Why Can’t We Hire A College Intern to Do Our Social Media Marketing?

3 Reasons You Must Own Your Social Media Strategy

Does Hire-a-College-Intern to handle social media sound familiar? This approach to social media marketing can be alluring especially if you still haven’t ventured onto Facebook and one of your firm’s senior executives will owe you a favor for hiring his Facebook-savvy spawn as your social media intern.

This seat of your pants approach to social media marketing is based on the following three perceived benefits.

  1. College interns understand how to use Facebook. No surprise there. Facebook started as a student network. Students have grown up interacting and building relationships on Facebook and, as a result, most have more than the average 130 to 150 Facebook connections. While these students have a group of peers with whom they interact, they’re most likely not your target market. Based on my teaching experience, these exchanges don’t translate to an ability to implement social media marketing plans. Further, it doesn’t imply  interns understand how to use other social media platforms your business may need.
  2. College interns are free. Depending on your business’ location and employment laws, interns generally aren’t free unless they’re receiving school credit for their work in which case they need to do one significant project. However, interns require strong oversight since they may never have worked in a business environment.
  3. College interns provide a quick solution. While getting a student to watch your firm’s social media assets can be relatively easy to implement, the problem is he may not understand the rest of your business or how your internal systems work. As a result, they don’t present your business effectively and their social media efforts can’t be integrated into your overall plan.

3 Reasons a college student can’t handle your social media marketing

Here are three reasons, fundamental to your long-term business objectives, why a college intern can’t handle your firm’s social media marketing strategy.

  1. Social media marketing requires understanding your products and brand(s).  One of the major reasons to use social media marketing is to build brand awareness and provide product support. A college student doesn’t understand your brands’ strengths and benefits. Further, on social media platforms, brands require more than just a logo. Branding is ingrained into how your organization and products are represented. Your brand’s face and voice are conveyed through social media marketing.
  2. Social media marketing requires marketing knowledge and experience. Social media marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It must be aligned with your corporate goals and integrated into your overall marketing plans. To this end, social media marketing strategies, strong content and supporting marketing are needed.
  3. Social media marketing needs a company representative. From a corporate perspective, it’s important to think about the image you want to present on social media networks. Your firm’s representative requires a deep knowledge of your organization and its history since social media marketing requires a level of transparency and being active in a public arena.  Therefore, consider who’s best fit to represent and engage with your prospects and customers.

The bottom line is you need to have experienced employees who can respond to whatever the social media ecosystem throws at them. They must know your brand, marketing and your organization to best leverage your social media presence.

Is there anything else you’d add to this list and why?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Here are some related social media marketing articles of interest.

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

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  • http://www.tommangan.net/verbnerd/ Tom Mangan

    Question to ask: Would you turn this person loose on a TV ad or a press release for your company? If your intern is THAT good, then go for it — some people are brilliant before they reach 20. But they are a tiny minority.

    • http://riversidemarketingstrategies.com/ Heidi Cohen

      Tom – What a great perspective! How does this person stand up as your firm’s PR face? Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • http://www.susansaldibar.com Susan Saldibar

    I’ve been in this situation. I did hire an excellent intern, but there’s no avoiding the fact that nobody knows your business like you do! I recently came across a blog on an IT services website, authored by the owner. Best thing I ever read; pertinent, interesting and chocked full of value. Great article, Heidi. Thanks for putting quality content out there!

    • http://riversidemarketingstrategies.com/ Heidi Cohen

      Susan – Who hasn’t been in the situation where you need to hire a college intern for marketing or political reasons? While a great intern or recent grad can be helpful and provide new insights, they probably shouldn’t be on your firm’s front lines. A strong intern can help with a lot of the behind the scenes mechanics. In my almost ten years of teaching graduate students, I’ve had outstanding students who would have exceeded the work of some of the managers I’ve had reporting to me. That said, they still won’t know your firm nor will they have the experience to react quickly and effectively on their feet that social media marketing requires. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • http://www.constantcontact.com Erica Ayotte

    It’s not just interns–companies tend to put full time employees at the helm of their social accounts just because they know how to use the tools and not necessarily because they know what to do with those tools. I always say that learning the tools is the easy part.

    That being said, I think interns can be used effectively to help out with certain parts of social media marketing. Heidi pointed out that you can’t rely on an intern to form your strategy, which I agree with 110%. But I do think that with proper training, they can help with some of the execution of that strategy and certainly some of research.

    For example, I’ve used interns to help with community management, but only after A LOT of training, and even then lot of supervision. I think the key is the given them one thing at a time, and once you both feel confident, give them another bit of responsibility. For example, I’ve started interns out with scheduling outbound tweets that went through an approval process, but managed the listening/responding bit myself.

    However, the interns I’ve had have been full time, so the time I was investing in them had a decent pay off. If that’s not case, I’m not sure the cost/benefit analysis works in the intern’s favor.

    Once companies start to realize that social media marketing is a lot more complicated than it seems at first blush, they’ll start to hire appropriately. But hopefully not too late :)

    • http://riversidemarketingstrategies.com/ Heidi Cohen

      Erica–You bring up a critical point. It’s critical to train your employees before they jump into social media marketing. They need to understand how to participate. Further, it’s critical to develop a set of social media marketing guidelines. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • http://www.contentmatters.info Barry Graubart

    of course you can hire an intern to do your social media marketing.
    You can also hire an intern to plan your business strategy, to pitch your startup to VCs or to develop your M&A strategy.
    The common factor is that you should never have an intern LEAD any of those efforts, nor should they lead your social media marketing. That said, if you have a strong person leading your SMM (or any of those other areas), a summer intern can help execute the efforts required for them. If you ask an intern to monitor social platforms for mentions of keywords about your company and brands, they can certainly help you do that, and once trained, can respond on your company’s behalf. But handing over the keys to your social media efforts to someone with little understanding of your business, your market and customers – that makes about as much sense as having them develop your corporate strategy.

  • Kerry Rego

    My comparison is take it to the biggest brands. Would you put an intern or anyone not highly trained in charge of Ford, Coca Cola, or The New York Times? When you go to that high exposure level, people see the fallacy in assuming they know what they are doing. I see this all the time. @kregobiz

  • http://www.pianolesssonsworld.com Shoshana Coodin Bernstein

    Social media marketing is so important to your business brand and it often overlooked, especially by smaller businesses. Having a social media presence that reflects your business in the right way is crucial. I thought your article is very insightful and valid.
    However, I think that some social media management can be given to interns when trained properly! Often interns are treated like free menial laborers (get the coffee, photocopy etc…) and yes, it is nice to have someone doing that, but giving a college student a task, like edit some blog content, or interact on twitter is a good way to give them responsibilities and make them feel like they are contributing. Especially if you find students that are studying something related to your business. For example, I am the studio administrator at a music school and getting students to help write content is a great way to harness their learning and bring something valuable to our business.

  • Kristina Gannotta

    While I agree with some of your arguments I would like to add that not all college students are inexperienced. As a Senior in college myself, I have had 3 previous internships where I was in charge of social media and online marketing. In all of these cases I spent a lot of time with these companies and got to know their brands. Since I have experience in social media marketing I feel capable of grasping a business’ concept quickly and being able to provide my employer with an opportunity to expand their presence online. Articles like this are slap in the face for all of us Marketing/Communications students who are heading into the work world soon. In my opinion companies should be seeking to HIRE us as their online marketing strategists, rather than just ignoring our talents. If a company chooses a young student or recent graduate, like myself, to be in charge of social media marketing, they’ll be at a great advantage in the long-run.