Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter tutorial for Congress is a lesson in workplace generosity

Always be documenting.
Always be documenting.
Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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This morning (January 17), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old new Congresswoman from Queens who also has the distinction of being the youngest representative in the house, together with Rep. Jim Himes, 52, of Connecticut, led a tutorial for fellow House Democrats on using Twitter to connect with constituents, and on the importance of digital storytelling.

Himes, who is serving his fifth term in Congress, has an impressive 76,500 Twitter followers. But Ocasio-Cortez—or @AOC to her Twitter fans—has become omnipresent on the site. In the less than one year since she launched her campaign to represent the 14th Congressional district of New York, she has already amassed a following of 2.42 million people. The Washington-based media site Axios found that @AOC had more interactions in one month on Twitter than the New York Times.

Then there’s Instagram, where she has posted footage of her fiery speeches, and brought fans into her kitchen at home, virtually, cooking her Instapost dinner alone while talking politics to the camera. Clearly, she has some tips up her sleeve that could help her less tech-fluent peers.

The fact that Twitter is now viewed as a teachable skill by the Democrats in Congress is an obvious sign of that platform’s coming of age as a political influence—a lagging indicator, for anyone who’s been paying attention. But Ocasio-Cortez’s lesson for her fellow policymakers, arranged by the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, as USA Today reported, is more than a political story or a tipping point for tech. It’s also a solid lesson on what in management-speak is known as “knowledge sharing” at work, a powerful tool for organizations that enable it.

A few factors have to be in place for employees to become natural sharers. Those who have the skills and knowledge worth disseminating, like Ocasio-Cortez, have to have an abundance mindset, the feeling that giving up what they know to the greater community does not represent a threat to their status or uniqueness. Information is a workplace currency, and it can sometimes feel tempting to hoard it.

In a company setting, these would-be coaches also have to be willing to dedicate the time and energy to formal or informal mentoring, even when it’s not part of their official job description, and whether or not the effort will be recognized come performance-review time. Yes, it’s a form of emotional labor, but at least in Ocasio-Cortez’s case, it is labor that stands to win the respect and admiration of the peers who will learn from her.

Yet it isn’t just Ocasio-Cortez who’s modeling emotional intelligence at work. Through their invitation to both Ocasio-Cortez and Himes, their less Twitter-savvy peers are acknowledging that they have something to learn, especially from a younger generation. In an ideal world, it would be easy for everyone to do the same thing: see their own limitations and—despite their seniority in a profession—take the humble posture of a beginner to pick up a new skill and foster what’s known as a growth mindset, rather than coddle their own egos. But this remains a counterintuitive response in our culture, where—in hypercompetitive environments, especially—admitting to not knowing something can mark a person as weak.

Based on interviews Ocasio-Cortez has given in the past about her social media habits and preferences, she likely talked to her peers about the value of writing your own tweets, and sharing your life and thoughts without a filter (to a degree; even she “once in a blue moon” lets her staff pre-screen her tweets, according to Business Insider); and how Twitter can allow someone of an underrepresented group, such as a woman of color, to speak directly to members of their community. Ocasio-Cortez has put the medium to excellent use turning attacks on her youth, her background, and her relative lack of political experience, into personal victories and viral moments, like this one:

To be sure, the Twitter tutorial is good for her brand, and that of her political party. But if the session is successful, it also could solve another problem: Currently, many Democrats, including some of the young congresswoman’s supporters, are worried that Ocasio-Cortez is receiving too much attention, blocking out the sun before it can reach her peers.

After today’s lesson, however, she may create a whole tribe of fellow Democrats skilled at grabbing attention online.