Data from Ragan.com pictured above shows the social media platforms, namely Facebook and Twitter, that companies typically task to interns. Understandably, when you run a small business, it can be really hard to find enough time to do everything, and social media often falls at the bottom of your to-do list.
Bringing in an intern to handle it may seem like an easy solution, but it’s not always a good idea. College students may use Facebook every day, but that doesn’t mean they’ve ever been taught to use it professionally, and the last thing you want to do is put your least-experienced employee in the most public-facing position in your company.
That said, you may be in a situation where it’s simply unavoidable. If you’re considering bringing on an intern to handle your small business’ social media efforts, here are a few tips that will keep you from hiring one who is completely clueless:
1. Find someone with real-world communication skills
Social media is a place to start conversations, handle customer service, and expose your brand to potential customers. All those goals require excellent communication skills, so even if your intern hasn’t worked with social media before, they do need to understand the basics of customer service and managing a conversation.
In order to evaluate your potential intern’s communication skills, make sure you spend a good deal of time talking to them before you hire. Introduce them to other employees in the company. Take them out to lunch, and see how they handle themselves. If you think that this person would be a good voice to represent your company, that’s a good sign.
2. Don’t hire your brother’s 19 year old daughter because “she’s family”
Unless your niece happens to have some great experience and knowledge about social media, it’s a bad idea to hire family or close friends to be your intern. People who have previously seen themselves as friends or family will have difficulty thinking of you as a boss, and you’ll probably have difficulty holding them to the same standard you would another employee. Plus, if the worst happens, and you have to fire them, you don’t want to have to see them every year at Christmas. That can get awkward.
Nepotism can also put a strain on your other employees, especially when you hire a friend or family member to do what others in your company see as, “playing around on Facebook and Twitter all day.” Treat this internship like you would any other hiring process, and find the most-qualified candidate for the job. There will be a lot less potential for heartbreak if you simply reject any family-members’ applications outright than if you hire them and later run into trouble.
3. Look for someone who’s competitive, but tactful
There is more noise on social media than ever before, so getting your company’s voice heard is a real challenge. An ideal social media intern should be competitive, and they should cherish getting new Facebook likes and Twitter followers. Competitive people tend to push themselves harder for every interaction and find creative new ways to get your brand’s message out to more people.
That said, there are plenty of competitive people with very little integrity or tact. They can be very dangerous when they’re handling your social media efforts. Your message needs to stay focused, professional, and interesting; it needs to garner attention; it doesn’t need to ruin your reputation. The Red Cross ran into this problem when a social media manager accidentally used the company account instead of their personal one, but they did manage to recover nicely.
4. Choose based on knowledge of your business rather than major
I’ve seen a lot of businesses make this mistake. They think that only communications or marketing majors can run their social media, so they bring on someone who knows nothing about their industry, target market, or customer demographics to run their Facebook and Twitter pages. Bad move.
If you run an auto mechanic’s shop, hire someone who knows about cars (and meets the other requirements on this list). Even if they’re a philosophy major, they’ll be able to respond to questions and appeal to your customers much more than someone who doesn’t know the difference between a carburetor and a gas cap. If you can’t find someone who knows anything about your industry, be ready to work very closely with them to help them get started.
5. Give them a real-world scenario and see how they respond
I’ve always liked asking situational questions in interviews because they show you how well someone can think on their feet, and you often get to hear some pretty creative answers. When it comes to social media, your intern’s ability to respond quickly will be key to their success, so stay away from candidates who stare blankly and say, “Uhhh…” when you ask them to handle a real-life scenario. Here are some starting points for questions to ask, although you should obviously tweak them to fit your industry and situation:
- “If a customer mentioned us in a tweet, and said, ‘@your-company is such a piece of crap! Don’t shop here because you’re killing the environment!’ how would you respond to the customer?”
- “When a customer leaves a complaint on our Facebook wall, how quickly should our company respond to their complaint? Should we try to handle it on Facebook or get their email address and phone number?”
- “If Lebron James hits the winning shot in the NBA finals, what should we post on Facebook and Twitter about the game? Should we write anything at all?”
- “What kind of posts should we make in order to start the best conversations about our brand?”
These questions will push the intern to think somewhat analytically about situations that could happen in the course of their internship, so while there aren’t necessarily “correct” answers, you should get a better sense of how your intern’s goals line up with your company’s.
I’ve hired a social media intern…now what?
Once you’ve found the right person, your job isn’t over. You have to remember that interns are not employees with 10 years of experience, they may not be the best at self-starting, and their only experience so far has been in a classroom or a “task-based” job (eg: food service, retail, etc.). You have to spend some time training them, and you should offer them a good learning experience. After you do hire an intern who isn’t clueless, here are some quick tips for maximizing their effectiveness:
- Keep your expectations realistic. This may be your intern’s first office job.
- Don’t expect an intern to do something you haven’t been able to do yourself. They may eventually get better at managing social media than you, but they probably won’t be at first.
- Give your intern specific, measurable goals. Hold them to a standard like you would any other employee.
- Prepare a daily, weekly, and semesterly checklist of tasks for your intern.
- Budget some time every week to work with them one-on-one. Remember, they’re doing this to gain experience and real-world knowledge. It’s not fair for you to ignore them.
So while hiring an intern to handle your company’s social media efforts might not be the best idea, it is still important to keep in mind these tips to hiring the best intern out there for the job should it come down to that. Have your own tips for hiring a social media intern? Have you ever had an especially good or bad experience with one? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments below.
Karl is a technology entrepreneur in online publishing. He is the founder of JobBrander, a website devoted to helping entry level marketing professionals find the best jobs and internships possible. He can be reached on Twitter, or Google+ anytime.