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Online, where executives turn for advice

Oct 07, 2014

Not too long ago, I backed my car into a light pole in a parking lot. I know, I know—painful. (To the ego, anyway.) I was lucky to have only clipped the pole with a side-view mirror, sparing me great expense. Unfortunately, the mirror was destroyed.

I wondered: Is this something minor enough that I could fix? (I should note that my knowledge about fixing a car is negligible at best. I own fewer tools than the Maytag Man.)

So I did what any person in the 21st century would do—I turned to the Internet. Minutes later, I was watching a YouTube video in which a professional mechanic removed the very same mirror I needed to replace. My suspicions were correct: The process was easy and required few tools to complete. All I needed was an actual replacement mirror. Sixty-five dollars and a few twists of a screwdriver later, I was back in business.

The point of my modest tale is that we often find ourselves in situations when we need help—and often, we are too embarrassed or proud to ask for help.

That applies to the office, too—and I'm not just talking about figuring out what "PC Load Letter" means. If you're a senior executive, where do you get advice about running a company? How about improving your leadership skills? And what about dealing with a tricky personnel situation?

The Internet, just like you would for a lowly do-it-yourself fix.

I reached out to several executives and posed to them a simple, personal question: “Where do you go on the Internet for advice?” If you can believe it, they actually answered.

Tristan Barnum, the chief marketing officer of the San Diego cloud communications company Voxox, says she likes to use HubSpot’s YouTube channel to keep her marketing team up to speed on the latest marketing tools. Recently, she and her team sat down to watch a conference video “that covered how to be a better marketer for the time that we’re in—instead of 5 years ago," she says. It gave them some ideas about their social media strategy. "We actually started utilizing what are called Facebook Dark Posts or Unpublished Page Posts, allowing us to better target messages to new audiences who were likely not familiar with Voxox as a direct result of the video mentioned,” she says. Now, Barnum and company get together once a week to watch a new video, explore new tools, and keep the new idea momentum going.

John Dickson, principal of the San Antonio software company Denim Group, acknowledges that the thought of a senior executive (let alone one at a technology company) approaching someone in the IT department with a basic tech question is mortifying. He spares his humiliation by visiting the web. "I’m afraid to admit that I find myself regularly jumping on YouTube to figure out issues with my Mac," he says. One minor but irritating issue? How to use a Mac to take a screenshot. The longtime Windows user was perplexed. Instead of tracking down help in IT, a quick search on the Internet did the trick. (On a lighter note, Dickson says he and his wife use the Addicted2Salsa YouTube channel as a free alternative to expensive classes.)

Steven Schwartz, interim president and CEO of the U.S. retail chain Brookstone, says he uses the web "to locate an expert that can help us address whatever challenge or leverage whatever opportunity that is in front of the company.” With a little help from LinkedIn, he can engage that expert and be closer to a solution. Another approach, Schwartz says, is referencing various sites related to the topic at hand in an attempt to deduce a method worth pursuing. "A recent challenge for me was looking for a method of rapidly increasing the quality and quantity of product pipeline for us to develop," he says. "Searching innovation and crowd-funding sites helped me to understand best methods and practices.”

Schwartz briefly touched on using LinkedIn as a source for networking, but it's also a great source of advice through its LinkedIn Influencers program. Take tech-scene fixture Guy Kawasaki, for example. He has shared an explanation for how he uses social media and offered thoughts on how to take the bull out of your business. Updates from Bill Gates, T. Boone Pickens, and Angela Ahrendts also sporadically offer advice.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to finding information on the Internet, of course. It's been that way since the beginning. In a world where everyone's an "expert," your mileage may vary. One humble request, though: When you find a source that works for you and your company, stick with it. Better yet, share it—just like some of our favorite executives do every day.

Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on each Tuesday.

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