There’s a common debate right now around the question of social media work and if it should be delegated to an intern or left to experienced marketing and customer service professionals. Although there’s never a black and white/one size fits all way of answering this question, let’s take apart the advantages and disadvantages
For obvious reasons, an intern is going to cost a lot less than hiring someone with experience. A recent college graduate or current student is more often than not just starting out and willing to work for next to nothing. Many companies, especially bootstrapped startups, see this as win-win scenario. The intern gets real work experience and the company gets work on the cheap (often for free).
What’s not to love?
One problem is that many interns (and by no fault of their own) don’t know what they’re doing, as in they haven’t been properly trained. This is where it can be a huge mistake to bring on an intern, give them the title of social media or community manager, and then throw him or her into the role with little or no support. If the intern is posting updates to Facebook a couple times a week, occasionally writing a blog post, and nothing more than there shouldn’t be a lot to worry about. Fortunately or unfortunately this as far as many companies take social media and no real harm or gain is won or lost by having an intern do the work. However if the company has tangible and meaningful goals tied to their social media (such as brining in X amount of traffic, sales, or gains in sentiment) than putting an inexperienced intern into the role might be a disaster waiting to happen.
This begs the question of how can we best set up an intern for success? From my observations both in house and in an agency setting, an intern should be brought into the role under the guidance of a manager; someone who’s been on the job and knows what’s expected and how to get results. By training people up and doing an adequate amount of hand holding it gives an intern the opportunity to ask questions and learn best practices along the way.
Internships can be valuable and should be embraced when appropriate, but too many problems arise when an intern is given too much responsibility too quickly. If you’re going to let someone communicate on behalf of your brand, it’s wise to know the potential risks. When delegating the responsibility to an intern, Is the risk worth the reward and if so, how much training will it take to mitigate the potential risks as much as possible?