NAUGHTY OR NICE: Social Media Interns

Note: this week, I’ll be examining trends in social media and/or philanthropy and attributing a “naughty” or “nice” rating to them. This is the third of five reviews.

Last week, I asked my Twitter followers to help me identify some naughty or nice trends for this series. One follower was especially exuberant about her topic – unpaid interns running a company’s social media presence. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you six passionate comments from Vik Gill:

  • “Nonprofits so cash-strapped they have to use unpaid interns for social media [is a] bad idea!”
  • “Why would you trust the social media presence of your business to somebody who has no social media work experience?”
  • “The fact that a student has been playing around on Twitter and Facebook does not a social media expert make.”
  • “Unless you are giving interns the most trivial tasks, the amount of damage they can do to your brand is unquantifiable.”
  • “How much do you really know about social media if you think someone with no experience is the best person to build your brand?”
  • “Using social media interns creates limitations that arise from a business model that requires free labour to sustain it.”

I’ll cut Vik some slack for the improper spelling of “labor” because she’s British and they think they invented the language.

Do you really want this "dude" to be the online voice for your brand?

Vik’s points are spot-on. When we are uncomfortable with a task, we instinctively want to stick the responsibility on someone else. Interns are young, so they know computers; interns are free, so it makes sense to assign them the duties that don’t generate any revenue.

And if you accept those conclusions, I look forward to your 2012 tales from the unemployment line.

It’s easy to assign your interns (or even younger/entry level employees) to social media. It may even seem logical to do so. But social media is increasingly becoming the way corporations, nonprofits, peer groups, causes and more engage their audiences. Our online ambassadors need to be passionate and knowledgeable if they hope to grow and indoctrinate supporters. Interns often have enthusiasm, but it’s not their job to personally invest…it’s their job to figure out what they’re good at and what they want to do with their professional lives.

At the same time, it’s hard to determine social media ROI. It can often feel like we’re shouting into the ether. It may even seem like our Tweets and posts and likes and shares are often a colossal waste of time. But they’re not. One fan’s passion can spread to thousands of his or her peers. It’s difficult to do social media well, but is it any harder than a hundred other tasks in our competitive marketplace? Skimping on social media is just a cop-out for business leaders afraid to invest in something they don’t completely understand.

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s comforting to see that most successful brands have accepted the fact that not doing social media means money left on the table. In 2012, here’s hoping that more will realize that doing it incorrectly can jeopardize their future.

Oh, and if you couldn’t figure it out, using interns to run your social media community is a big, fat naughty!

**********

Previously in “Naughty or Nice”:
12/19 – Listing your Klout score on your resume

12/20 – Printing your face on a business card

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3 thoughts on “NAUGHTY OR NICE: Social Media Interns

  1. Great post, Matthew. Organizations should be looking long and hard at who manages their social media. Consistency in voice and a clear understanding of the organization and mission are critical to success.

    The larger issue here is unpaid internships. Is it ethical to create intern positions for tasks that would typically be completed by paid staff? There was much discussion earlier this year about the legality of unpaid internships, especially in the nonprofit sector. Here is an article from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html (google the topic for great resources, many focused on the nonprofit sector).

    I run a paid internship program and creating these positions has been a highlight of my career. As nonprofits, we constantly ask others to invest in us. We have to be willing to invest in others.
    – Jen @PhilanthropyInk

    • Wow, Jen. Thanks for the great information, great link and great paid internship platform. Our sector will be a lot better off when more people think like you!

  2. Pingback: The Social Media Chutzpah Hit List | matthewsm1th.com

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