Using Interns for Social Media: Pitfalls to Avoid

By on Thursday, April 17, 2014

I am often amazed at how often I hear nonprofit organizations talk about hiring or using interns for social media. Inevitably, the organization has no presence on social media or a very limited one that is not updated. The person says they realize social media is an important communication stream today and that they need to “get with it” and adds that the organization has virtually no resources (human or technical) to help them implement or develop a social media presence.

The notion that you can hire (or recruit as a volunteer for an unpaid internship) someone who is young, and just expect them to implement your organization’s social media presence is foolhardy. Just because someone can use Facebook for themselves personally,  does not mean that they know how to build an online community that nurtures a community of support for an organization and is consistent with your brand.

Part of the problem is that social media is still viewed by some people as a siloed communications function that is not essential to the lifeblood of an organization’s communications strategy. When email was emerging as a means of communication in the workplace, I don’t remember anyone saying at the paper-driven office that I worked in, let’s hire a young person to manage our email communication. Staff might have been reluctant, even dragged kicking and screaming, into training about how to use email, but now using email is viewed as a standard office skill.

And that’s part of the problem – people making statements like “we should an intern to do social media for us” often don’t understand social media or what it can do for an organization. Just as email became viewed as a core part of workplace communication, social media should also be seen as an essential part of how we communicate today. That does not mean that every staff member in an organization needs to tweet on behalf of the organization or have the ability to commandeer a nonprofit organization’s Facebook page, but staff and supporters should educate themselves about social media and how it operates so they can understand its power and how it can help them achieve the organization’s goals.

Because social media is so essential, it needs to be integrated within an organization’s overall communications strategy. Can an intern be part of implementing that strategy? Yes. But the strategy needs to be clearly defined and social media as a function should not be siloed away from the rest of the organization’s communications strategy.

With direction, an intern can be part of implementing this strategy, but an intern cannot be relied on to design and build the entire strategy. Nor should an intern be expected to just “build” a social media presence for an organization without guidance on branding, messaging and audience.  Interns can be part of implementing a social media strategy for your nonprofit organization, but organizations must integrate social media into their overall communications strategy and provide guidance to interns as they use these tools.

An intern should not be expected to craft content in a vacuum for social media channels. Interns can be part of reshaping existing content for social media if you provide them a little guidance on tone and content. If you wouldn’t allow content on your website home page that is not approved, why would you allow content on your social media channels that is not crafted with your organization’s tone and priorities in mind?

If your organization publishes a magazine on a quarterly basis and uploads individual articles to your website – those are great items to share through social media. You can’t expect for someone to grab a link to that magazine story, post it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other places, and get a great response. Someone will need to write a post or tweet that summarizes the article you want to share in a way that makes it useful to readers, and then distribute the information through social media. The post or tweet should be slanted toward the people who are on that social media platform.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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