Recently, a potential client decided that his company wasn’t ready for a sustained, strategic social media program. The startup had just received a new round of funding, and he wasn’t sure they had “enough to talk about” to get started (that’s another blog post, entirely). Via email, he mused about just hiring an intern from the local university to set up social channels and run them.
I hear otherwise intelligent people say things like this often. They think they’ll save money by hiring a “kid” or lone practitioner to run their daily, forward-facing communication channels, because they don’t understand the critical nature of social media for business.
When this particular client emailed me his decision, I responded:
Whatever you do, please, please, please don't hire a college student to be the front line of your brand. You wouldn't have a kid write your content, or speak to the press for you. You wouldn't have a college student create your marketing materials or respond to customer complaints. Your vision is to build global reach for your events, services, and expertise. Do you think a college student has the understanding, the writing skill, and the business acumen and sophistication to be the person in charge of making your first impression to thousands of potential customers?
I understand that our level of strategy, our team-based approach, and our ability to create large audiences means that we would be tough on your budget right now. Maybe you could find an independent social media practitioner who would at least keep your social platforms warm. Don't expect huge results, or a big improvement to your brand visibility, but at least you'd have a consistent presence, which is an essential first step. Make sure you hire someone who can write well and who understands how to use an advertising budget (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) to drive interactions. And be sure that person understands your brand and your voice and personality!
I probably wouldn’t have responded with such pepper to someone I didn’t know well. Luckily for me, this was a friend who took my tough love email with grace and understanding. It was an emotional message, and maybe not particularly professional. But, over the last eight years that WideFoc.us has been in business, I’ve been approached by many, many companies who put their social media in the hands of interns or unsophisticated “experts,” only to feel like they threw their money away and missed revenue-building opportunities (best case scenario) or had some true customer service or online reputation disasters (worse case scenario).
So many times, I’ve heard, “We tried social media, but it didn’t work,” only to learn that “trying” social media meant taking a tactical, non-strategic approach, without clear goals or someone in place who knew how to reach them. A college student might know how to use Facebook and SnapChat, but that doesn’t mean he or she has been socialized and trained in marketing best practices. It doesn’t mean he or she has the good sense to post some things, and not to post others.
The interwebs are littered with stories about interns and their gaffes. We’ll make the occasional mistake, too, and it does take time to get to know a client’s voice and brand language. When we hire new community managers, we don’t have any trouble finding people who know how to post something on Facebook or write a tweet. We don’t have a problem finding hungry, talented people who want to work. The challenge is in finding strong writers with the proper seasoning and experience to handle sensitive brand strategy. We can teach new employees our processes and social media best practices, and we can bring them along to become stronger social media professionals. But we also have the time and resources to build them up. Most companies need that competence and expertise right away. Hire that intern, if you’re ready to be hands-on, constantly monitoring, and constantly correcting—it’s a generous way to provide a young person with new experience.
Just remember that you’re not hiring a professional, and stay vigilant.
—by Eric Elkins
As CEO and Chief Strategist of WideFoc.us, Eric brings nearly two decades of of experience to our clients. In his other life, he’s a single dad, a good eater, and a bourbon aficionado.