A lot of social media advisers will tell you, unequivocally, unabashedly, without hesitation, and without reservation, to never, ever, ever, even in times of great desperation, put your company’s social media into the hands of an intern. The reasons they’re likely to cite for this are many; interns are untrained; interns are unproven; interns are untested; interns have limited experience; interns turn over faster than steaks on a grill. And are you really going to entrust your most accessible and spreadable public voice to a college student who is unfamiliar with your company and, in all likelihood, not even on your payroll?
These are all excellent points, and for many people, they outweigh the distinct benefits of intern social media management (namely, interns are cheap, they’re eager, and they tend to be digital natives). But sometimes, a dedicated social media employee just isn’t an option. Non-profit organizations and smaller companies with extreme budgetary constraints (or even budgetary non-existence) can find it impossible to justify the resources needed to manage an ongoing social media presence.
In other words, sometimes there’s no choice: Hire a social media intern, or forego a social media presence altogether.
Despite the warnings of naysayers, though, utilizing a social media intern doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario. It just requires a little careful preparation.
Step 1: Prepare a Social Media Plan
Interns or no interns, your company should have a social media plan that explains in some detail the expectations of those who post on behalf of the company in terms of original content, shared content, and responses. Some plans go so far as to include guidelines by which all employees are expected to present themselves on their own social networks. Regardless of how far your plan extends, it should set a firm set of guidelines as to the operation of your company’s social media, including the delegation of duties, response time goals, content dos and don’ts, and a description of the company’s social media “voice.” Such a plan will be helpful, not just for interns, but for all employees.
Step 2: Hire Well
When hiring a social media intern, make sure you put in the time to find a candidate who possesses a relevant skill set. Specifically, a social media intern should be a good writer and a good editor with a creative mind. A good candidate should demonstrate a sense of social media maturity. Use Facebook and Twitter as tools to vet your potential interns if you can. Some applicants will keep their social media accounts private, but others will leave them open to the public, and you can get a good glimpse at how well (and how often) the candidate uses social media, which will also allow you to get a good sense of his social media maturity. If he posts a lot of four-letter words and angry rants, he might not be the best choice to represent your organization.
Step 3: Share Your History
Chances are, your new intern already knows how to use social media. If he didn’t, you probably wouldn’t have hired him, right? So before you delve into the specifics of your social media plan, spend some time discussing your company’s background, including its history, its present state, and its vision for the future. Help your intern to gain a sense of the company’s voice by sharing your organizational content; website copy, strategic plans, brochures, etc. Understanding how your company wishes to present itself will be extremely important for your intern as he begins to present its social voice.
Additionally, be sure to make your company accessible. The more your intern knows about your company, the better he'll be able to represent it on Facebook. Giving your intern access to other employees, other departments, meetings, and planning sessions will not only help drive ideas for social media content, but it will also provide a more complete and satisfying internship experience.
Step 4: Moderate, Moderate, Moderate
Even with all your careful preparation, it's probably not a good idea to hand your intern the social media keys and let him take your Twitter account for a joyride. You'll want to monitor what he's saying, where he's saying it, how he's saying it, and to whom he's saying it. There are a few different moderation methods you can use. You can sit over his shoulder while he types, you can ask for all social media posts in writing in advance for your approval, or you can use moderation tools like Gremln's that will allow your intern to send social media messages that you will be asked to approve or deny before they post to the public networks.
Step 5: Have an Emergency Plan
Odds are, at some point, one of your intern's social media posts will draw a little fire. This will likely have less to do with the fact that he's an intern and more to do with the fact that social media backlash just happens. Even the best intentioned tweet can end up going awry, and when it does, it's important that both you and your intern understand how to respond. You can read our full recommendations on how to handle a social media faux pas here, but generally speaking, when a social post backfires, the best way to handle it is to respond appropriately, repair the damage as best you can, remove the post if it needs to be removed, apologize for the misstep, and carry on with your regularly scheduled social strategies.
It's important to let your intern know that while social media backlash is certainly not a desirable outcome of his work at your company, it's also a learning opportunity, both for him and for you.
Step 6: Have Your Intern Keep a Journal
Your intern is going to learn a lot from his internship experience. Make it one of his responsibilities to keep a regularly updated record of the work he's doing and the trial-by-fire lessons he learns along the way. When his internship is over, this journal will be extremely helpful in two different ways. First, it will show you the strengths and weaknesses of the internship program. You'll learn what worked, what didn't, and a few things you probably didn't know about your company's own social media. Second, it will serve as a foundation for the next intern's experience. Add the journal to the resources you hand over to the next intern during the training period so she can learn from past intern successes and mistakes.
Step 7: Change Your Passwords
This may seem obvious, but it's oh-so-easy to forget. If you handed over your social media passwords, make sure you change them as soon as the internship is over. There are all sorts of disaster scenarios that could result from a former intern having access to your company's Facebook page, so play it smart and change your passwords at the end of every internship cycle. Or, for a simpler solution, use Gremln's "Groups" tool to create an Interns group and grant your interns appropriate social network access . That way, instead of changing your passwords every four and a half months, you can simply remove the intern's access to the Interns group.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes, a full-time social media employee just isn't an option, and social media interns really can be a great option. Many organizations have interns to help manage their social media strategies, and they do so with great success. By following these seven steps, your social media internships will be beneficial to the interns, to your department, and to your organization as a whole.
Do you have any other tips for social media intern success? Share them in the comments below!