SHOULD SOCIAL MEDIA BE IN THE HANDS OF INTERNS?

Nancy Myrland All Posts, Social Media 25 Comments

SHOULD SOCIAL MEDIA BE IN THE HANDS OF INTERNS?

Over on Facebook, Kyle Lacy, Principal at MindFrame, shared a link to a post about interns being given the responsibility of posting on Social Media on behalf of an organization.  It was written by Joanna Krotz, who writes about small business marketing and management issues.  It is is interestingly titled…

The Runaway Brand: Who’s Tweeting For You?

As a good marketer does, along with the link, Kyle asked his Facebook Friends:

“You shouldn’t leave social media completely to the interns or young people. What do you think?”

In her post, Joanna boldly begins by writing:

“Twenty-somethings may be whizzes at social media, but they typically don’t know beans about brand management.”

She continues by giving us several dos and don’ts that can help avoid problems.  These include:

  • Do create a digital brand strategy
  • Don’t post without vetting (this is a deal-breaker for me)
  • Do make the message reflect the brand.
  • Don’t ignore negative posts.
  • Do establish policies and training.

As you might guess, when Kyle posted his comment and question on Facebook, there were a number of comments answering Kyle’s question.  I added one, which was:

“Interns, by their very nature, are temporary employees. Sure, other employees might be temporary, but we don’t know that at the time.  Given that, I think being the company’s front person to thousands, and potentially millions, of people must be put in the hands of someone who will be around for a while, who has shown ongoing performance worthy of being put in charge of being a spokesperson, and who you would trust communicating your message in a crisis.  Choose this person/these people wisely.”

In response to this comment someone left on Kyle’s Wall:

“Didn’t many of the good ones start out as interns for somebody? I think the point is make sure they have good judgement and a good understanding of the project.  And honestly, sometimes an intern that has neither is better than someone with internal myopia…”

I added:

“Yes, interns do need training to advance their careers, but that doesn’t always mean stepping up to the plate in the most important Social Media communications position that exists in your organization.”

Sweeping generalizations have never been my favorite, so I try very hard to stay away from them when possible. I don’t think every intern is unworthy of being placed in such a coveted, critical communications position, any more than I think every person who has been around a while should be labeled old-school, slow and unable to move quickly in this digital world.  Neither is true, and it’s probably unfair to make either accusation.  A mid-career professional just starting out in marketing with a new firm might also not be the best fit…it just depends.

What do you think?

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Social Media: Who Should Lead The Charge?

Social Media: Do You Have What It Takes?

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24 comments
3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I'm not big on generalizations either but am comfortable saying No. Your question said 'in the hands' and of course, it will depend. There is plenty an intern can do for any business, any industry.. but it's an internship for a reason: these are typically young adults, just starting out in business and learning on the job. Some social interactions and activities, under the eye of a smart PR/SM pro, given to a smart and well-trained intern would be ok sometimes. But as @bdorman264 said, handing the keys or @C_Pappas w/ the "10 minute Twitter" account.. there's no way an intern - should direct or lead such a program. FWIW.

Hopes77
Hopes77

This is a great article. I also wonder if experience in Marketing is also something that needs to be considered. But an intern can post and coordinate as long as there is instruction and guides as to what the messaging is, relate to the brand etc.

I think there is a role, certainly NOT developing the strategy or message. Great post. I like hearing more and more of how social media is completely misunderstood at times by corporations. The magnitude of the reach, it can be huge.

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

I love what Joanna said because this sums it up so perfectly! I have seen so many companies tasking their interns with setting up and running their social media programs. I had a conversation one time with a woman at an airport. She said he daughter was an intern and that she was complaining about being bored all the time and that they were not giving her enough responsibilities. I asked what they were tasking her with and she said 'o, they told her to setup a Twitter account for the business and she finished that in like 10 minutes.' Red flag anyone? Setup in 10 minutes - sure. Establish connections, build presence, define a strategy, execute on Twitter all takes much more. Why didnt she think beyond uploading the logo and a background? Setting up the social presence and having one are two entirely different things. This is just one story but can see more like this happening. I strongly believe that we should involve interns in the social media strategy so that they learn it, but I dont agree that we should hand over the reins to them.

bdorman264
bdorman264

It depends on the situation and how it is structured. Yes, be careful of sweeping generalizations, but also be careful of who you are giving your car keys to. Nobody is going to have more buy in than someone who has 'skin' in the game. However, someone trying to 'prove' their worth and gain experience might do a jam up job.

I still see so many struggling with what they want their social media presence to look like (us included); do you think some presence even if it is in a very limited form is better than no presence at all.

Also, my mindset is thinking about firms that are just a step bigger than your typical Chamber of Commerce type firm but not big enough to hire out for this type of talent.

Those are my thoughts for today..........:)

Adrian_Dayton
Adrian_Dayton

Personally, I find that the problem at law firms is the opposite. They would never put social media into the hands of an intern because they need to approve every message sent out. They have a tight grip on all the messaging coming out of the firm.

Many firms will only permit partner level attorneys and marketing staff (with every tweet pre-approved) handle the social media use.

I think the ideal should be to have many different levels of attorneys all participating.

MimiMeredith
MimiMeredith

Love this: I don’t think every intern is unworthy of being placed in such a coveted, critical communications position, any more than I think every person who has been around a while should be labeled old-school, slow and unable to move quickly in this digital world.

I think if interns are going to represent the company, it should be clearly communicated that they are an intern--perhaps in their profile or even in their user name. I think the perspective interns can bring is very powerful...a view through fresh eyes. And I think companies that allow interns to participate in this way are probably among the most transparent and progressive...I like that. All that being said, there are certainly risks involved. I think it is best left to a company by company, case by case decision process rather than to determine with one broad stroke whether the approach is good or bad.

Nick
Nick

It isn't about if the person is an intern or a "PR pro" because I have met plenty of idiots in both positions. Whoever you decide to do your social media efforts, should have a firm understanding of the brand and the brand's message. Most importantly there should be a firm social media policy in place before any social media is done. The person hiring the social media person should shadow the new person for a few weeks like any other job, to make sure they can be trusted.

ChristinePilch
ChristinePilch

Empowering an intern to be your social media interface is akin to empowering one to be a PR spokesperson for your company. Your social media representative(s) must be intimately familiar with your company, it's philosophy, history, relationships, products and services, strategic goals, sales initiatives, and customer service touchpoints, while also being being ultra-professional, possessing the ability to retain a cool head under pressure, and having the authority to diffuse potential landmines. I've never met an intern that fits this criteria. An intern may one day grow into the role, but I strongly caution against empowering someone so under-qualified to be responsible for a defending, representing, and maintaining company's brand.

debdobson62
debdobson62

@nancymyrland, what a very good post and I never expect any less. This is an ongoing discussion I have had with many. While I think it is good to hire interns and give them real world opportunities to apply their educational knowledge to build their skills and land a job, I think it is a really bad idea to turn over the face of the company to what can potentially be very large numbers of people. A company would not hire an intern to run their financial department or technology. Why hand the reins over to an intern in representing that company.

I'm all for bringing on an intern to learn and help, but you need someone who understands business because of their experience to take the company's social media reins.

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@3HatsComm@bdorman264@C_Pappas Davina, Bill and Christina, I agree with all of you. To do so continues to exhibit a lack of understanding of how important the marketing and communications functions are, and does not acknowledge the risk involved, nor the rewards, or a program that is run by a professional who has been at this effort for a while. Thanks very much for stopping by!

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@Hopes77 Thanks for contributing! Experience in marketing sure can't hurt, that's for sure! Public Relations professionals are also a good choice. It really just depends on the depth of knowledge the person has, whether marketer or otherwise, and how deeply entrenched they are in the strategy of the company. I would like to make sure this person can react in a second should there be an issue that needs to be addressed, or who is adept at developing relationships with the right people the company or firm is targeting.

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@C_Pappas Oh that pains me to read that Christina. Companies need to understand how important these tools are, and get past the incorrect perception that they are an after-thought. Thank you so much for stopping by, and for sharing such a valuable story!

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

Hello @bdorman !! Interesting thoughts. I don't believe a small presence is necessarily better than no presence at all. It can send a very bad message that the firm has no interest or dedication, isn't willing to be there to develop relationships, and is lax in taking 5 days to reply to a comment left for them. This would be akin to only staffing customer service lines, or the switchboard, a few days a week. What happens during their off-times? The phone just keeps on ringing, thus sending a bad message. I'm dead serious about marketing, so I find ways to participate even though I have no other employees. I would suggest the firms you speak of need to step back and develop strategy before going in casually with no commitment. Thanks, as always, for being here!

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

Hi @adriandayton I think there's a mixture out there. I think firms' main accounts should be managed by the marketing department, but also see individual professionals at different levels engaging in the use of social media. Some firms are more sophisticated in the direction and use of these tools than others. You and I follow a lot of lawyers on all of these sites, and I know they aren't all partners. I agree there should be many different levels doing all marketing. It all depends on what their goals are, and if Social Media can help fulfill those goals.

With professions as tightly bound by regulations, ethical considerations and client confidentiality as are the legal, financial and media professions, and having spent several years in-house in the marketing function, I can understand why there are tight controls, but they are changing, which is good.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

@Adrian_Dayton

That might be the case at large firms, but a presenter at June's State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, characterized social media marketing as so simple and second-nature to digital natives that solo and small firms should hire only high school or college interns — or even family members as young as 14 – to manage their firm’s social media activities.

He also volunteered that the only reason he got into social media marketing in the first place was because his career coach badgered him into it, and even then he agreed to try it only on the condition that “it had to be free.”

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@Nick Thanks Nick...absolutely! Your mention of a Social Media policy is critical. People of all ages and levels want, need and must have boundaries they can keep in mind when dealing with something as powerful as media...of all kinds...not just Social. That's not to say they shouldn't be allowed to make impromptu comments, because this is part of extending the personality of the firm. Thanks for stopping by @nick harrison !

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@ChristinePilch Thanks Christine...very thoughtful reply. That's a massive amount of intelligence and savvy, which long-time employees don't always have either. Thanks, also, for sharing it on Twitter.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

@debdobson62 Your point about interns in other mission-critical departments is spot on, and I find it particularly troubling that firms would even consider such an arrangement for social media engagement. If a firm has so little regard for social media and marketing that they need to be persuaded that judgment, subject matter expertise, and experience are essential, then they might as well use interns because however they staff it, the prospects for effectiveness will be low.

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@debdobson62 Great reply Deb! I think what's causing this problem is that most who are in the hiring position don't fully understand Social Media, and the associated risks, implications and rewards, yet, so it's easy to assign it to someone who appears to be qualified, whatever their age. It's time to show respect for all communication that exists within a firm, right? Thanks for being here!

bdorman264
bdorman264

@NancyMyrland@bdorman I see your point; somebody came in my office today and asked 'who's in charge of the @lanierupshaw FB page'? It's still a work in progress, but as it languishes it is obvious it is not active. That's probably not the message you want to send, huh?

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@FollowtheLawyer@Adrian_Dayton Jay, I remember when you first shared that. I was about ready to find that presenter to have a few words of logic and common sense with him/her.

For heaven's sake, there's nothing about being a digital native, or a digital adopter, that makes them capable or qualified to handle any communications function for a firm, or a company of any size. To have said that was irresponsible, and shows a lack of understanding in what the marketing function is all about, not to mention minimizing its importance. Very telling words....

Thanks for stopping by!

NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland moderator

@FollowtheLawyer@debdobson62 I couldn't agree with both of you more! In a world where our clients and bosses counsel clients how to stay out of trouble, why in the world would they not make wise decisions in the same way? @debdobson 's examples make this easy to understand from a parallel basis. Thanks for stopping by @followthelawyer !!