“Could I just have some college kid do it?”
It’s a question I’ve heard before from small business owners when they consider the prospect of taking on social media. Before I answer that question, let’s do an experiment – and I genuinely don’t mean to sound like a smart-aleck when I say this, but rather to illustrate a point:
I’d like you to give up control of your company.
Not for a day or a week, but the next 3 months.
And I don’t want you to hand control to your VP or COO or CFO but a kid who is still in school who will be interning with you for 3 months.
He’s going to lead client meetings, speak with investors via conference call and interact directly with your prospective customers.
What, you have a problem with that? Sounds preposterous, you say? It makes you more than a little nervous and nauseous?
Of course it does.
And that’s essentially what you’re doing when you let a college kid handle social media for you. Because there are a few roles that put your brand on the front lines of interaction quite like social media. It’s the blessing and, for people who mishandle it, the curse. It’s oh-so-easy easy to take a glance at people who post on Facebook or Twitter and think, “How hard could it be?” The problem with that outlook is that it dwindles social media to an afterthought rather than an integral part of your brand strategy.
In fact, it doesn’t even consider strategy at all. It doesn’t consider the bigger reason and purpose for why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s saying, “This is what everybody seems to be on these days, so we should be doing it too.” Maybe you should. But not like this.
To be clear, I like interns and think they’re valuable. I’ve managed many and watched them have an impact on the industry I couldn’t be more proud of in writing and in design. They comprise some of the most rewarding relationships I have ever had in this business – and those people know who they are. Yet, when they come into the advertising and marketing world, even they would admit they have been given instruction in a closed environment that, try as it might, can rarely if ever simulate what it means to work in the real world in real time to represent a real company.
In other words, when they enter your environment, they’re a lot like Luke Skywalker the first time he faced Darth Vader without intense training. If you threw them out there and wished them luck from Day 1, you’d be lucky to emerge with just a flesh wound. As time goes on, you teach them the ways of what you’ve learned to impart hopefully some good things by the end of their training – things they never would have learned in the classroom. But that still doesn’t mean they’re ready to handle social media. Why?
The main challenge is that the person who handles social media has to get a great feel for your mission, your culture, your goals, your tone and manner, what can be said, what can’t be said and more. They have to understand the audience they’re interacting with and how that audience has to be respected. They need to be able to monitor and mine for insights that can be communicated to management (after all, I assume you care to know if what you’re doing is working, right?). They need to be a fountain of good content that resonates with the people you want to attract most.
Fulfilling those responsibilities is a very full plate for anyone. It’s next to impossible and downright unfair to someone who is just learning the basics of marketing. It’s not their fault, really. It’s just where they are in life. Of course, if a university isn’t teaching enough about new media, it’s certainly not helping.
It’s a place of experience and understanding that the “face” of social media of your company has to operate from that the intern doesn’t have. This person can come from within your company or can come from the outside world – yes, in all transparency, I do this for people who don’t have the time or internal resources or understanding right away to handle it. But the people who trust me to handle this great responsibility know that I am not a Junior who is in the middle of taking a Marketing class but someone who has a lot of experience in developing and managing the voice of a brand.
Is an outside consultant going to be more expensive than an intern? Yes. But all we’re talking about here is the perception of your brand to the outside world.
Is that really something you want to cut corners on?