Have you ever sent a tweet and soon realized it was questionable then quickly hit the delete button? So have lots of others, and depending on your web 2.0 popularity, deletion doesn’t mean all is forgiven— just ask former representative Anthony Weiner. For many of us, this mistake is easily resolvable, but for government agencies and politicians, the results of a misfire may take years to put behind them.
Government is quickly taking advantage of social media, and a particular focus is on the microblogging site Twitter, as well as Facebook. They can be useful tools for quick communication, as many police departments have recently demonstrated, and they are also useful to keep in touch with the citizens’ for which the government works. While many see the value in participating in social media, they don’t necessarily see the value in investing in it. Their solution is the social media intern.
For a department with a tight budget, the right unpaid social media intern can be of value. Many undergraduates already have an understanding of social media, and can quickly learn how to represent an organization. Personally, I have experience as a social media intern, and it was very beneficial for both myself and the nonprofit I represented. The nonprofit, with limited resources, was able to free up time for its paid staff to handle operations, and I had the opportunity to network with some great people and gain valuable experience.
However, it takes judgment and responsibility to represent the face of an organization, and trusting an intern with this is a risk in itself. It can be a challenge to find a qualified undergraduate who sees the value in working without pay, and the number of applicants is limited. Interns also may not have a grasp on the organization, with many telecommuting and not learning its culture. There are numerous examples of professionals making mistakes with social media, including a Google+ software engineer, Steve Yegge, who ranted about Google not understanding social media platforms and mistakenly shared it with the world. With experienced professionals making profound errors, the intern with limited experience isn’t immune to the occasional mishap. Also, with turnover every few months, the gamble for the right intern is recurring.
Participating in social media and the interns that often come with it can be of great value to an agency or department looking to increase its presence, but it also holds an inherent risk. This risk isn’t worth taking without a mature young adult to manage the accounts, though many take it regardless. I stand in the camp that encourages the use of social media as well as interns, but a detailed plan by a contracted expert goes a long way in making sure your interns don’t go astray. That step should always be taken for an organization with limited social media experience looking to increase its web presence. Would you trust an intern to represent you and your organization, or is the risk worth leaving it to the professionals?