Do not trust an intern to completely run your social media campaign.
Do learn from their basic instincts.

A few years ago companies trusted their social media campaigns to interns. Part of this was because interns equaled cheap labor for a non-trusted task, but part of it was also because interns, frankly, were better at social media then their superiors. Let’s face it, CEOs may have the power, but interns are the better characters. And that’s what social media (and the USA Network) is based on – giving characters a voice and customers someone to hold on to.

I wouldn’t advise that you hand off all your social media interactions to an intern*, but do start thinking like an intern. Because while your paycheck may be greater, your intern is trumping you in sheer number and depth of social media skills.

Here’s what they have, that you’ve long forgotten about.

Interns are chatty.

Good luck trying to get a CEO on the phone. You’d have to call in a bomb threat to achieve that feat. And even then they’d only be on the phone to try and get off the phone. It’s hard to have a conversation or make a connection with someone who really isn’t listening. Women have known this for years.

Interns, on the other hand, want to talk your ear off. They want to know what you did today, your biggest fears and what you plan to do tomorrow. They want to tell you what they’re working on, what they’re excited about and the big news they have to share. They ask questions, they listen, and then they ask follow up questions to get more information. They’re so happy not to be photocopying something that they’ll talk about anything. They’re chattiness may be destructive to office productivity, but the chatty mindset can help you see success in social media. Being chatty means talking to people like a person and swapping stories. If you want people to talk to you and about you, you have to talk back. The mind of an intern gets this.

Interns are the gatekeepers of the dirt.

When you want the real story about a company, you don’t ask the executives. You ask a grunt. Because the grunt has his ear to the ground. He knows the back story for the argument that went down in the conference room, he knows why Maria keeps coming in late on Wednesday afternoons, and he knows that layoffs are coming based on all the closed-door meetings. While you’d rightfully fire anyone for sharing any of this information (hello, employee social media guidelines), the intern reminds us what we can learn when we’re paying attention to the interactions going on around us.

Thinking like an intern in social media will allow you to find the story within the story. It’s how you know that A and B are working together because they keep passing along each other’s stuff. It’s how you know that trying to partner with X won’t work because all she does is pimp her own company. As we get higher up the food chain we stop seeing what’s in front of our eyes. Interns can spot the dirt…dirt that you can then leverage or use to make decisions. Interns can see the game within the game.

Interns are excitable.

Most CEOs are as interesting as Bill Marriot. Which, is to say, they’re not very interesting at all. It’s hard for customers to relate to someone who’s so far out of the day-to-day that all they can talk about are loose sponsorships or the highlights of the meeting they were just in. No one likes your CEO and blogging like a CEO is going to result in a lot of dead air. Interns are the ones with the juicy stories. They hold the stuff that people want to hear and that they can relate to.

If you’re hands aren’t dirty from being inside your company, then you shouldn’t be blogging. Thinking like an intern means remembering that passion you used to have about every day business and bringing it to the blog. Interns share how excited they are about new products. They share how excited they are for their friends in the community. They tweet with lots of !!!!s and spunk. That kind of behavior is infectious and it’s followable. It draws people in and makes them want to know what’s going on. Tweeting about the board meeting you just went into…doesn’t. Unfortunately, that’s probably what your management wants to mention – your numbers.

They understand their weaknesses.

Your CEO has been in business for 20 years. That means he knows everything. And he’s ready to tell you this whenever you forget. He’s gotten really good at shoving off the blame and focusing on making himself look like the hero in every situation. Your intern, on the other hand, is about twenty seconds old. She knows she doesn’t know everything and everyone is okay with her admitting that. Because of that, the intern is comfortable asking questions, admitting when a mistake arises and likes sharing her learning pains with others.

This is the attitude that your customers want to see coming from your business – one of humility, grace, and constant learning. When you land on social media pretending to be God’s gift to the Internet you turn everyone off and assure they’re not listening to you. Adopting a more humble approach helps pain a relatable face on your business and attracts people to it. Try it out every once in awhile.

They take chances.

The higher up in the ladder you are, the less likely it is you’ll take a chance. And why would you? You’re likely to get in trouble, to get fired, to miss out on a promotion you’ve been working toward. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. However, that kind of attitude is detrimental to any kind of social media campaign. Luckily, interns think a bit more recklessly. They act first and then apologize later with big intern puppy eyes.

The idea behind social media isn’t new, however, the tools relatively are. That means to get the most out it, sometimes you need to act with a little reckless abandon. Your intern still has that young optimism. He thinks he can do everything better. He thinks his great idea is worth more than your two decades worth of experience. Now, he’s probably wrong. But the fact that he’s willing to try and fail is what will propel your company forward. Your intern helps you keep learning. Your CEO just plants you further into the status quo.

Interns are mythical creatures. While their judgment makes them a liability and means they shouldn’t be let out without supervision, there’s also a lot to be learned from how they see the world. Interns actually hold many of the secrets for what it takes to craft a soft media voice. As management, we just send them out for coffee because we’re scared they’ll figure out how to run the company while we’re in the bathroom. ;)

*Worth noting: There’s a great post on the (now) BlueGlass blog about the job tasks you can and cannot trust to a social media intern. If you’re currently using interns for social media, I’d give that post a re-read.


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


34 thoughts on “5 Ways The Intern Mind Trumps You at Social Media


  • Robert Scoble on said:

    I love this quote: “When you land on social media pretending to be God’s gift to the Internet you turn everyone off and assure they’re not listening to you.”

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve learned on the Internet. It’s something I try to remember every day. It’s also why I like to point my camera away from myself when I do videos over at http://youtube.com/scobleizer — everyone loves a listener. No one likes a loudmouth.

    That said, it’s more fun to be a loudmouth, or, as the title of your blog/company attests, “outspoken.”

    Thanks for a great post!


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I hope that even though we’re ‘outspoken’ we’ve shown that we do listen and aren’t just raving loudmouths. But I guess people will have to decide that for themselves based on what they read here. I can only do what I do and hope people see the picture behind it.

      I’m with you in that I think often the best way to be ‘outspoken’ is to shut up and point the camera (literal or not) toward brands/companies that are saying something worth listening to. It’s all about highlight the worthwhile conversations and making sure people hear them, regardless of where they’re taking place.


  • Karen Propp on said:

    This is a great article. Glad you made the disclaimer about putting interns in charge of your social media though. I know you said “A few years ago companies trusted their social media campaigns to interns” but it is still commonly a job delegated to interns. We wrote an article about this recently http://bit.ly/c81Xxi. I will add this article as an addendum resource on the blog. Thanks!


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks, Karen. Yeah, I really wanted to make sure people understood that even though there’s a lot you can LEARN from an intern, you don’t want to hand everything over to them and let them have their way with it. That’s a recipe for disaster. If you wouldn’t let that person walk into your board meeting and talk about your company, you shouldn’t be letting them loose on Twitter either.


  • Gil Reich on said:

    Great post, Lisa. I always like your posts that are based on matching an opportunity to an individual’s strengths (and away from other individuals’ weaknesses). I think you nailed it here. Don’t expect a company veteran to put it all out there, take the same risks or engage with the same energy as an intern. Social media isn’t for interns because it’s less important. It’s for interns because they’re usually the best fit for the job.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks, Gil. I think you were able to better express what I was getting at than I was. It’s not that CEOs don’t love their companies, it’s just that interns get to express that differently and in a way that usually resonates better with customers.


  • Jamie Ouye on said:

    That was good information and a great read. Thanks for taking the time to write it up so eloquently. My favorite quote was actually near the bottom because of how spot on it is. An intern “thinks his great idea is worth more than your two decades worth of experience.”

    It makes total sense, but it just sounds funny when stated so bluntly. Interns just haven’t lived through the experiences that shaped the current model for doing things. They are looking at the situation with fresh eyes and are trying to come up with an idea that will create meaningful change in the company.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks Jamie! The intern has the fresh ideas to get the veterans out of their rut, but the veteran may know why that idea would never work in the real world. Hopefully everyone’s working together. :)


  • Dan on said:

    Wow! When did CEOs & company execs become so disinterested in their business? Become so unlikeable? Lose their passion, humility & grace? Stop taking chances? What kinds of companies are we talking about here? Surely not successful ones.

    Thank God there’s social media…and interns.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Hey Dan, maybe that was a bit harsh on my part. It’s not that CEOs aren’t passionate about their companies, it’s that the mindset changes. Yeah, they love their companies but they’re not usually shouting about it like a happy intern is. They have to act more controlled and watch what they say. Even if the best companies, the CEO tends to be more of a muted character because he or she HAS to be. The intern doesn’t have to be. The intern gets to fully express everything, and that’s what makes a successful social media voice, IMO.


  • Gil Reich on said:

    I don’t think that’s fair. I think it would be a mistake for most CEOs to spend as much time on Twitter, etc., as is necessary to succeed on it. They also have to be far more careful about offending people, giving insider info accidentally, etc. Employees aren’t as open around CEOs as they are around interns. It’s a different skillset and a different daily task list. IMO most people who try to play both roles will fail at at least one, and probably both.


      • Chris Miller on said:

        Good post, though it falls back on the social media is always right for everyone stance. Even within that though, I can’t think of a case where free (educated, directed) intern social media would hurt.

        Ok, I admit it. I have nothing valuable to add. I just wanted to appear moody, because a cookie sounds awfully delicious.


  • Nate on said:

    I’m pretty sure I just fell in love with everything you just said. If only every executive and “Social Media Marketer” would read this and do it the right way, the Twittersphere would be a happier place for us all.


  • speak first on said:

    You cover beautifully why the up and coming guys are so much more in tune with what is emerging than many of us who have been in this space for so long. This is changing fast. Change, or get left behind!


  • Social Steve on said:

    While I agree much can be learned from interns with regards to social media, they need to be managed and steered correctly. The main thing they completely lack is marketing experience – and this can be very dangerous. Actually I just wrote an article about the need for balance where you and your article about 4sq were referenced. Added much substances to the position of balancing – “Old School Marketing, New School Social Media: Yin Yang of Business.” Check and see the references I make to some points you previously covered, but more importantly, get the balance right. See http://bit.ly/bzyUZe

    Best,
    Social Steve


  • Curtis Ophoven on said:

    I agree. Interns are a great source of energy on the Internet. But, many large organizations have moved away from Interns towards offshore resources which do not have the same energy or willingness to explore the internet.


  • Scott Perry on said:

    I can truly appreciate every point in this article. I recently moved from an internship working on social media projects into a full-time position…working on social media projects. I still feel like an intern sometimes but that mentality keeps me digging and trying and striving. The line about taking risks, making mistakes then apologizing after with big intern-eyes: yeah, that was me. Great article. Thank you for writing and sharing.


  • @gregjustice on said:

    Thanks for the great article, Lisa! I’m a summer intern in social media communications for Cisco Systems. My manager has allowed me to post a weekly video to the main Cisco blog, and the project – “I Am the World’s Most Interesting Intern” – has been very well-received (playlist has over 110k YouTube views). Naturally, your article resonated with me, as both myself and Cisco have benefited from the company’s willingness to incorporate interns into their social media program.If you get a minute, here’s my first video: http://bit.ly/dAVPGr . Of course, my vlog is only a small part of the company’s greater social media plan, but I have definitely enjoyed taking on responsibilities outside of fetching coffee : )


  • Rich Meyer on said:

    While you raise some good points I am not sure that I want an intern as the voice of my brand. I want someone who understands marketing yet can talk to people as people not segments. I also want people who are experienced and vested in the brand. I don’t want someone who is chatty and spends a lot of time with people who are not going to help my business.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I agree. You don’t want an intern running your marketing or being the voice of your company. However, you do want someone who remembers what it was like to BE and THINK like an intern. That’s what the post is about.


      • Rich Meyer on said:

        I read a LOT of business books because I love to read about the changing world of marketing and what others think about social media, the web and empowered consumers.When I received a copy of Liana “Li” Evans new book “Social Media Marketing” I wasn’t expecting too much but when I opened it to a chapter called “Interns make coffee not social media strategy” I said “finally someone who gets it!”

        There are a lot of people out there who talk about social media but don’t really understand the “why”behind the rise of social media. This book will not only explain that readers it will take them by the hand and put them in a new mindset of social media marketing.

        Social media is NOT a tactic, it’s not just developing a Facebook page, it’s a way of thinking about consumers, customer and most of all marketing. Ms. Evans starts out with the basics of social media and then takes the reader on journey to understand what social media is all about. She talks about giving up control and transparency and then continues to discuss how social media is integrated into the whole marketing plan.

        In the chapter on “Interns make coffee not social media strategy” Ms Evans says:

        Interns don’t really know your brand
        Interns don’t know your ethics of brand philosophies
        The have no real vested interest in your brand
        They might know Facebook but do they really understand and know marketing ?
        Can they relate to your target market ?
        This is a great list of why companies should not be using interns to develop and execute social media strategy and she then quantifies this list with “would you let an intern plan a major PR event ?”

        The book is an excellent read for those who know social media and those who are still trying to figure out what social media is all about and how it fits into their marketing strategy. I highly recommend it.


  • Charlie on said:

    Funny. I find my experience with interns to be the EXACT opposite of almost everything you said here. They most certainly do NOT know their weaknesses (most young people don’t… they have no idea).

    Interns are chatty but the depth of the conversation is about as deep as a puddle of water (they are young, inexperienced and have not been tested in the world – hence, they have very little of true substance to say – period). They can tell you what’s being said but they lack the comprehensive analytical skills and life experience to understand what the chatter means and how to address the needs of a community.

    They are eager. Yes. This is lovely and translates into pure energy. But they don’t know what to do with it. That is why they’re interns. They need to be guided in how NOT to spin their wheels, waste time, burn bridges, etc.

    As far as the technology goes, I’ve had to train each and every one of my interns on Twitter and third party applications (I”m in my 30’s). I’ve also had to teach them basic marketing concepts and social etiquette when speaking to people on behalf of a business (not their buddies from school).

    I really wish people (the author of this article included) would stop perpetuating the ridiculous stereotype that a 20-year old is more effective at social media than someone who is older. Here’s a reality check FACT: the majority of social media users (Twitter and Facebook) are female and mid-to-UPPER 30’s. What the hell does a 20-something year old know about communicating to that demographic? Nothing. They have to be taught. Unless your brand caters specifically to a college crowd, having a “chatty”, ADHD, 20-something running your social media marketing initiative is lacking in sound judgment.

    So let’s please stop acting like this is 1995. The youth are valuable. They are not the purveyors and keepers of all things technical (least of all social media).

    Interns are, however, free. God bless them.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      If you read the post, I’m not suggesting that you put interns in charge of your social media campaign or even let them be involved. I’m simply saying that sometimes higher ups could take a lesson from interns in what it takes to be relatable and engaging to the average customer.


  • Philip Brown on said:

    Hey

    Nice post. I do agree that interns could very well understand how to engage with social media more than their bosses. However as pointed out in the comments thats not always the case.

    Great post though, subscribed :)


  • Cijo Abraham Mani on said:

    You need to put yourself into the customer shoes and think why they are following your brand. There might be numerous reasons. Some might be following for discounts and promotions, some to stay updated and get the information earlier, some to support your brand, some to take part in contests, some for fun and who knows there might still more reasons. Feel good about the people who follow you and make them happy in-return. The brands which give each follower what they need is going to win in the long run of Social Media.


  • Kothapally Arun on said:

    This is my first comment on your outstanding blog.

    I loved the closing statements —
    “As management, we just send them out for coffee because we’re scared they’ll figure out how to run the company while we’re in the bathroom. ;)”

    I am a fresher at my place and I very well can see me getting guidance at places which is not much necessary. I can see in myself all he attributes which you have mentioned in the above post.
    Thanks for the interesting read!!!


  • Nigel Kay on said:

    First, As a marketing Intern I like this post because It makes me look great as an Asset to the company. Especially in terms of comparing myself to my executive on number of and depth of social media skills. Its somewhat humorous to try to convince the executive to “think like me” though… haha imagine that

    As a Marketer I would really have to disagree with any suggestion to give the Intern the control over your messaging and voice on social media. I know your article is not saying that, but It does really come across as this is the recommendation. I just can’t beleive that anyone especially tech or b2b companies would trust a customer touchpoint that hits thousands of customers every day to an Intern. I mean would you? I am the marketing intern and that’s absolutely stupid and risky even to me.

    Ideally If I was in charge (I’m the intern, obviously I’m not) This is how I would do it. The marketing manager would approve a company logo, company description, 30 tweets for the next month, appropriate links, target keywords, and short content pieces to be spun.

    The Intern would actually Implement – Setup the accounts on Social media and Social bookmarking sites with logo, description, links etc. The Intern would then setup by scheduling or manually posting the pre-created content (posts, tweets, updates) The Intern would also spin the short content pieces and post them to social bookmarking sites pointing back to your website. Other tasks for the Intern would include managing content distribution and syndication to 3rd party social sites like Youtube, Slideshare, Flickr etc…

    Summary:
    To keep control and be the most effective craft the “Social Media” Message and voice internally – Do not delegate the content creation to your Intern!
    Delegate content distribution, spinning, and syndication to the tech savvy intern.

    I would be happy to elaborate, or answer any questions at my blog. http://nigelkay.ca/

    Warm Regards,
    The Marketing Intern
    Nigel.


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