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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Intern Wanted! Must Have Social Media Experience

If you are a CEO, VP of Communications or a small business owner and you’ve uttered any variation of the following, “we need to bring in an intern to handle our social media,” then it’s clear that your organization is NOT ready and this new form of communicating is not for you.

After all, you wouldn’t let an intern respond to a crisis situation, handle a delicate client inquiry, craft your PR/advertising campaigns or pitch the media on behalf of your organization, so why turn over the reigns of your social media communications outreach to the least vested and least experienced person at your organization?

Social media outreach is not something that is conducted within a bubble. It is your organization’s public face and sometimes it is the first experience an individual may have with your brand. It has to be handled in a strategic and responsible manner and it has to be taken seriously by leadership.

While interns carry the reputation of being more adaptive to embracing new technologies and trends, or can sometimes be a great resource to mine for creative ideas, the fact remains that their experience is limited. Additionally, they know the very least about your organization and how it operates. So again, why put them on the frontline?

Right now I know what the aforementioned CEO, VP of Communications and small business owner might be thinking, “that internets, Spacebook, Myface and Twittering thing is for college kids with too much time on their hands, so why not get a college kid to handle it? Besides they would only be talking to their peers anyway.” Wrong on all counts!

When it comes to social media, the median age of users are as such:

Myspace – Age 26
Twitter – Age 31
Facebook – Age 33
LinkedIn – Age 39

Given this data, it hardly makes sense to try and make a 20-23 year old relate to these demographics, especially without the steady and keen hand of a seasoned communicator guiding them and the messaging.

I’m a strong proponent of an organization’s PR/Communications department owning the social media function. I believe it’s just a natural fit, since communication and engagement is at the core of effective social media outreach. And besides, any modern day PR pro that doesn’t have social media in his or her toolbox is lacking and incomplete. But I would never in my wildest dreams think to hire an unproven intern to implement my company’s social media communications.

But yet, that’s what’s happening everyday. In my work with the Intern In Michigan program, whose primary goal is to grow the number of internships within the state of Michigan as a means of attracting and retaining young professionals, I see dozens of organizations every month looking to hire an intern to handle their social media communications or worse, to implement it. I have nothing against employing interns, in fact I tout the benefits of hiring interns on a daily basis, but what I don’t condone is hiring interns to handle important communications functions. It’s best to remember that they are in training.

So the next time an organization thinks to hire an unpaid intern to speak for them through social media, they should keep in mind the following quote from Oscar Wilde: “Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing.”

So hire a professional.


  1. I am currently in the middle of an interview process to be the Social Media Coordinator for a business. They look at it as a part of the Communications Department, but an independent part. I am trying to convince them that the Social Media needs to be integrated within the total communications plan.

  2. It definitely should be integrated within the overall organizational communications plan. Social media outreach is a tactic and not a single-source solution, therefore it cannot exist on an island by itself. Should you get the position (and good luck with that) you should continue to champion the cause to have it merged with the overall plan. Social media outreach works in tandem with traditional PR tactics.