Should NFPs Use Interns to Manage Social Media?
26 September 2013 at 10:06 am
For Not for Profits finding social media an arduous task on top of an already heavy workload, is handing over the responsibility to interns a viable solution, asks PhD researcher Karen Sutherland in today’s Hot Topic.
Generally interns in their late teens and early twenties are viewed as Digital Natives. They have grown up with the technologies that more senior practitioners have had to learn on the job and they are an extra pair of hands, there to assist and learn.
I am a strong advocate for Not-For-Profits taking on interns. In my time coordinating the PR internship program at Monash University, I have seen first-hand what a beneficial relationship it can be for both the organisation and the student.
However, when it comes to interns looking after a Not for Profit organisation’s social media, there are a few things to consider.
1. The term Digital Native may be misleading
Do not assume that if an intern is from the “younger generation” that they are a social media expert. They may definitely know how to use particular social networking sites on a personal level, but this will, most likely, be the first time that they are experiencing the technology from an organisational perspective.
As a PR educator, in the classroom we can only simulate what happens in the real world even when using real examples and clients, but it is an internship that truly puts students in a situation where theory meets practice. In a crisis situation, you wouldn’t let an intern respond to calls from the media, on behalf of your organisation, just because they know how to use a telephone. It is the same with social media. While interns may know how to use the tools, they do not yet have years of professional experience to draw on to inform the best course of action to take if issues arise.
An internship is a time of development, a time of making mistakes and learning from them, but letting these play out on public platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, may damage your organisation’s reputation. Interns can definitely be involved in your organisation’s social media presence, but don’t be blasé about the impact that this could potentially have.
2. Interns can conduct valuable social media research that you don’t have time to do
If you’re working in the Not for Profit Profit sector, when was the last time that you could push everything aside to spend a week researching social media best practice and undertaking analyses on your competitors’ social media presence?
If my research is anything to go by, the answer is never. This is when the assistance of an intern can come in extremely handy. Give interns the task of researching and writing a report on social media best practice in the sector and at large. Ask for examples of successes and failures in terms of content , responses to users (comments and complaints) and measurement. Ask for in-depth analyses on what your competitors and partners are doing in the space and ask interns to communicate what their overall recommendations would be. These tasks may prove invaluable to you and for an intern. It will allow you to make more informed choices in relation to your social media activities in order to reduce the waste of resources.
For the intern, it will help to hone their researching skills, but will also inform them about the sector, your organisation and social media best practice. It is this foundation of knowledge that will assist you both with content development.
3. Interns can develop content for your social media schedule
Another preliminary finding from my research is that social media content is being balanced between the strategically integrated and the spontaneous.
Organisations are planning ahead in terms of what they are posting on social media, so that their content fits in with current campaigns, but they are also remaining flexible to take advantage of great content if it spontaneously arises. Interns can greatly assist in sourcing, curating and producing content for your organisation’s social media presence. It means that as a mentor, you will need to check over their suggestions just as you would for a media release before it is distributed.
This task will provide an intern with the opportunity to turn the knowledge from their previous research into something tangible. It will stretch their creativity and refine their social media content production skills. Your organisation will benefit by being content rich without it costing resources.
4. Backstage passes should be exclusive
However, developing content is a very different thing to posting it. Allowing an intern access to the back end of your organisation’s social media profiles is something that I would consider very carefully before doing so.
If you do decide that this is okay, please make it a rule that personal profiles must not be open at the same time as organisational ones. It is a recipe for disaster. There must also be some framework and process in place to prevent interns from responding to complaints or negative posts without first consulting someone more senior in a very timely manner. Not doing this puts your organisation’s reputation in a very vulnerable position.
By all means, use interns to assist your organisation with social media, but be extremely smart about it.
About the author: Melbourne Researcher Karen Sutherland has completed 18 months into a doctoral thesis at Monash University where she is exploring how Not for Profit organisations are using social media compared with what their donors, supporters and volunteers actually want.
The research is expected be completed early in 2015. Karen Sutherland can be contacted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.