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.

  • You don’t really want those intern to be your ears and mouth on the internet. At least you can do is to let them speak for themselves as a part of the brand instead of speaking for the brand itself. Great post!

  • Rama

    I think interns make great “ears” for the internet, they know how to quickly find conversations and report back on it.

    Companies need an overarching policy on digital communications in the social world –that’s a bigger topic that I’ve discussed on previous blog posts.

  • Harnessing the power of interns, who are naturally ambitious and have a fresh set of eyes, can help an organization break orthodoxies and the status quo that many organizations posess. My experience suggests that structure is the best way to capture that ambition and perspective.

    Here’s a 12 week program that companies can use for their interns modeled on what GE did in the late 90s with their “” sessions.

    Weeks 1-2 – Industry and Competitor Assessment (2 weeks)

    * Objective – Develop a detailed understanding of industry adoption of Social Media through assessing competitors

    Weeks 3-5 – Discover Customer Needs, Problems, and Frustrations

    * Objective – Act like a Social Media Market Research consultant to study what conversations are occurring on the web about your brand

    Weeks 6-10 – How would a Start-Up Disrupt the Industry Business Model?

    * Objective – Take the role of an entrepreneur and create a business plan ready for a Venture Capitalist that could radically alter the industry.

    Weeks 11-12 – Create a 12 Week and 12 Month Plan for the Organization

    * Objective – Highlight quick changes that can be made to lead the organization to a long-term change

  • Ben

    I certainly like the parts in that plan that encourage the interns to listen, do analysis. Having them create a disruptive plan could have its upsides and drawbacks.

  • Although young interns may be heavy adopters of social technologies, they are definitely not always the ones you want to deploy your social media strategy. As many of them are using the tools to communicate within their own closed network and not wanting to expand and reach a new network of possible friends. A business on the other side wants to reach their own customers and future prospects as well.

    They may know the language but are they using it right?

  • @Jeremiah –

    Indeed it does have upsides and downsides. The biggest upside is that interns sometimes get a “free pass” to be audacious, so they can really challenge some of the conventional thinking of an organization’s business model. The downside is of course the ability to present such a challenging idea to management.

    I think your partnership with senior management bullet covers the objective of long-term impact to the industry. You can’t have a Groundswell unless senior management provides fertile soil.

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  • Thanks Ben. Fast forward 40 years, these Gen Y will be the old dinosaurs learning from some young kid about why “eTelepathy” is key for business.

  • Wilder

    I like this post. Interns are great. But for me, I like using them cause they help me keep a pulse on new companies, new social media and new technology. And they just have great youthful enthusiasm. I think it is ok to have them represent your company. Just share with them your company’s philosophy and DNA.
    Nice post

  • I love the idea of reversing mentoring. Just because they are new and/or young, does not mean that interns don’t have value to add to your service. In education, students often provide the best insight into how to reach out to our demographics. And, from them you get a deeper understanding of not just what tools they use but how they use them (crucial). Thanks. Great post.

  • Well said Jeremiah. Interns can also be used to be the ears of the corporation, working with tools like CoTweet to setup appropriate searches to be used to monitor the broader conversations taking place. However, key points that I take away from this post, points that I agree with:

    – Do not let the interns be the brains of your social media strategy. Social media is but one piece of your overall strategy and the tactics you are employing, never forget that.
    – Do not let them be the voice of the company. They should listen, monitor, and allow others to respond. Yes, this appears to be a reversal of other opinions I have shared in the past where I feel that all employees should be able to “spread the brand”. However, interns are excluded from this viewpoint.

    John Moore

  • Nick Klein

    Great article Jeremiah, as a college student at Pitt aspiring to work with social media marketing and new technologies i’m glad to hear about so many jobs/internships being created in these fields. One of my professors told me that traditional advertising/marketing is on its way out now that it is getting easier to make direct connections to consumers interested in your product for lower cost. I just wish that the east coast was more active in Social Media because it seems like all of the opportunities are out west.

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  • Nick

    Advertising is not on it’s way out, in fact, but projections do show it’s in decline. It is, of course, evolving like everything else. Hurry up and graduate, we’ll need bright minds like you and others to help us get there.

    More on projections:

  • Internships have been extremely helpful for me personally from both sides. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to work on projects that have helped me throughout my career. I’ve also been able to mentor college students who have grown into full time employees within the same company or with a partner. Too good of a deal to pass up on both ends!

  • Hey, great post. Although for some reason “How to USE interns” felt somewhat out of kilter with the sentiment of the post. The industry has a nasty reputation of ‘USING’ and squeezing the life out of our young folk and the word USE sent the wrong vibe down my back. I know this in no way was your intent, quite the opposite, but in the modern spirit of collaboration, engagement and parity between people and business it would be nice to see that reflected in the language.

  • Joseph, This could also read “how to utilize interns”. I’ve no desire to see interns ‘used’.

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  • Social media is really an effective way to market your website online. Nice info. Thanks

  • Great information for Interns. Thank you

  • Thanks Ben. Fast forward 40 years, these Gen Y will be the old dinosaurs learning from some young kid about why “eTelepathy” is key for business.

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  • Thanks Ben. Fast forward 40 years, these Gen Y will be the old dinosaurs learning from some young kid about why “eTelepathy” is key for business.

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