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Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media

By: Guest | June 16, 2011 | 
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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.

 

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96 Comments on "Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media"

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davenicoll
davenicoll
5 years 14 days ago

Not to mention that interns spelling and grammar are usually shocking and not a good representation of a professional service or established brand.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 14 days ago
This is great stuff. I think often Brands view social in the wrong way. In fact most of the people championing social view it the wrong way. This doesn’t mean interns can not be a huge asset in helping run social media. I have a marketing intern for a client whom I am teaching how to handle twitter and eventually Facebook. But it starts with the brand. McDonalds and ATT have teams that have a manager with the interns and employees underneath. I have wanted @ginidietrich to steal one of the McDonalds interns because she kicks but on Twitter. But… Read more »
brandonchicago
brandonchicago
5 years 14 days ago

Your voice in social media should be someone of the same caliber that you’d put on stage in front of an industry conference crowd. Would you put an intern up there? I wouldn’t.

brandonchicago
brandonchicago
5 years 14 days ago

(BTW, I think the apostrophes in your URL are killing your retweet button.)

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 14 days ago

Oh I am so with you on this. This is the same reason that I tell clients I won’t Tweet for them. I am NOT them. And you certainly don’t want your 17-year old nephew Johnny doing it, even if he is “good at that social media stuff”. Oh I could go on and on and on.

JMattHicks
5 years 14 days ago
@HowieSPM @ginidietrich @livefyre @jennalanger I appreciate the kind words Howie, you da man 😉 Jenna has been a beast in teaching and guiding me along the way (beast in a good way!) The intern “dilemma” is an interesting one. We have a number of interns working with us this summer and honestly, we’re only a few weeks (if that) into the program and it’s been mind blowing; love having them on the team. I was able to intern for two months, learning from jennalanger(and I’m still learning) before she “turned me lose”, so to speak. It’s one of those things… Read more »
JMattHicks
5 years 14 days ago

@HowieSPM @ginidietrich @livefyre @jennalanger *Beneficial for all parties involved

annedreshfield
5 years 13 days ago
@JMattHicks @HowieSPM @ginidietrich @livefyre @jennalanger As a writing major, I’m often appalled by the spelling, grammar, and voice of many of my fellow students. Usually it feels like no one bothered to teach them to be careful in the real world outside of texting on their phones and writing status updates on Facebook. At my last internship, I was in charge of the intern team — together, we were the voice of the company through social media. Everyone performed well and nothing horrible happened, but it easily could have gone the other way. I worked as the filter everyone’s posts… Read more »
hanelly
hanelly
5 years 13 days ago

Amen, my friend. I view it the same I’d view speaking for someone on the phone or at a conference. It’s staged. It’s not authentic. And it’s slightly awkward. The beauty of this medium is that it allows voices that are typically not accessible to be easily accessed. Thanks for the comment, @KenMueller

hanelly
hanelly
5 years 13 days ago

Thanks for letting us know – I’ll pass the message along. @brandonchicago

hanelly
hanelly
5 years 13 days ago

Exactly, Brandon. Not if you expect to get results. To extend your analogy: if you put an intern on stage you might get a couple “oh that’s nice” or “wow, that was good, for an intern” statements, but nothing that will blow anyone away or turn into business (usually). If you’re ok with that type of reaction in social, then intern it up. If not? Invest the time of someone higher up in the org chart. Everyone wins. Thanks for the comment.

DianeRayfield
DianeRayfield
5 years 13 days ago

Excellent post and sooo true! The Community Manager is the “voice” of your brand and needs to be someone or a group of people with brand experience, social media savvy and intellectual acumen to say the least.

Lisa Gerber
5 years 13 days ago

@hanelly @brandonchicago Aha!! that’s it. thanks I’ll fix it right now!

hanelly
hanelly
5 years 13 days ago

Though I have to admit that I’ve met some interns with better sense of grammar than me, you’ve got a good point. But I think that speaks to another “sin” of social media implementation: lack of quality control. That’s a whole different post/rant/whateveryoucall it. Thanks for the comment, Dave. @davenicoll

hanelly
hanelly
5 years 13 days ago

RIght on, Diane. You wouldn’t have an intern be your only representation at a trade show or conference, so why in social media? Thanks for the comment. @DianeRayfield

Lisa Gerber
5 years 13 days ago

@hanelly @brandonchicago Retweet button has been resuscitated. Thank you, Brandon.

lauracoggins
lauracoggins
5 years 13 days ago
As someone who was a social media intern not that long ago, I understand where you’re coming from. The hardest part for me was knowing how much freedom I had. You don’t know what’s safe to say or how snarky you can be. Constantly asking your supervisor sort of defeats the purpose, and you never know if you’re doing a good job. It can be done, but it takes the right intern and the right intern/supervisor relationship. There has to be maturity and trust and a real feel for the organization that interns don’t often have. My qualm comes when… Read more »
Darren Sproat
Darren Sproat
5 years 13 days ago

I actually worked with a temporary worker (she was a student returning to school in the fall) who was assigned social marketing/media tasks. In discussions with her, and to her credit, she indicated she felt uncomfortable being in the role because, and I quote, “I don’t know the brand or the culture here.”

Thanks for sparking a memory, Andrew, I think I will look her up and find out what company she is sharing her prowess with.

Shonali
5 years 13 days ago
A long time ago, I had an intern who was better than many FTEs at the firm I worked for. I would have trusted her with pretty much anything, not just because she was so smart, but because she took guidance well and was so responsible. To @lauracoggins point, I think the intern/supervisor relationship is critical. All your points are valid but especially #s 2 & 5. I think many employers forget that interns are supposed to have a learning experience, and they basically treat them like FTEs without the comparable pay (if it’s a paid internship) & benefits, hoping… Read more »
AllThingsJen
AllThingsJen
5 years 13 days ago

So so so so so true! Social media is full of the unknown unknowns.

Funny though, when I presented the social media aspect of the intern training the other day I had 5 people look back at me puzzled over my talk about Twitter. Only one of them actually had a Twitter account…which surprised me greatly…live and learn!

brandonchicago
brandonchicago
5 years 13 days ago

You’re welcome. 🙂 Used to have similar issues on our blog too. @Lisa Gerber @hanelly

Darren Sproat
5 years 13 days ago

@AllThingsJen I was surprised by stats like that also until I found overall demographics stats that indicated, as a whole, only 1 in 10 North Americans had a Twitter account.

bdorman264
bdorman264
5 years 13 days ago

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.

Shonali
5 years 13 days ago

@bdorman264 LOL, to clarify, I agree with all but especially 2 & 5. 😉

jennalanger
5 years 13 days ago
@annedreshfield @JMattHicks @HowieSPM @ginidietrich See this – these are/were our Livefyre interns, and they kick but without me even telling them too 🙂 I’ve never been about letting them loose with our social media accounts, but more about teaching them about our brand and interacting with our community. How else are people supposed to learn and gain experience? My first social media internship turned into a real job, we hired Jeremy, and all of our interns right now are allstars and that’s why we picked them. Social media is all about learning from the people around you, and that’s what… Read more »
jennalanger
5 years 13 days ago

@Shonali I would double like this comment if i could! Wait, I work for Livefyre, maybe I should make that happen… 🙂

jennalanger
5 years 13 days ago
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… Read more »
Shonali
5 years 13 days ago

@jennalanger Yes, you should!

WordsDoneWrite
5 years 13 days ago
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… Read more »
SuzanneVara
SuzanneVara
5 years 13 days ago
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… Read more »
OnlineBusinesVA
OnlineBusinesVA
5 years 13 days ago

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

trackback
5 years 13 days ago

[…] 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. […]

StephenJack
StephenJack
5 years 13 days ago

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.

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem
5 years 13 days ago

Be “us” on Facebook and Twitter. That makes me 🙁

Great post, Andrew.

kamkansas
kamkansas
5 years 13 days ago
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… Read more »
Steve_Law
Steve_Law
5 years 13 days ago

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.

Glenn Ferrell
Glenn Ferrell
5 years 13 days ago

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 😛

But if I were an intern, I’d jump at these opportunities 🙂

3HatsComm
5 years 13 days ago

@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.

3HatsComm
5 years 13 days ago
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… Read more »
trackback

[…] 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? […]

jennalanger
5 years 12 days ago
@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… Read more »
RyoatCision
5 years 12 days ago
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… Read more »
YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun
5 years 12 days ago
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… Read more »
YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun
5 years 12 days ago

@Shonali @jennalanger definitely, the intern/supervisor relation is very very critical from a student’s point of view. I can’t speak from a supervisor’s view but I can imagine it is to them too.

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun
5 years 12 days ago

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.

AngelaDaffron
5 years 12 days ago

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!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 12 days ago

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 12 days ago

@Glenn Ferrell Me. Too.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 12 days ago
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… Read more »
AngelaDaffron
5 years 12 days ago

@ginidietrich Exactly!

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