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Companies anxious about their employees’ overuse of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are being urged to create their own social networking sites to forge closer links between staff, customers, suppliers and the general public.

horsesmouth.co.uk, the world’s first ‘pro-social’ networking site, will go live on January 16 and is purpose-built for online mentoring on a wide range of topics. Open and free to anyone aged 16 or over, it allows users to anonymously share experiences and offer guidance on a safe and moderated platform.

With millions of people already using online forums such as Facebook and MySpace to exchange music, pictures and gossip, horsesmouth encourages users to share more meaningful knowledge in a purposeful way. An online survey conducted by tickbox.net in February 2007 revealed that while most people would like to give up some of their time each week to help others, many do not know how to or are too busy to sign up to formal volunteering charities. horsesmouth allows users to volunteer by sharing their life experiences with others from the comfort of their own homes.

horsesmouth is also offering to create customized, re-skinned versions of the site as private intranets for companies to encourage their employees to form a recognizable community on the site both for internal knowledge sharing and for outreach to the community at large. By developing their own sites, large companies with offices in different parts of the world will be able to create unique, moderated environments through which staff can mentor each other, while customers and supply chain members are brought closer within the company’s community.

Effectively this allows companies to significantly scale the effects of mentoring within their organisations – as well as manage, measure and monitor it. Executives and senior managers can mentor scores of younger recruits, as well as create buddying pairs across geographies and departmental functions. It would also allow special interest groups (women’s groups, for example), to form supportive networks within the organization

In contrast to many other Web 2.0 sites, horsesmouth users have to leave their looks behind: profiles do not contain photographs or real names, but make use of proprietary technology that allows users to embed their user names into a range of images to create personal branding. Tools have been created to rate and reward mentors, and to report and block inappropriate behaviour.

Time and response management features allow mentors to manage the number of messages they receive and the amount of time they spend on the site. ‘Pearls of wisdom’ and conversations can be published by mutual agreement and become part of the site’s searchable content, which it calls the ‘wisdom pool’.

Content is professionally moderated and managed by horsesmouth staff and all profiles are approved before posting, as are web links. In order to register, a secure code is sent to the user’s mobile, which is a deterrent to people who want to use multiple identities or who have previously been blocked.

Although most of the mentors on the site will come through normal web traffic, horsesmouth will also host partner organisations on the site. For partners, this is a great opportunity to extend the reach of existing mentoring and advice services, create new links between members or fulfill corporate social responsibility or volunteering commitments. horsesmouth will profile the partner and link to the partners’ own online resources and information. For horsesmouth members, badged mentors are an excellent source of specific personal expertise from individuals associated with known and trusted organisations.

Charter launch partners on the site are:

• Edge
• everywoman
• Make Your Mark
• Media Trust
• Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (MBF)
• National Advertising Benevolence Society (NABS)
• National Union of Students (NUS)
• TimeBank
• Tomorrow’s Company
• Youthnet
• Women’s Aid

One of the most exciting things observed on the horsesmouth beta site has been the formation of reverse mentoring pairs – in which younger people are mentoring older people (a young person mentoring a worried parent of a troubled teenager for example). This same “reverse mentoring” principle could also have some benefits in the corporate or business world.

horsesmouth is the brainchild of advertising entrepreneur and prominent media industry figure MT (Mary Teresa) Rainey, who co-founded the top five advertising agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. She is a founding trustee of TimeBank, a Trustee of Demos, a non-executive director of WH Smith Plc and a Visiting Professor at Glasgow University. She is also a member of the Skills Commission.

“I really believe that the knowledge and experience people carry around with them is a huge untapped resource,” says Rainey. “If eBay is about the stuff you’ve got locked up in the attic, then horsesmouth is about the stuff you’ve got locked up in your head and heart.”

“I’ve always believed in the power of mentoring but it’s been so hard to scale. Now with the social web we can do that. horsesmouth is about making that experience safe, easy and enjoyable.”

The horsesmouth community is growing swiftly and the site was named as one of the top 25 ‘Web 2.0’ start-ups in the UK last year by The Register. The site will be run as a social enterprise, with all profits generated being driven back into the business. The site is funded by the Edge Foundation, which campaigns to raise the status of practical and vocational learning and v, the charity launched to champion youth volunteering in England.

The horsesmouth web platform was developed by Locayta with design and user interface by Splendid. Partnership design and marketing is handled by Public Zone and Chief Technical Consultant is Ben Way of Rainmakers.

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For further information please contact:
Narda Shirley
Gong Communications
narda@gongcommunications.com
+44 (0)20 7935 4800
+44 (0)7770 888318

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