Social Media is NOT an Entry Level Position

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.Young woman speaking into a megaphone

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)