5 Ways The Intern Mind Trumps You at Social Media

August 9, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

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.


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