I’m shocked at the number of companies who let interns and entry-level employees manage their social media efforts.
They do it because they believe social media is a young person’s game, and not for the geezers in management. That’s got to be one of the worst hiring decisions a company could make.
I was reading a February 2010 post from Chris Kieff on the ROI of Social Media. Chris looked at what happens when social media is handed over to an intern, who is usually working for class credit and no pay.
VP, “Why is everyone doing spending so much time on social networks? We need more productivity!”
Manager, “We are learning about how to use them and starting to see some positive results.”
VP, “What’s the ROI of the time we’ve spent so far?”
Manager, “We’ve… ummm… got the training wheels on and are just starting to understand how to use social media. We don’t have a formal ROI measurement system in place yet.”
VP, “Well it’s clear that all this social media crap is overblown B.S. I’m telling IT to shut down Facebook and Twitter so people can get back to work.”
It’s real simple: managing social media is not for kids. It’s not for rookies. It’s not for 20-year-olds who remembered to delete their drunken Facebook photos two weeks before the interview that landed them their internship.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that interns and entry-level employees should not do social media. I’m not even saying they’re bad people. They just shouldn’t be in charge of it. Think of it this way:
- You don’t let the new PR associate do media interviews during a company crisis.
- The marketing intern does not oversee your entire marketing campaign, or even a new product launch.
- The corporate attorney defending your company in a civil suit didn’t finish law school three months ago.
- The new HR staffer is not responsible for finding and implement the new employee insurance program.
- And you certainly don’t let the VP of Finance’s niece, fresh out of business school, make C-level decisions.
So why on earth would you let a 22-year-old college grad handle one of the most public-facing communication channels your corporation is going to have? Other than PR and traditional marketing, there is no other channel that reaches so many people so permanently as social media. And you want to give it to some rookie who can’t use the phrase “in my experience” without cracking everyone else up?
At least with corporate PR and marketing, your professionals have the benefit of years of experience and knowledge. But when you appoint a recent college grad to manage your social media, you’re handing the megaphone to someone with no real work experience or a sense of corporate responsibility, and letting them speak to the entire online community (and beyond) in real-time.
Someone asks a question on your Facebook with 10,000 followers, the social media coordinator answers. The questioner gets a little snotty, so the SMC takes her response up a notch, and the whole thing turns into a pissing match in about 5 minutes, and hits the blogosphere two days later, and the mainstream media a week after that. Do you really want to hand that megaphone to someone who doesn’t even understand message creation, let alone how to handle an angry customer or avoid turning it into an embarrassing gaffe that you can hear about on NPR as you drive into work? (Don’t think it won’t happen, because it has happened several times to other corporations in the last two years.)
I think it’s a big mistake when any business, but especially the large corporations, hires anyone with less than five years of real-world, full-time work experience to manage all of their social media efforts. To be fair, I know some truly brilliant young 20-somethings who could make a corporate social media marketing campaign succeed, but they’re few and far between. The really good ones have their own agencies and are making more money there than they would working for you. So you get to choose from everyone else.
Social media is not just for young people. Social media is not only for the hip and the technologically-advanced. It’s for people who understand how to speak to your company’s customers and shareholders. It’s for people who have gravitas and professionalism. It’s for people who know that social media is an important channel of communication that can reach thousands or even millions. It’s for people who truly understand marketing and PR.
If you’re thinking about social media for your company, and one of your first thoughts is you need someone young to manage it, stop right there. You’re better off avoiding social media altogether than risking a bigger backlash by hiring someone who stares at you blankly when you make an OJ Simpson comment.
So am I offbase? Any workplace veterans — especially marketers and PR folks — who think you should give the newbies the keys to the social media car? Any interns or entry-level professionals who think I’m full of it, and that you have the experience and professionalism to handle your corporation’s social media campaign? Leave a comment and let’s continue the discussion.
Photo credit: Allio (Flickr)
Great stuff Erik – you are spot on.
Good point, Allison, especially about the 30-year veterans getting into pissing matches.
Erik, I think that you make some valid points, and while I never would recommend having an intern start social media implementation for a host of reasons, I think that whether or not it is an entry level position depends upon the employee in question. If someone comes in with a sound understanding of public relations and/or marketing theory, strategy, and tactics, skills which can be learned through coursework, personal initiative, and internship work, then social media can become another effective tool. If it’s someone stabbing blindly in the dark without a proper foundation, of course it will fail. Anything will.
In the end, it comes down to picking the right people for the right job, and giving them adequate support and oversight, when necessary. After all, plenty of 30 year marketing veterans have gotten into social media pissing matches with audiences of thousands, too.
Erik, thanks for your response!
The hierarchy in an agency is a necessary evil for all levels, especially ELP’s, because they don’t generally get any client interaction. In my experience as a small business consultant, there is constant interaction with clients about how the strategy is being executed, and that ensures that “the kids won’t ruin things,” plus the client feels better about having input.
My point about metrics and strategies revolves around the black hole surrounding Social Media ROI. Of course the end result of any marketing effort is sales, but there is more value in social media than what leads to a sale. The relationship created through these strategies have ongoing value to a company, compared to the measurement of clicks on a banner ad, or calls to a toll-free number. The qualitative value of social media is something that has only been attempted to be measured by adapting an already arbitrary calculation for PR value, which multiplies the cost of advertising in the same space… but I have digressed into an ROI debate that is available on plenty of other forums :)
You’re right that 23-year-olds can execute social media. I completely agree with that. Agencies have entry-level professionals (ELPs) handling graphic design, web design, and copywriting, so why not social media? However, those other areas have an account exec or creative director overseeing them.
I don’t agree that strategies and metrics are different. The ultimate measurement for any kind of marketing is “did sales go up or down?” A good marketer will know how to create strategies, measure the results, and adapt to what they have learned. There is not a night and day difference between social media marketing versus traditional marketing. It’s an evolution from hard-sell marketing to softer-sell to “brand building” and now to relationship marketing, which is where social media marketing lives. (But the bad or out-of-touch marketers are the ones who still think traditional interruption/blast marketing will work on a relationship marketing channel.)
The experienced marketer understands message creation and social psychology. That’s what comes with experience. They may not be familiar with how to use the tools, but as long as they understand how to persuade their target audience, they can figure the rest out.
Thanks again for commenting. I appreciate it.
Erik, there are some really great points here, but as a 23-year-old social media practitioner, I feel obligated to respond! I can see how allowing an intern to control social media of a mega-corporation is like giving the 15-year-old with a learner’s permit the keys to your Ferrari; however, the “lack of experience” you refer to really only applies to the professional resume backing these young pros. Even if you have 30 years experience in PR or marketing, that experience is in traditional media where the strategies and metrics are completely different! Until the rules of the new game are ironed out, the position overseeing social media execution in an agency will be one of those time-consuming tasks (like grabbing coffee) that the AE’s would rather have delegated. When it comes to freelancing, however, I believe that young pros are on an equal playing field, ESPECIALLY for small businesses who just want to upload their information and gain a thousand fans. As you said, the young guns that are really on top of the game are “few and far between,” but I believe that we are multiplying and moving closer together!
Thank you, Randy. I think you guys are taking the right approach by having several employees do social media. For one thing, it shows that you trust your employees, which means you have hired good employees. (The converse of letting the newest employees handle SoMe is not letting ANYONE do it, which is a trust issue, which really means the manager didn’t hire trustworthy people). And the fact that you’re involved in it yourself shows that you’re committed to doing it right. So I commend you on your forward thinking!
Thanks Eric. TKO Graphix is a small company, a little over 100 employees who all wear a lot of hats. One of the hats many of us wear, including me, is social media marketer (it is a propeller hat). Sometimes others are surprised by my involvement. I am a boomer. I own shoes older than many people I follow. I do not have the tech savvy of the millennials, however I bring years of making corporate mistakes (we call that experience), to the plate.