Interns are cool.
Most are smart, resourceful, and hard working. I know this because I’ve been directing our communication internship program at Youngstown State University, off and on, for the last seven years.
During those seven years, we started to introduce social media management courses into the curriculum. Students are now learning social media strategies for businesses. Because of (or in spite of) these courses, we receive a ton of requests for social media interns.
The general consensus among many small business owners is pretty simple. Hire an intern and your wildest social media marketing dreams will come true.
Of course, this myth leads to disappointment for the business and the intern. When a new request for an intern comes in now, we ask for a job description. That description details what the intern will “do” and “learn.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: interns should not be directing your social media strategy, regardless of your business (unless they’re the next Chris Brogan or Jay Baer; those are social media marketing gurus).
Interns can be inventive and knowledgeable, but they need to be led.
Giving interns a little freedom to practice what they know can be good for everyone. Giving interns a lot of direction (and a chance to learn about your business) is more important.
When developing a social media intern job description, here are three surefire tasks to include that will give students some much-needed direction and experience:
1. Check Out The Competition
Paranoia is a good thing. Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible, said “a preoccupation with what your competitors are doing and what people are saying about what they are doing is advantageous. The entire $50 billion market research industry thrives on paranoia.”
If your business doesn’t have a tool for researching social media feeds, ask your intern to develop one. It doesn’t have to be costly or extravagant (although there are some good, moderately priced social media listening tools out there).
For example, an intern might use something as simple as TweetDeck to check the Twitter feeds of a few competitors. This also helps your intern listen to customers, learn about the business, and start to develop a sense of loyalty to your company.
2. Social Media (Mini) Reports
Now that your intern is listening to the competition, ask for periodic updates on what strategies other businesses are using. Also, as Safko notes, explore customer posts. Interns can gather and analyze social media posts from customers, and how competitors engage those customers.
Knowing what customers are saying about you and your competitors will help shape future social media marketing campaigns.
3. Communicate With Customers
Interns can help you communicate directly with customers, including tastemakers and influencers. These people are highly engaged, prolific social media users. They drive conversations about your company and competitors. They test your products, use your services, and post those experiences online (good or bad).
Ask your intern to develop a comprehensive list of social media users who actively post about your business. Working with your intern, develop a plan to engage those influencers.
Your intern can be the communication link between select influencers and your company while you’re off doing other things, like becoming the social media envy of your industry.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.