How to Use Interns In Your Social Programs

Interns are an important part of the team, you’ll be more successful with them –but should not be the core business leader — supplement with seasoned business managers.

I remember being a bright eyed intern during college at Silicon Valley’s premiere web startup Exodus Communication. Filled with enthusiasm some of my seasoned management took to me to learn about how to best understand the web –which was clearly my passion.

Fast forward to 2009, with many companies dabbling in social technologies, it’s easy to assume that social is the domain of the young. In fact, I’d doing research on social media skills for an upcoming report, and am hearing of more cases of brands handing over the social media strategy to interns –I think that’s a bad idea.

While they’re certainly heavy adopters (our data proves this) –it’s not limited to the youth only, take for example this report I did on the active Boomers. Using low cost interns are critical in getting an often unfunded skunk-works project is a good way to get the program up to speed in house –but relying on them for strategic corporate communications is a risk.

How to Use Interns In Your Social Programs:

  • Lean on Interns to learn about technology: Although I’m no longer an intern, I’m one of the younger analysts at the firm, I like&ly represent a new type of behavior that’s emerging in the industry, I’m the first of many to come. When it comes to interns, companies should understand their behaviors and best practices with tools. Allow them to become the tool experts: setting up accounts, rebranding tools, experimenting in a safe place, and teaching others. Let them master the hammers, nails, and tool chest.
  • Pair interns with senior management for reverse training: The folks from Edelman have a program called ROTNEM (the opposite of mentor) that started off with the Chicago office pairing young bright interns with slower seasoned management (tip from Edelman’s Erik Wagner)
  • Develop strategy with senior management: Here’s a critical bullet, don’t turn over the strategy of the program to an intern, ensure that you’re developing plans with business goals in mind that align with the rest of the organization as you put resources and your brand name on the line. Partner up with senior management that’s graduated from the ROTNEM program that ‘get it’ ensuring you’ve top down support, and bottom up tactics. While interns may be master of the toolchest –senior management still owns the architectural blueprints.
  • Give interns a safe place to communicate: Companies often want to suppress the voices of this next generation, often resulting them spilling it their friends in public locations like Facebook. Be like Cisco, who created an internal community for Gen Y employees who were given a safe, sanctioned place to communicate.
  • Get real data: Do not use interns as your model for going to market. They are not representative as a larger segment, and individual personalities won’t always represent the whole. Don’t be like Morgan Stanley who embarrassed themselves by publishing a report on Twitter based on the opinions of one intern —which resulted in Time Magazine saying to “Toss”.

Interns, like every other type of employee set you have are an important part of your company. We must include them, plan for them, and cater to them as the represent our next generation of workers, buyers, and partners. Use them to understand then model their communication habits, as they grow, include them in more strategic elements of planning.

Developing a social program is like building a house: You’ll need experts that understand the tools, but also leaders that craft the blueprints. –often these are two different types of employees, understand who and when to lean on for both needs.