Social Media Interns: Great Idea or Recipe for Disaster? [Business Magazine]

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Business Magazine Gainesville.

Social media interns seem like a dream come true to many overstretched business owners: cheap (or free) labor from someone who “gets” all this new social media stuff. And you’re doing a great thing by helping a future professional get some real world experience, right? The idea is very tempting, especially when the business owner has no clue where to start on social media. If you aren’t careful, though, what starts out as a dream scenario can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Intern Gone Rogue

In 2011, large UK retailer HMV hired a 19-year-old intern, Poppy Rose Cleere, to set up and manage its social media1. Two years later, the former-intern, then employee, was called into a meeting with fifty other colleagues where there were all to be fired. How did she react to this? By taking to the company’s Twitter account and live-tweeting the entire thing. The #HMVxFactorFiring (as she dubbed it) quickly went viral online, which was received badly by the entertainment retailer’s web-savvy customers.

What Went Wrong

One of Poppy’s rogue tweets in particular showed where HMV made their fatal mistake in this situation:

Image via Twitter
Image via Twitter

“Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”

HMV handed over complete knowledge and control of its social media to one employee. Think about this in terms of more traditional marketing channels: would you entrust a major print campaign to an intern with no oversight? Radio? Let him or her oversee a conference? Of course not. Why would you allow one person unrestricted access to a customer audience that has many times the reach of these other avenues? Add to this the fact that an intern may not have the feeling of respect or loyalty to your brand and you’ve set yourself up for just this kind of meltdown.

Protecting Your Business and Your Brand

There are some simple steps you can take to protect your brand and business.

1. Have a written social media policy. While you don’t want your streams to become clinical, a social media policy is helpful in two ways: a) it helps define what your brand’s voice is (are you all business, fun and casual, or somewhat kooky?) and b) it keeps all who manage the page united in their goal. Decide what content is and is not appropriate, what kind of customer interactions to respond to publicly, and what to take offline.

2. Keep the keys to the castle. Make sure that there is a shared location that contains all the account information for every Twitter account, blog, and other related accounts. Know who has access to your Facebook page and manage what his or her admin role allows that individual to do.

3. Use a third party service. Social Media Dashboards like Hootsuite allow you to designate team members that are allowed to update your social channels. You can review their draft posts and edit if necessary. This is especially useful when bringing on a new social media intern to ensure that he or she has a handle on your brand voice before posts “go live.”

Everyone has to start somewhere, and internships are a great way for college students and recent grads to gain experience. Make sure that you set clear expectations to protect your business while helping your interns grow.

(1) Interview with Cleere and more details: http://bit.ly/1bBb0cP