Caveat Emptor: Social Media Interns

One of the more puzzling and interesting developments within social media has been a willingness by some companies to hire young interns to operate social media tools such as Twitter.

Among the companies jumping on the intern bandwagon are Pizza Hut, which held a contest for a paid intern position at the company’s headquarters in Dallas, and Habitat, a home-furnishing retailer.

While it’s a terrificidea to provide interns with hands-on, real-world experience, it is not a good idea to give them free reign to operate a public marketing entity such as a Twitter account. Even if you hire a smart person with strong social media skills, they lack the experience and insight needed to handle a position is increasingly seen as strategic and tactical.

It is becoming more obvious that social media and community managers should be seasoned individuals to handle a job that involves communications, marketing, customer service, business development and sales. Even if you’re just updating Twitter, the demands can be a lot more intense than just tweeting there’s a deal on a new pizza.

In a recent blog post, Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang talked about that while interns should be an important part of social media teams, they should not be the “core business leader”. He made several suggestions on how to use interns within social media programs.

– Lean on interns to learn about how to use new technologies and service. “Allow them to become the tool experts: setting up accounts, rebranding tools, experimenting in a safe place, and teaching others. Let them master the hammers, nails, and tool chest”.

– Pair interns with senior management for reverse training.

– Develop strategy with senior management – as opposed to turning over strategy to interns.

– Give interns a safe place to communicate such as internal community, rather than public sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

There’s definitely a place for interns to gain experience and insight but companies should be aware that being on the front lines of social media is an important, multi-faceted, pressure-packed position where experience counts.

More: Disruptology has a good post on “10 Social Media Tasks for Summer Interns”.

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