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Officially calling BS on not hiring interns for social media management

Hiring for social media roles

Our SocialFish consulting work is all about building capacity internally for organizations to manage the work of social media management. This year, we’ve seen a huge upward trend in associations hiring headcount for social media-related roles, which is a great sign that the industry is moving towards fuller integration of social media (as opposed to the experimentation of the last couple of years). We’ve helped the National Association of Childrens’ Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI), the National Society of Accountants, the Association for Corporate Counsel, and the American Society of Civil Engineers, for example, hire positions from interns to Social Media Directors.

Hire at the right level

One of the things we’ve discovered over the last two years of doing a lot of this hiring help is that we can officially call BS on the idea that you shouldn’t hire an intern to do your social media management work, because here’s the truth… a lot of this work is very administrative. This is true of associations as well as traditional businesses. Monitoring can be very tedious. It’s time-consuming, especially at the beginning. It takes a lot of organization. It takes a lot of time and effort to set up internal processes that make workflow, well, flow. We hear of plenty of executive-level people who just aren’t prepared to do the administrative tasks- which is 95% of social media management. Smart interns will know to use those organizing skills to absorb and learn as much as they can about the inner workings of the business.

The position should ideally sit in between all of your other departments in order to effectively create what we call a “service center.” Whoever is your social media coordinator (or whatever you choose to call the role) has to be able to make it clear that they are there to help other departments – not add work to everyone’s busy plate. One objective of the service center, for example, might be to centralize the flow of good association content from any individual department and connect it to content from other departments according to a smart editorial calendar that will keep the association’s value top of mind to your members without swamping them with spam (because let’s be real, your members consider at least some of your messages to be spam).

We’ve seen enough office politics and silos to know that generally speaking, it’s easier for a lower-level person to make this service center idea clear to everyone than it is for an executive level person to do the same.

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The caveat: oversight

Having said that, of course there needs to be strategic oversight too; e.g. an executive level champion for the position, or a direct communication line to the ED or whoever at the top can make sure things are working as they should. The social media activity around the organization will need to be distilled into internal reporting that makes sense, that people will actually read, and that will allow every department to find the best and most strategic uses for their own social communications – based on overall goals. That can only happen in the right way if the social media intern is in regular communication with whoever at the top can help direct his or her activities. Just remember that the actual day-to-day work of social media management is not at the strategic level – it’s at the operational level. A top-level executive managing the organization’s Twitter account is NOT the best use of their hourly rate.

Skills to look for

What we’ve found is that almost every organization just needs “a body” to help them get things organized. A smart, organized, friendly person who is a good communicator. Look for the following skills (for interns, specifically):

  • In terms of educational background, the best candidates we’ve seen are Communications, Marketing, Journalism, or PR majors or graduates. They must have great writing skills, especially for the web (ask for blog posts and other samples) – meaning the ability to write clearly, concisely, and in a personable way.
  • They must have a professional and friendly demeanor – immediately or eventually, they will be handling a lot of your messaging.
  • They must be trustworthy, curious and open – they will be building relationships with your community. They have to be interested and willing to do that.
  • And most importantly, they must have a deep enthusiasm for social media. This includes a willingness to be continuously learning and trying things on their own, and always on the lookout for better ways of managing social media work – even if those suggestions might not be possible at the moment.

Sample job description

Here’s our standard, tweakable job description for an internship position. Feel free to use this! It doesn’t have to be long and complicated – the simpler it is, the more scope you have for hearing the candidate hone in on what he or she is most interested in and capable of.

Love to tweet? Are you a Facebook Fan? Are you LinkedIn? If that’s you and you’re looking for a paid [$15/hour] [summer] internship [40 hours a week, June – August], keep reading. [Org] is looking for a college junior, senior, or grad student majoring in communications, journalism, PR, new media or marketing (interest in association/nonprofit management is helpful, but not required). Assist our marketing and web staff in inventorying and tracking our social media outposts and content. Develop procedures to support our social media policies. Set up training for [org] staff on social media policies and procedures. Develop monitoring/listening procedures and responsibilities. Work with various departments to identify opportunities for us to employ social media and outposts to promote our organization, products and services. Help launch and nurture our private communities. Must have exceptional organizational skills, great writing skills, and, of course, solid social media experience, knowledge, and skills.

For an intern, use your local universities with the relevant graduate degree programs. A word of caution – don’t post the job on Craigslist unless you’re happy to wade through hundreds of resumes, 85% of which will be irrelevant.

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Written By

Maddie Grant is author of Humanize and When Millennials Take Over, and is Founding Partner at WorkXO, a culture startup that helps forward thinking leaders in growth oriented organizations activate their workplace culture to attract the right talent, increase engagement, and unleash human potential through the Workplace Genome™ Project.



  1. Kami Huyse

    October 27, 2011 at 6:09 am

    To be fair, I think most people have been saying, don't hire an intern to mastermind your social media outreach. However, if you have budget for an extra body, I agree than an intern can be very helpful with the administrative tasks involved. As you say, oversight is a critical component to using interns since they are (by definition) a short-term employee. Continuity requires someone who will stay. So, they should not hire an intern to build and run the program. I stand by that opinion.

  2. Liz Scherer

    October 27, 2011 at 6:26 am

    I agree. And I disagree. I believe that there is inherent value in approaching the mundane administrative work in a strategic fashion. Without the foundation and skills, an intern may founder or even worse, set back the entire effort in a way that it becomes difficult to rebuild. You make some interesting points Maddie but I wonder if you are painting a black and white picture in a very gray space.

  3. Benn Rosales

    October 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Hi, Benn with AG here,

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with hiring support personnel in any department (as you state, there must be some champion on some level to support the process) that are interns or even part time summer workers. The problem here, being realistic, <em>at the onset</em>, is that hiring anyone for a term of 90 days is not an effective use of dollars when you consider that that intern will need to retrain someone else for the position if not retained permanently. This can become costly.

    Personally, I'd prefer to see associations (especially) make a stronger commitment to implementing a social strategy, or you get the throwing darts effect. The so called champion utilizing the intern as support for program implementation (that I know of) has never been at issue.

    What has been at issue are dabblers of social media hiring interns as a means to not make an investment in their own program, sharing their ethos via the social web- a cheap way to dip a toe at 1/2 way smiling is not a long term strategy, internally.

    • Maddie Grant

      October 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Agreed, though trust me when the org sees how valuable the work is they usually hire them on permanently. 🙂

  4. Maddie Grant

    October 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Thanks Liz and Kami – it may be semantics. However, in the association space there are lots of organizations getting very hung up on not having budget for a social media director-level position – so they do nothing and fall further and further behind. We've placed a lot of interns – most of whom get hired permanently when the orgs see how valuable they are – and those interns made a huge difference simply because they were responsible for getting things organized.

  5. Tinu Abayomi-Paul

    October 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I agree with having a person – intern or not- *manage* your social media administrative work. Don't think there's anything wrong with that OR with having them or a third party you hire tweet on behalf of your company IF – big huge seriously-stop-and-think-about-it IF they build real connections.

    Even as small as my company is, I still need people who will do things like clear out the DMs I don't want. I can't have software do it because there are things I want to keep. I need someone to go make a list of the top 100 blogs in a new area I want to start a niche blog in. I don't have the time.

    I don't think there's a "right" way for any of this stuff, as long as all parties involved have the appropriate level of transparency – IE don't tell me the CEO is tweeting if it's a temp. There are various ways that bring various results and we have to choose based on whether the results we end up with are the results we Want.

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