6
83
Guest

Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media

By: Guest | June 16, 2011 | 
93

Andrew Hanelly creates and executes digital strategies for clients at TMG Custom Media.

Your intern has more Twitter followers than you do.

That is great. But what happens when she gets offered that gig with the agency across town?

Will your corporate blog survive? How about that snarky Twitter account or well-maintained Facebook page?

Though much of management is wearing the “social media strategy” hat in the board room, the work gloves of “implementation” are being worn by interns more often than you might think.

In other words, the board room is preaching social media, and the interns are the ones practicing.

Don’t believe me? Check the ads for a “social media intern” on your favorite job site. It gets alarming when you read what these companies put in the interns’ job description.

Some choice items:

  • Research and write blog posts for [COMPANY] blog.
  • Respond to customer service queries via social media.
  • Be [COMPANY]’s voice in the social space.
  • Develop strategy to integrate [COMPANY] in social media.
  • Responsible for monitoring, managing, and measuring [COMPANY]’s social media presence.
  • Be “us” on Twitter and Facebook.

Interns are all the rage these days in social media.

“Are you in college?”

“Do you have a Facebook?”

“Congratulations, you’re the new face of ourcompanyblog.blogspot.com. “

Many people are in this position. Budgets are tight. Social media is a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have (right?).

But, if you value your social media person in the same way you value other outward-facing positions (let’s say your sales team) it makes no sense whatsoever.

Why? Because of these five reasons:

  1. Interns don’t live and breathe your brand. Yet. When people connect with brands on social media they’d rather interact with someone who’s been there more than 30 days (let alone 30 seconds). Interns can identify your audience, but they can’t necessarily identify with your audience. It’s not their fault, it takes time to understand the nuances of an industry and it shouldn’t be expected that an intern can just pick it up and run with it.
  2. Interns aren’t forever. Internships are meant to be a temporary (God help you if yours isn’t) trade of time for experience. When your intern passes the reigns of your social media campaign to the next intern, there’s a loss of continuity in tone. Even if your current intern has a fabulous personality, there’s no guarantee her predecessor will, and your followers will suffer.
  3. Interns stick too closely to the script. Sure, he/she impressed you in the interview when she was able to recite the “core values” and memorized the story of your company’s founding. But reciting the brochure on Twitter does not a social media strategy make.
  4. Interns aren’t always aware of the faux pas minefield. When the stuff hits the fan – and it will – you want someone with experience to deal with bombs and grace to deal with trolls. As Donald Rumsfield famously said:
    “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
    Social media is full of the unknown unknowns. Experience is necessary.
  5. Interns aren’t compensated well enough for the pressure. It’s unfair to put the weight of your brand’s world on the shoulder of an intern. If you’re taking social media as seriously as you should be, you know that it’s a medium which wields a lot of power but also bears a lot of responsibility.

Make sure the person you have with their neck on the line has the thick skin of experience.

And interns, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’ve got 100 reasons this post is inaccurate, off-base and doesn’t paint a fair picture of the depth of your skill set.

If that’s the case, I’m wrong about you. And you probably deserve that full-time gig you’ve been working for. In which case you won’t be running the Twitter account anymore.

Andrew Hanelly creates and executes digital strategies for clients at TMG Custom Media. He blogs at Engage the Blog.

 

78 comments
FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

This post was driven home to me last week at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting. One of the speakers on a panel discussing case studies of successful social media marketing kept hammering the point that you should use interns or minor children -- literally recommended using your 14-year-old child, niece/nephew or child of a friend -- to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and manage content marketing.

In addition to the insights you outlined, I would add one more: You'll never get any better. If you don't hire people more experience or skilled than you are, you're not going to be able to compete.

HeidiCohen
HeidiCohen

I totally agree. Businesses think that hire an intern is a cheap and easy way to do social media. NOT! As you point out, social media can be a business and/or brand landmine even if you know your firm and/or brand. Even worse, most of these companies don't outline any social media guidelines or have a crisis management plan in place! Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

I've written about this quite a bit and, when I speak with CEO organizations, I repeat it. It's not that some interns aren't savvy or that they couldn't handle the responsibility. It's simply that most just don't have BUSINESS experience yet. Just like you wouldn't send an intern to a new business meeting alone or to close a big deal or to ask a donor for money or to pitch the media, you don't want he/she serving as the face of your brand. The way you coach and mentor young professionals in every aspect of their career is the same with social media. Just because they use Facebook for personal use does not mean they know how to translate it to business use.

AngelaDaffron
AngelaDaffron

It amazes me that so many companies are doing this yet not a one of them would ever dream of putting an intern in the position to be the company spokesperson for traditional media! It's crazy!

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun

Hi, all my comments to you are with respect. I am a soon to be final year student who us just about to start on an internship where part of my role will be to engage in the social media strategy.

First off, you make some pretty unfair sweeping generalisations of interns. Such as "interns do not live and breath your brand". Really? I doubt I am so special to be unique to all the student interns out there.

Secondly, interns aren't forever? Well that's not the fault of the intern is it? Luckily for me, I have the chance to stay on with the company I've just started my internship with which I will gladly take if I impress enough. Again, I doubt I am the only one out of all the student interns out there.

Thirdly; interns stick too closely to the script. No, bad interns do that and bad supervisors/team managers allow it. From speaking to companies based in the UK the most common criticism I hear of interns with regards to this is the total opposite, that interns tend to do their own thing and think they know best. I doubt either of us can find a student who can recite company brochures or textbooks word for word.

Fourthly; Of course, experience is necessary. But why are you suggesting interns are devoid of any experience in social media strategy? There are some (admittedly rare) that do have practical experience.

Fifthly; I don't feel as an intern I should be compensated for any sort of pressure. No matter how hard, no matter how deep and no matter how upsetting it may be. That's the nature of business. If I don't learn it now in a relatively safe environment then I feel sorry for my future self.

I think your examples are indicative of bad companies who do not select candidates carefully enough, rather than it being indicative of student interns as a whole.

But I certainly agree with what I think is your underlying sentiment that social media should not be treated as something you might as well have, or something you 'have' to have.

RyoatCision
RyoatCision

Amen Andrew, great points all the way around. I do feel this trend is as much about covering the social media bases cheaply as it is thinking of social media as a “youthful” endeavor—that young interns should have inherent skills at it. In a way I agree with Glenn—interns interested in social media marketing are in a sweet spot right now because they can actually get these kinds of responsibilities right off the bat. But I definitely think it’s a risk for companies: this is absolutely much too large a burden to place on someone that has little experience with the company and brand, is temporary, and is not compensated fairly. In a way these kinds of missteps make me excited and optimistic: that it evidences the newness of all of this, that we are still trying to figure out our conventions and procedures, if sometimes wrongly. It’s exciting to be a part of all of that. @RyoatCision

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Good points here, agree with them all and think the biggest reason you don't HAND OVER the marketing, PR or SM to an intern: they don't have the PROFESSIONAL experience. An internship is: on-the-job-training. It's about learning how to do something, under supervision and guidance of those who know how to do it and how to teach it. Sure they may have their own blog and FB page, but is it designed to promote professional brand, represent a company... or just themselves, just for fun? It's very different. See also #4.. so much they don't know b/c as interns, they're learning. FWIW.

Glenn Ferrell
Glenn Ferrell

Ha ! Traditionally, companies would never consider putting an intern in charge of marketing. It seems companies hiring interns to do Social Media just aren't connecting the dots :P

But if I were an intern, I'd jump at these opportunities :)

Steve_Law
Steve_Law

Any chance this article extends to people working at a graduate level? I think so! Why heap a campaign onto a newbie? They should get their feet wet by co-handling with an experienced colleague imo.

kamkansas
kamkansas

Good post, Andrew. The Donald Rumsfeld quote alone makes this a must-read. I know a lot of reasons why interns shouldn't be running social media for a company, but you brought up one that I hadn't thought about much before now. It really is too much of a burden to put on an intern's shoulders. Especially when a problem or a controversy comes up, it's not fair to expect them to handle that. (And it's really stupid to ask a newbie - who is temporary no less - to "be us" on social media. That's just asking for trouble even if the intern has skills and the best intentions.)

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

Be "us" on Facebook and Twitter. That makes me :(

Great post, Andrew.

StephenJack
StephenJack

Very True! This is the common practice which is being used by the most of the organizations I have seen and it results nothing but disturbance by increasing the work load and panic. As you said it is not a mistake of interns how can you suppose to market a product efficiently when your knowledge about the product is just like the consumer of the product and in most of the cases less than the consumer. Well! this is a joke but unfortunately this is happening.

OnlineBusinesVA
OnlineBusinesVA

"Great post Andrew. You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very clever. Thanks! "

SuzanneVara
SuzanneVara

Andrew

Great article. Many interns can be very valuable to an organization when they are guided by someone within the organization. I had the opportunity quite a few times years ago to work with interns and there was something magical that happened with the company that I was with. As we were teaching, we were renewing our corporate culture and all that it represented. Some of the interns were flops and that happens.

The one point that I always make to companies who are considering interns for their SM is are you asking them because they know how to rally the crowd on twitter or facebook or are you considering them because they have a background in marketing and are able to understand that this a part of the marketing efforts and there is more to this than just tweeting and updating status? There share of voice, share of customer, show them and discuss the entire marketing plan as well as well as the social media portion and explain how it all fits together? This is when we really now can have the discussion on interns, their roles, the supervisory thereof and if they are going to be behind the tweets because they know how.

I am all about interns learning and given a real shot in a company so long as they themselves are getting something out of it but for the company that they are not placing someone in a position just to have someone there without fully understanding why they are doing so.

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

Thank you! I couldn't agree with you more, Andrew!

Companies just want to cover their social media bases with minimal financial investment. Maybe this social media stuff is "just a fad" after all. Ha.

If you want to play with the big boys and do SM right, it requires a grown up, real world professional. Someone who knows much more than how to send a tweet, but someone who understands business, customers, and branding. Interns have no place in these roles. Just because you have a Facebook account to share pool pics with your friends doesn't mean you know anything about creating or maintaining a successful business.

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

Community and social media have been core to Livefyre since the beginning. Our internship program is core to our company as well, and it's much more about learning and participating than actually taking over the social media activities for the company. Our approach is to teach the interns about our company culture, have them learn FROM and WITH our community, and understand what it means to build community through social media.

While we don't thrown any of the interns straight into answering support tickets or sending tweets by themselves, it's important to us to include them in the process and teach them how we do things, which will eventually lead to them helping run it within the company. While the interns will leave at some point, we have then trained them about the importance of community and they will always be part of ours, even when they're off working for Twitter or hiring me for a job :)

bdorman264
bdorman264

Slippery slope indeed and I have been on this exact conversation w/ a non-profit YMCA wondering how to get into social media in an impactful way and WHO is going to do it because it is not in our budget. They are moving forward and the Exec Director is going to try to maintain some control over the process, but you bring up some very valid points I will share with them.

However, if @Shonali agrees with all but #2 & #5 then I will probably have to defer to her because she's smart like that................just sayin'.............:)

Good info, thanks for sharing.

hanelly
hanelly

Exactly. Glad you posted this specific example because some people believe this doesn't actually happen. It happens a lot more than we'd like to think. I think you've added a great point that I didn't think of: the more you blindly have someone else manage an increasingly integral part of your marketing strategy, the less you learn about how to interact in the space and the further behind you become.

hanelly
hanelly

Amen, Heidi. Thanks for dropping by. Just like any arm of the marketing department, it takes more than just one person (let alone an intern - regardless of their skills and brains) to operate.

Glenn Ferrell
Glenn Ferrell

@ginidietrich Absolutely. No degree that I know of prepares you to deal appropriately with an unexpected reputation crisis or a very important angry customer. Sure guidelines help but dealing with crisis situations successfully is the result of having a person with the right "emotional intelligence" who has integrated a "big picture" view with the guidelines and, through experience, has learned to make the right adjustments in the moment without freezing. That's pretty tall order for most interns. Many long term employees have not yet learned how to do this.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@AngelaDaffron Or send them to new business meetings or have them close a big deal. It makes me shake my head.

hanelly
hanelly

Yasin - Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

I want to preface my response with this: The interns I've known have been amazing. They've been hardworking, they've been hungry for experience, they've had valuable perspectives, they were articulate, and they were smart. In short, they've been amazing people who are talented and were going to go on to do great things. The fact that someone would take on an internship - especially an unpaid one - shows that they are driven and ambitious.

This post isn't a swipe against the qualifications of interns. I think there are great examples of interns being awesome. You can find some of them in the other comments on this post.

That said, this post is not anti-intern. The crux is this: Interns are ambitious, hungry, smart, and talented. And, given the option to take the reigns on any project, most interns would sign right up. That's the point of the internship. They want to prove themselves.

I remember when I was an intern I would take on any project I could, regardless of scope just because I wanted to prove myself and get experience. That's happening today, too, and it's good. But that can't be the entire strategy. The intern can't go it alone.

It's unfair on the part of the employer to thrust an intern into the social media trenches - alone - to achieve real business objectives.

I think employers - strapped for resources, mostly - take the easy way out with social media by throwing a young, smart, ambitious person into the ring and call it a day.

End rant.

That said, I'll respond to each of your points:

1. Interns do not live and breathe your brand yet. This isn't to say that interns can't, it's just not likely that they understand the brand culture as well as a veteran on day 1. It takes time that - by nature of being an intern - they haven't spent yet.

2. Interns aren't forever. You're right, it's not the fault of the intern. It's just a fact. Why hinge an important part of your marketing on a temporary piece? And if an intern does stay on for full-time employment, they are no longer an intern … see what I mean?

3. Interns stick too closely to the script. You're probably right on this. But whether they stick too closely to the script or veer too far, it proves the same point: They aren't comfortable enough in the brand skin to act natural and stay on brand. Not their fault but rather the fault of the management team that placed them into the situation in the first place. Don't strand them out there.

4. Experience. I'm not saying they are devoid of experience, but they probably have less marketing experience than veterans at the company. By no means should interns be banned from social media, they should just not be alone.

5. The pressure. Fair enough. I suppose doing this to an intern could give them some trial-by-fire experience that molds and hardens them for the rest of their career. I agree with you there. And I think the truly brave do have an opportunity in this situation, but again, I don't think it's great for the company.

Anyway, that's the spirit of all this!

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun

If I could just doubly make sure that I make it clear that my comments are with respect. The only thing I know as a student for sure is that I don't know everything so I do respect somebody who has far more experience and credentials than I have.

hanelly
hanelly

@RyoatCision Great comment. Thanks for dropping by.

I agree with what you're saying here.

From the perspective of the intern this is a huge opportunity. Get great, hands-on experience and stories to tell at the next job interview. I don't blame them for jumping in head first - I'd do (and have done, in different contexts) the exact same thing. The experience is there, the caution tape is not: GO FOR IT!

But, from the perspective of the brand it's a huge risk. What happens if they don't know what to do? What happens if they say the wrong thing? What happens if they upset a customer? What happens if they misrepresent the brand? What happens if they accidentally Tweet thinking it's their personal account? What happens if they leave?

Too many unanswered questions to build the foundation of a strategy on.

Sure, tap the exuberance, let the digital native show you around, but by no means give them the keys to the kingdom and walk away. This is a team effort for many reasons.

hanelly
hanelly

@3HatsComm Brilliant! You're absolutely right. Just because they know how to use a tool (e.g. Twitter or Facebook) doesn't mean they know how to achieve business objectives with it. Amen!

But this sentence stands out for me as being ultra important:

"An internship is: on-the-job-training. It's about learning how to do something, under supervision and guidance of those who know how to do it and how to teach it. "

At the end of the day sure, it's good experience. It's trial by fire. BUT, it's a rip-off to the intern for not getting direct tutelage in exchange for their time.

hanelly
hanelly

@Glenn Ferrell Right? It's like saying to an intern: "Hey, you know how to use a phone?? Sweet! Why don't you call this list of prospects and pitch them our product?? What, you're not sure what to do? What do you mean?? You said you know how to use a phone!!"

It's insanity. It's reality.

hanelly
hanelly

@Steve_Law Exactly. Show them the ropes, don't just give them enough rope to hang themselves. Huge difference.

hanelly
hanelly

@kamkansas Right on! "Hey, it's your first day at ABC Company! Now, put this t-shirt on and go introduce our brand to everyone you meet. Tell them everything about us and answer their questions perfectly." Outside of the context of social media it seems insane. I guess my point is (and what we're all agreeing to here is) inside of social media it is just as insane, when you stop to think about it.

hanelly
hanelly

@jennwhinnem Reading that one was the catalyst that finally got me to put this post together :) Thanks for the kind words!

hanelly
hanelly

@StephenJack Yeah, it'd be a funnier joke if it weren't true, right? It boggles my mind how often this still goes on. My question is: will this still be the case in 10 years? I hope not ...

hanelly
hanelly

@SuzanneVara Exactly. It needs to be (for the intern and the organization) part of a larger context. How does social media fit in to our marketing plan? What are the goals we are trying to achieve here? How will we represent our brand on each platform - social and otherwise?

Answering these questions - as a team - and then implementing a cross platform strategy is the ideal for everyone involved. Sure, the "intern" might help run any part of it on a day-to-day basis, but by no means are they alone, in a silo, Tweeting.

hanelly
hanelly

@WordsDoneWrite Right on! There's knowing what the tool does, and then knowing how to use the tool to get results. High-five.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@jennalanger Thanks for sharing how it works for LF.. think you are developing a real internship program, designed to train and teach.... not just hand over the keys.

hanelly
hanelly

@bdorman264 @Shonali I wonder how the Executive Director would feel about incorporating social media into his or her own schedule? How about the rest of the staff? What about creating a strategy that asks each person already there if they can spend any extra time with social media? I think eventually being active in social media will be as commonplace - and expected - as answering email.

hanelly
hanelly

@Glenn Ferrell @ginidietrich Amen, Glenn. And if you find an intern who has these skills, this level of grace, a high level of emotional intelligence, etc? Hire them full time. They shouldn't be an intern. Right?

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun

@hanelly Thank you Andrew for taking the time to respond to my comments, really appreciate it.

In your experience, have companies ever given staff who are given the role of intern supervisor training on such a role? And if not, do you think that they should, or would it be time spent on something that could be spent on something that can be argued is more important?

hanelly
hanelly

@ginidietrich @Glenn Ferrell Absolutely. In my days of being an intern I would have volunteered to run the entire company (hey, I believed in myself!) That doesn't mean it would have been smart for them to take me up on it.

Interns: This is a huge opportunity for you

Brands: This is a huge risk for you

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

@3HatsComm I've had many internships in my day and at the beginning it always seemed like I was doing busy work. Turns out, it really was community management! I was mostly self-taught, but I realized that it would have been helpful if someone help explained to me that what I was doing was important to the community and the company. That's what we're trying to do here at Livefyre. It's not just commenting on blogs, it's learning from and building relationships with our community. The connections they make here will last for a long time and I'm sure will help them in their careers.

Shonali
Shonali

@hanelly @bdorman264 I agree, and I think one of the big mistakes companies make is assuming that social is the responsibility of only a few people. I think it *should* be managed from a central point, but the more employees are trained and encouraged to use it, the better it will be in the long run for the organization. I've said it before and I'll say it again; employees are your best brand ambassadors. Or, at least, they can be, if you let them.

hanelly
hanelly

@AngelaDaffron @ginidietrich Or handle an angry phone call from a customer. Dealing with people is one of the toughest skills to hone. Why have your least experienced person in charge of it?

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun

@hanelly Thanks for your reply, I also agree scenario 2 works best and luckily for me that's the scenario I'm in.

hanelly
hanelly

In my experience, I've seen interns treated 2 ways:

1. "Here's what to do" - These unfortunate interns are getting ripped off. They're being told to do tasks because they need to be done with no broader context. They are simply performing seemingly unrelated tasks on a to-do list. They perform functions for the sake of checking an item off a list. The only value they get from an internship is the bullet points they can put on their resume.

2. "Here's what we want to achieve and why" - This is the way I try to work with interns and it's the way for both sides to be successful. You give the intern some challenges to work with and explain how their particular project fits in the broader context of what the company is trying to do.

It presents the intern with the problem, explains the "why" behind the importance of the problem, and allows the intern to think critically about the best way to be successful. Collaboratively, the intern and supervisor arrive at a solution and the intern carries it out. This grooms the intern for potential work at the company, and gives the intern valuable working knowledge they can take anywhere. An intern who has spent time in this situation has graduated from the "intern" nomenclature and is ready to be considered a full-time employee.

I think that if a company is going to have interns work with them, they should only do it in scenario #2. Otherwise, just hire out temp help and get the rote tasks done. If you're bringing in an intern, you need to make sure it's a fair trade for both parties.

hanelly
hanelly

Absolutely, @Shonali There's the old saying that goes "the most important person in your company is the receptionist because they are the first person anyone talks to when reaching out to your company." Social media has changed the landscape and now whoever is running your social media campaign is just as important as the receptionist. Anywhere an employee connects with a customer is a huge opportunity for a brand. We understand that and treat it with respect in every context *but* social media.

Great comment, Shonali!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media (SpinSucks). A common scenario: business owner says “I don’t have time for social media. Can we just have the new intern do that?” This is not a good idea. Read why. [...]

  2. [...] Five reasons the intern shouldn’t run social media ‘Social media is a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have right?’ Daarom neem je toch een stagiaire aan die het klusje social media voor je gaat oplossen. Zij hebben vaak meer volgers op Twitter dan jij en Facebook kennen ze op hun duimpje. Maar zijn zij wel geschikt om deze functie voor jouw organisatie te vervullen? Jan Willem Alphenaar schreef ook eerder een blogpost over ‘social media voor ons bedrijf? We nemen een stagiair’. Een makkelijke en goedkope oplossing, maar ook verstandig? [...]

  3. [...] lays out some great thoughts in Five Reasons Domains Are Getting Less Important Really good read on Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media A good read on Danny Brown…. The Law of Emotional Connection A super read on [...]

  4. [...] lays out some great thoughts in Five Reasons Domains Are Getting Less Important Really good read on Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media A good read on Danny Brown…. The Law of Emotional Connection A super read on Gigaom….The future [...]

  5. [...] Recently on the excellent Spin Sucks blog, guest blogger Andrew Hanelly discussed “Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media“: [...]

  6. [...] eggs in a basket that is more than likely going to be hired somewhere else.This post was originally featured on SpinSucks.If you liked this, try:4 Things My Mom Taught Me About Social Media6 Social Media Marketing [...]

  7. Twitter says:

    [...] advantage of this tool. However, it takes time and savvy to develop a role in any discussion. Your intern probably shouldn’t do it (via [...]

  8. [...] Recently on the excellent Spin Sucks blog, guest blogger Andrew Hanelly discussed “Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media“: [...]

  9. [...] from their colleagues.“Social media is easy. My niece started her own blog.”“Social media is something the intern can do. So don’t spend a lot of time on it.”“We know we’ve got to ‘play in [...]

  10. [...] http://www.spinsucks.com/social-media/i-dont-want-to-read-your-interns-blog/ Dave Baldwin’s Posts – The 919 Business Network – Local Business Networking Filed Under: Business Services Tagged With: intern, Manage, Media, Social Daily Articles [...]

  11. [...] bewildering weeks spent shackled to the photocopier, the tea-making, the media-list compiling, the general skivvying – and without being paid – [...]