaching or feedback. It’s more personal and it’s more practical – as well as being more committed.
What do you mean by ‘pro-social networking’? Is this a term you’ve coined yourselves?
Yes, though I believe Matthew Taylor at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) also started using the term ‘pro-social’ at about the same time. We mean a form of online or social media that actually has a net positive public outcome – one that improves or expands social capital – harnessing the online network trend in a positive way for the public good. We see lots of examples of people reaching out to help each other without any transaction gain to themselves, and we think this can be an antidote to antisocial behaviour.
I have been humbled by the support, information and personal wisdom that people are willing to share with others on the site. I think that’s because we all know we have something to give and gain from mentoring, and we all know that there will be times and circumstances in our lives where we might need some timely and unconditional support and guidance.
How does Horsesmouth work? Will ‘mentees’ have to wait long for replies?
Members of the community can review all the mentor profiles using any search term, then they can choose to contact as many as they like individually on the system. They can also send out a ‘Mentor Request’, which is published to the whole community, and relevant mentors will respond on a one-to-one basis. We do moderate the site but since horsesmsouth.co.uk is all on email and not instant messenger (IM) this in very un-intrusive and replies are usually sent in the normal time you’d expect an answer to an email.
We have many exciting partnership plans moving forward in the area of support for enterprise and small business. For example we’re just about to announce the winners of the Mentoring Works Awards, in conjunction with Yell.com, which celebrate the valuable role that mentors are playing in helping small businesses to start-up and grow.
We very much look forward to linking and partnering with other networks as we feel we offer something unique that isn’t core to their model and vice versa.
And, over the coming months, I am sure we will continue to see a steep upward trend in people looking to each other for support, encouragement and mentoring online.
Horsesmouth is a free service, so how do you make money?
Yes, Horsesmouth is a free to use service. It was seed funded by The Edge Foundation with support from V in targeting young people. The ongoing business model is one of partnership and sponsorship. We believe we can offer a safe, hosted mentoring and marketing environment for organisations that want to reach out to and engage with communities and audiences on specific issues. Many organisations are wary of doing this on other networks which are ad-driven and which do not have the same safety protocols and duty of care.
What’s in it for mentors?
To be part of a community where everyone has a chance to give and gain. For mentors the chance to ‘give something back’ is made easy, convenient, safe, rewarding and fun.