One way to find out how interested companies are in adding to their Social Media acumen is to see what types of people they are looking to hire. So, I was trolling several employment websites the other day and I plugged “social media” into the job search field.
Instantly there were hundreds of listings.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of them had titles like this:
MARKETING/SOCIAL MEDIA INTERNSHIP
COMMUNICATIONS/SOCIAL MEDIA INTERNSHIP
SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST INTERN
and, one of my favorites:
SOCIAL MEDIA INTERN – SUPER BOWL
Clearly, company after NPO is looking to beef up their Social Media presence and the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to do that is by hiring a bunch of interns to do the job. Why not? This is the generation that was weaned on AIM, nurtured by texting and lives with a permanent USB port in the back of their head. They live and breathe Social Media and since most of the people in charge of these companies neither tweet nor pin, it makes sense to turn this part of their marketing strategy over to someone with the technical chops to handle it.
Now, before you go accusing me of ageism, here are some of the responsibilities that are being entrusted to interns:
Cultivate contacts at news organizations…Nothing journalists like better than a cold call from an intern.
Evaluate the current social media strategy…and have that report on my desk in the morning.
Utilizing and coordinating creative assets…plug in the projector for the Power Point presentation, please.
Tweet live during events…OMG…we’re sitting here and listening to this guy talk and its really interesting #eventname
Wait…what? Do you really want a 20-year-old college junior who has never worked for your company or NPO to be the face of your organization in Social Media? Do they really understand the subtle nuances of your brand or mission enough to be able to make critical judgments on what is or is not appropriate to say?
Do not think that I am against internships. I think it is our responsibility to train people in our industries. We have all had mentors at some point in our careers and that kind of coaching is invaluable.
Unfortunately, it seems like the internship “experience” is being applied in two ways.
One, we are turning over our Social Media strategy to Sara from UVA for the three months she will be here. She has a Facebook page, tweets, has her own Tumblr blog and is even working with this new thing called Pintrest. She is just the person to lead us out of the dark and set this company on the right path to being really cool in Social Media. And, when she leaves we’ll just get another intern to replace her!
Two, we are going to use interns in their traditional role – grunt work. Since they know how to handle the interwebs they can gather data, search articles, find You Tube videos we can use and go grab snacks for the afternoon staff meeting.
Somewhere in the middle is an appropriate use of an intern. Look, I worked in radio for a long time and we used and abused interns on a regular basis. And, maybe, one out of ten of them showed the passion, drive, ambition and aptitude to do something beyond basic grunt work. Those people we took under our wing and actually trained them. But, we never, ever put them in a front line position where they represented our brand. Why? Because it isn’t fair to them.
Whatever your industry, there are young people out there with the passion and desire to work with you. Internships provide them with invaluable experience and can often lead to that first “foot in the door”. Yes, their primary role is to do menial tasks and soak up knowledge. However, they can also be a source of fresh ideas and an innocent perspective not tainted by the day-to-day of the work environment.
But, should you turn over your Social Media strategy and execution to them? Absolutely not! Would you bring in a marketing intern to run your direct mail campaign or write and produce your television ads? Would HR bring in an accounting intern and have them do the payroll? Then, why would you turn what is becoming an increasingly important part of any marketing strategy over to a rookie?
I have this sneaking suspicion that too many organizations see Social Media internships as a way of putting a toe in the water. Rather than commit real resources, they can get started for “free”. (And why not, Facebook, Twitter, etc – they’re all free…)
Forget about accountability. forget about sustainability. Forget about consistency. It seems these companies and non-profits think it is more important to have a Social Media presence without any thought to how it will look or function. It just astounds me.
I am a 100% advocate for internships. Bring ’em in by the bus load. Get them involved. Train them and listen to them. But – do not give them the keys to the executive washroom (obtuse Mad Men reference…)
Steve Allan, Former Intern & Social Media Specialist