Don’t Outsource Social Media to Interns

I’m old enough to remember the early days of the web. Back then (not too long ago, the 1990s), organizations didn’t take this online medium seriously. The web site paled in importance to the newsletter or magazine, at least according the leaders of the time. After all, who reads things on a computer? The Internet was a place for nerds and geeks, for them to discuss Star Trek trivia and learn arcane HTML codes.

If you ran a company or a nonprofit, you really didn’t need a web site, or so people believed. And if you wanted a web site, you could have your nephew build it. He could make something flashy and “cool” like MySpace.

I see the same attitude today toward social media. Why should an organization invest in Facebook or Twitter? Let the interns handle it…

But would you trust an intern to be the voice of your organization? That’s the point I made in a recent article in AOL Government. If you accept the fact that social media is important (and you should, because that’s where the audience is), then why would you hand over these communication efforts to those who know the least about your company? Do you trust college kids to spread your message, respond to questions and interact with potential customers? Do they know the hot-button issues within your company? The language that you use with customers? Your customer service standards and policies? The things that they’re *not* supposed to talk about?

And what happens when the interns leave? They take all that hard-won knowledge about your organization with them, as well as valuable expertise in social media. And they may take the Twitter account as well.

Social media is too important to be left to a transient workforce. Companies and organizations should take a deliberate approach to this dynamic new tool. The keys to the social media kingdom shouldn’t be in the hands of someone who just walked in the door.

Your voice online should be controlled by someone who both knows your company and is familiar with the culture of the web and social media. Look around – you probably have someone already with the requisite experience and interest. They’re probably doing something perceived as more important. But what’s more important than representing your brand in a medium that reaches millions?

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Pat Fiorenza

I think it is interesting this conversation is coming up more and more now, shows that agencies and companies are starting to really understand the value of social media and the impact on their communications strategy. I think it really all boils down to management and making sure you have a really bright and good intern behind the wheel. Management needs to set the right expectation as well. An intern should not come in with the expectation they are going to be running an entire social media program, this is a recipe for disaster. I’ve seen some interesting uses on Twitter on how to manage interns on social media. Couple interesting things people do:

– Work in shifts and always say who is tweeting, some end with /\ PJF to let the audience know

– Stock messages and pre-approved messages during the shift

– I would guess on Twitter/Facebook even the kinds of conversations are laid out, questions to ask and discussions to have. Makes sense so intern can prep a little and ask their manager to clarify any issues if needed.

You brought up some great observations, but I do think an intern should be involved in the process. Part of the point of the internship is to help the intern develop skills and experience – as an organization you want to set up your intern to be above the fold and help them land a job. Then again, this is all under the assumption you have a great intern, and finding the right person is challenge in itself. If you get someone good enough and who you trust, you need to let them run a little – and that’s true even if it isn’t a social media internship. It’s good them, good for the organization.

Dick Davies

Great post, Joe! One point, it’s not just when the interns leave that you are strapped. Interns want to learn as much as possible and should during their internship. Blogging is about deadlines and consistent presence, important traits to showcase.

Joe Flood

Pat – thanks for your comments. I agree that interns should be given substantive work, because they’re bright and motivated people. I think they can be involved in social media without being the online “voice” of your organization. They should be incorporated into an organization’s online social media strategy. For example, they could schedule tweets in HootSuite, monitor Facebook pages, review blog comments and look for interesting discussions and people to follow on Twitter.