DEBATE: Don’t Hire a Social Media Intern


If you’re relying on an intern to lead your social media strategy, you’re crazy.  I don’t care how small your business is.  You’re better off not doing it at all than bringing in an intern to handle your social media presence.  Here’s why:

1. Internships are short term. Building a presence online takes time.  You have to build relationships, slowly but effectively.  Your intern cannot build a social media presence, in the 3 months that they’re with your company.

2. Interns don’t identify with your brand. They view it as a stepping stone.  You want the person that’s representing you online to be passionate about your brand.

3. Interns won’t be available beyond 9-5. Have a crisis? Don’t count on calling your intern at 9pm and having them jump online to handle the social media backlash.  With your social media presence in the hands of your intern, your brand will only be present from 9-5.

4. Interns aren’t as accountable. If a full-time employee makes a big mistake online, they have to worry about losing their job.  Losing an internship? Not as big of a deal.

The debate is open.  Should companies hire social media interns?  What if they’re not responsible for the entire social media presence, but they’re managed by a full time social media manager.  Good idea then?  What responsibilities should you give them?

54 thoughts on “DEBATE: Don’t Hire a Social Media Intern

  1. Social Media isn’t a temporary, 20 hr. a week type of deal.

    That said, a company needs to identify their internal cheerleaders – those people who can get an entire department excited and focus their efforts towards your SM efforts and your organization’s external community. Those are the type of people you want at the forefront of your brand. Those who live and breathe the brand but are stellar communicators, understand the digital space/tools, and are able to articulate messages/content in a manner that engages and brings value to that community.

    Now, is this going to be an intern you just hired? More times than not, no. But if you get someone coming into your company that has that passion and desire, then slowly educate them and integrate their presence within your co’s overall social media strategy. I don’t think they should be at the forefront, but capitalize on an intern that does have that ‘it’ factor that you believe will make a positive impact to your company’s SM efforts.

    1. If you’re fortunate enough to get an intern that’s that passionate about the company, and savvy in terms of professional communications, then you should let them participate in the social media campaign…then go buy a lotto ticket. ^_^

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more. I love interns. They have passion, they have fresh ideas, they have energy. But they are interns. Would you have an intern fly a commercial air liner? No! Brand interactions and personal interactions are totally different. Internships are meant to be learning opportunities with some limited returns for the employer. We’ve hired 3 interns over the last 3 years so that demonstrates my belief in the concept. But social media marketing is possibly the most direct touch point with a customer other than a face to face. But it overcomes the natural boundaries of time and geography. I have a video on this subject that I’d love to pass on to you to share with your audience as well. Let me know if you’d like that.

    As always your thinking is spot on David. Please accept my thanks!

    1. Great point. With such a direct connection to your customers, you have to make sure the people representing your brand online are knowledgeable about everything revolving around your company, from your products to your goals.

      Providing an intern with a strong learning experience is extremely important…and I’m certainly not arguing against giving interns any responsibility. You just can’t underestimate the responsibility that goes in to a brand’s social media presence.

      Please do share your video Duncan. Sounds like it’s very relevant to the debate and you always have insightful things to contribute. Feel free to comment with the link (=

  3. I disagree with you to an extent. Interns should not shape or lead your social media presence, but they can maintain it in some sense if it has already been established. If managed properly, they can do research, learn about blogger relations, update Facebook pages, etc. Your point about them not being available “off hours” is totally valid, but in an emergency or crisis, a social media manager should be dealing with it any way, not an intern.

  4. I think the points you bring up are really important but here are some additional thoughts I had –

    For #1 – If the internship is post-collegiate then the intern might work harder…They are trying to get a job, so they will probably work more diligently to get things done – while they might not have enough time to build up a new social media program, they can help lay the foundation and put in time that senior level positions may not have time for.

    In regards to #2…I don’t think it’s that they don’t *identify* with the brand – I work on several brands that are actually my brands of choice & brands that I have been using my entire life – I think what’s more important is that they are learning the voice of the brand and what the client expects (including everything from formatting and word choice to font and imaging) – So an intern might not be as well-versed in the client’s vision for their brand’s presence in the social media space

    #3 – This is true. Most internships (especially paid) are very strict about the hours an intern can work – so I don’t think an intern should be 100% in charge of a social media account unless they are allowed to put in the hours or unless your client is willing to only have a 9-5 SM presence…but that doesn’t account for the “social media backlash” or crisis communications that need to be able to take place should a problem arise.

    And for #4…I would hope that the interns would feel accountable and realize the importance and value of their position, but you’re right – there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a good one :/

    Now, I don’t think an intern that *helps* with social media is a bad idea – especially if they are the ones who have time to sit down and read articles and research opportunities where they can position their client as an expert in the space, but I think there should be guidance.

    It’s difficult because SM does take a lot of time and maintenance – you need to be in conversations and building valuable content – I guess it depends on your business structure if you have a more senior employee that can take the time to do all of these things.

    ya know?


    1. haha I love that you ended that comment in “ya know?”

      All very valid points.

      #1: True, any smart intern will have long term goals in mind. Any internship can turn into a job. From the company’s end though, they can’t count on the intern to continue to work for them once the internship is over. If you have a intern “lay the foundation” for the company to take over afterward, where is the personal interaction? Where is the intimacy? If senior level doesn’t have the time to lay down the foundation, how will they have time to maintain their presence once it’s established?

      #2: That’s the thing. If they’re just learning the voice of the company, how can they represent it online?

      #4: Even if you have a good intern that is worried about their job, the repercussions of messing up as a full-time employee will be much greater than messing up as an intern. Interns always have the excuse of being new and inexperienced. If you have a good excuse, you won’t feel as responsible.

      1. I feel like you totally should have ended your reply with “ya know?” 😉

        Yeah, I think you’re right – there needs to be a fully established personal interaction & voice that is present in SM, but I still don’t think it hurts to let the intern help out – mostly in researching new opportunities & relevant info

  5. Companies absolutely should not hire interns as the only person to rely on for social media.

    Yes, interns are cheap, but that is because they don’t have experience. They need to learn as much as they can help. So, if your intern is the ONLY person working in social media, what do you expect from them? On the other hand, there are plenty of unemployed people that have the skills to take control of the social media of your company…but they deserve more than intern pay and commitment.

    In my opinion, the tradeoff for interns is low pay for learning experience. Don’t take the shortcut by hiring a cheap kid to set up your online profiles. If you can’t afford a full-time employee, hire an agency for a trial period.

    If an intern is your portal to social media, you will both end up on the short end of the stick.

  6. Hmm. Your 4 points are all completely valid… if we assume the intern is solely responsible for the company’s social media presence. And, to be a bit more nit-picky, they seem to assume that all interns are 1. inexperienced and 2. necessarily uncommitted to the company they work for — Neither of which is true of many interns!

    But, if we assume that the intern you hire is 1. inexperienced, and 2. uncommitted to the company in the long-term, still none of your points really address your final question, “What if they’re not responsible for the entire social media presence, but they’re managed by a full time social media manager?”

    There are plenty of things a social media intern can be held responsible for that don’t fall within “managing” parameters – Research, for example. Or social media monitoring. Or brainstorming new ideas, or implementing the ideas of a social media manager. These are hugely important tasks that can easily be completed by a young intern, though I hate the widespread tendency to assume youth, inexperience, etc etc with interns — in this economy there are plenty who are interning, like me, with more than just a degree to hang their hat on.

    1. True, I may have been a bit biased, focusing only on interns that are still in college.

      I think it’s safe to assume though, that the greater majority of interns have less experience than that of a full time employee. If you had the sufficient experience, you probably wouldn’t be interning.

      My points are also focused on companies that hire an intern to run their social media presence. I ask the question at the end to provide an alternative route for the discussions. “So we won’t have an intern run the campaign, but what can we have her/him do?”…

      Which you covered perfectly. An intern should 100% be included in brainstorming sessions. They can definitely take part in research. Through their ability to do these things well, they may earn the ability to take on projects. That’s what I did in my internship.

  7. I agree with every single one of your numbered points. But I think your conclusion is just a bit off. Hiring an intern should be an opportunity for the student to learn and the company to gain a temporary, enthusiastic young mind–not a policy shaper.

    As a former intern (not for social media), I would have loved to get a bit of social media training. Have the intern sit in on brainstorming meetings–his or her ideas could turn into a brilliant strategy paired with an experienced employee.

    Social Media interns probably don’t have the credibility to interact with the public on behalf of the brand, but I believe they are capable of monitoring and looking for ways to further engage. Have them watch and learn and suggest new ideas, but wait for them to “do” social media until they are employees and have a definite loyalty to the brand.

    1. “But I think your conclusion is just a bit off. Hiring an intern should be an opportunity for the student to learn and the company to gain a temporary, enthusiastic young mind–not a policy shaper.”

      Where did I conclude something different?

      I completely agree. The key is to start them off small. Give them research projects, include them in brainstorming. If they have a great idea, show them how it could be implemented. If they earn the responsibility, then hire them and have them implement.

  8. Absolutely not. Can they be at the strategy table and learn? Absolutely. But executing and determining strategy is huge. You are basically handing your brand to one person. They have to know everything. An intern is too green to accomplish this, in my opinion.

    1. Not sure if they have to know everything. No one knows everything. They certainly need to prove that they know enough though…and most interns won’t know enough. At least not at first. Help them learn, don’t rely on them.

  9. Agreed. When Jumping on the Social Media Bandwagon, an Intern Just Wont Cut It – If you want an intern to do research, build lists of bloggers, set up accounts and profile on social platforms, that’s well and good. But for content & strategy, customer service, and branding you need a well rounded team of experienced professionals making those decisions. A Minimum of 4 people – a PR Pro, Marketer, Advertising Exec, and A Developer/Coder/Programmer who knows the tech side (apps, widgets, css, php, html and all that jazz) working in unison, under a one leader. That’s an ideal social media team that will be ready for anything and be best at developing strong online personas for your brand.

      1. Hire someone with a diverse background. Each Discipline has something different to offer – hire a pr pro with crisis training that knows how to code or a marketer that can sync up social media strategy with banner ads and traditional marketing tactics. We need to up the standards and skill sets of employees to be as well rounded and diverse as possible.

  10. Sorry for the second post, but I realized I should clarify – if the intern isn’t the only person in charge of social media, it is a great situation. Social media has a lot of room for behind-the-scenes work, research, and simple man-hours which are both helpful to the company and vital in the learning process for interns.

    I have seen a lot of companies looking to hire an intern to get them started in social media…that is where I get frustrated.

    Thanks again, David,

    – scott (@sjhalestorm)

  11. I think an intern can be valuable if used at the right time. For example, a client hired an intern to help them do some research to determine whether it made sense for them to engage in SM.

    Over a four-month period, the intern researched whether customers, partners and competitors were engaging in SM and at what level. He then pulled together a comprehensive analysis that enabled them to decide whether the timing was right to move forward.

    He helped put together a high level presentation that was being used to get buy-in from the C-Suite, outlining details on what SM is, how it can be used, what objectives they would like to achieve, how they plan to achieve those goals, what tools they plan to use and why, etc.

    He also researched best practices in employee SM policies and helped craft one that was tailored to my client’s business.

    In situations like this, where a lot of research needs to be done yet resources are scarce, an intern can be extremely valuable.


    1. I think Jodi brings up a great point here. Hiring a Social Media Intern doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be putting them in sole control of the organization’s entire social media presence.

      I really think you should be confident enough in the intern you hire to trust that they would represent the brand properly if given the chance to engage in social media on behalf of the company.

      If you’re not comfortable with your intern reflecting your company AT ALL on social media then you shouldn’t be comfortable with sending them to a conference, an AGM, a cocktail reception, or any other event that would have them interacting with the public. And that’s just silly.

    2. Jodi: Sounds like you had a hell of an intern!

      This ties in to the reality that using social media tools for business requires a lot more than putting up a profile and talking to people online. There is a lot of preparation work to be handled.

      Of course, you have to take in to account how capable your intern is. Most interns that I’ve seen would not have been able to put together that kind of presentation on their own. If you had an intern put together this presentation to get buy-in from C-suite, and they weren’t able to tie it to company goals and provide a good argument, are you saying that they wouldn’t have embraced social media? If that’s the case, it’s pretty risky to put that much responsibility in the hands of an intern.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Sarah: Building a social media strategy is VERY different from attending a conference or event.

      1. If the research showed that no customers, competitors, partners or relevant media were currently engaged in SM, then they may have delayed their decision to move forward as they may not have had a strong enough argument in favour of it (although I personally think there is something to be said with having a first-mover advantage).

        As for the presentation, it wasn’t done in isolation. Like interns working on other initiatives, he needed some guidance to ensure key elements were being covered. And marketing was involved every step of the way.

        Regardless of how an intern is being used, our role is to guide and manage them so they can not only learn along the way, but also achieve the goals we set out for them.

  12. A company wouldn’t think of allowing an intern to be the “face” of the business in traditional media, so why is it acceptable in emerging media? For example, if the New York Times called and wanted to interview a company representative, an intern would never be the first choice.

    I wonder how much of this has to do with brands’ unwillingness to trust social media and/or not placing enough value in online engagement?

    Heather (@prtini)

    1. Great point. This ties in to the issue of companies that still don’t regard social media as a serious business platform. If they allow an intern to build and maintain their social media presence, they’ll soon find out how serious it is.

  13. Of course companies should hire social media interns. It’s a great learning opportunity for both an intern and company employees. Everyone on here who says “as long as they’re not responsible for the entire strategy” is correct.

    I like how Anna mentioned that this post assumes all interns are inexperienced. It also seems to assume that all interns are short-term, which I don’t believe is always the case. Many interns end up hired as full-time employees.

    I have to question why you say that interns can’t identify with a brand. Why not? My hope is that any marketing/communications intern would try, at the very least, to identify with a brand.

    You make some valid points but I disagree with some of them. I know our interns are very capable and passionate about our work. They also identify closely with our mission, and I’m sure that’s why we hired them.

    1. Liz, Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      With any argument that covers such a broad topic, I hope my readers don’t take my point as absolutes, but rather trends. True, not all interns are inexperienced, but a strong majority are.

      During an internship, if the intern proves that they are responsible and can handle such tasks, then you should hire them. You can’t assume from the start, that an internship is going to be long term.

      With that, you must also assume that interns view their internship as short term. They might hope to make it a long term, full-time career, but they can’t assume that this will be the case. Therefore, they will not be able to identify with a brand that they may no longer work for in a couple months to the same extent that a full time employee can identify with the brand.

      Your interns may very well be capable, but there’s a difference between capability and experience. I may be capable of shooting a gun, but without experience, things could go very wrong. I may even be passionate about shooting a gun (I play a lot of video games) but that doesn’t mean that I have the experience to be considered responsible for doing so.

      1. Those are some great points David. But I still believe that although an intern may view their position as short term, they can still identify with a brand and be a passionate advocate for them. There are many consumers identify closely to brands, even though they may not work for them. That is an entirely different discussion, but worth noting I think.

        Then again, you said it – the typical intern probably does not identify with a brand as much as full-time, long term employees.

        In the end, I do agree with you in regards to not hiring an intern to take over social media for an organization. But I think not hiring a social media intern, or any interns for that matter, is a bad idea.

        Thanks for starting an interesting discussion here. 🙂

        1. “In the end, I do agree with you in regards to not hiring an intern to take over social media for an organization. But I think not hiring a social media intern, or any interns for that matter, is a bad idea.”


  14. I think this post is a rather interesting point. As someone who worked as a regular Pr intern then developed social media plan for an organization I can see both sides of the argument.

    You are absolutely right , it’s more than a 9-5 thing and they have to be passionate about your organization. I know that personally the whole “new and inexperienced ” should not be an excuse but it can come up. You are also right about them not worrying about it because it’s “not their job”.

    There are some pluses to bringing on an intern. Perhaps they know about some new social media outlet that you aren’t necessarily aware of. They can also bring on fresh new ideas.

    I think the real drawback of hiring an intern though is once the internship is over, how do you decide who gets the new responsibility of handling all of the interaction.

    1. It also creates an inconsistency with your community. One day they’re interacting with one person (the intern) and then the next day, the intern is gone and someone who hasn’t been present at all is now trying to interact with the same people.

  15. As a few people have already pointed out, I think the post’s title and the post’s content are sort of at odds. There’s an unbelievable difference between “hiring a social media intern” and “hiring a social media intern in charge of all social media efforts.”

    When looking at it this way, it’s totally logical to hire a social media intern just like any agency or firm would hire marketing interns (who don’t come gunning out of the gate giving major client presentations). Although I recognize that the difference between marketing and social media is a substantial one in the sense that a marketing intern can work based off of pre-established/traditional marketing principles like marketing plans and case studies, the fact is that regular interns learn along the way just like a social media intern should learn along the way.

    Because, really, if any agency or firm with more than a handful of clients is telling those clients that they’re doing extensive social media work on the clients’ behalves, that agency should be more or less swamped with both efforts to keep up and efforts to move forward and be a trend setter. Hiring a social media intern could definitely free up the head social media strategist to focus on the moving forward part while the SM intern focuses on the maintenance and awareness side of things.

    Hopefully that makes sense and isn’t just incoherent rambling. Maybe I need a social media intern to translate/simplify my blog post comments.

    1. I’ll admit the headline is a bit of a bait…but I like to keep it brief and “Don’t Hire a Social Media Intern In Charge of All Social Media Efforts” would have bothered me. ^_^

      You’re right. An intern should be given responsibility, and you should teach them along the way. I guess where I draw the line is in representation. Let them be themselves, as interns of the company, online…but don’t let them guide the presence of the brand online.

      The focus of this post was in fact, for the brands that hire a social media intern to build their presence online, rather than doing it right.

  16. I agree with most of the comments here. Interns should not be solely responsible for social media execution. At one of my previous internships, I was asked to suggest content for various client profiles and accounts, but had to send my suggestions to a supervisor who would edit them. It taught me how to approach different social media sites without the fear of publishing the wrong information.

    I think a lot of small businesses who don’t know better rely on the idea that something is better than nothing, but that’s just not the case. Undeveloped profiles and poor execution and follow-through with social media can really hurt a brand.

    Sarah (@smt504)

  17. Hi David,

    Great post! I think interns can do valuable and time consuming research and brand monitoring that is extremely valuable for full time social media managers (and other such roles). Giving interns the chance to do some social media work while leaving the ultimate control over what the messages going out is a mutually beneficial approach, I think.


    JR, Brazen Careerist Community Specialist

  18. Great discussion! Despite recent stories in mainstream media that interns and junior staff are “training” their older and more experienced colleagues, I believe that intern tasks related to social media should be no different than other types of communications tasks. Would you entrust running a media program to an intern? No. Same thought should apply to social media projects and programs. Assign specific tasks that are commensurate to the intern’s experience and “fit” that are ALWAYS supervised. A temporary employee should never be the main voice (social or traditional) or any organization.

  19. I disagree.

    While it’s true that interns lack the experience of a more qualified candidate, in this economy they are working just as hard as full-time employees.

    Every intern takes a job hoping that it turns into a full time position. And they’re not as unprofessional and self-centered as you may think.

    Just pick a qualified intern who is passionate about the job, and I think you’ll be surprised with the work they put into it.

    1. Thanks for disagreeing (=

      Re: Intern’s working just as hard as full-time employees:

      I made a point not to say anything about how hard working they are. It’s really not something you can generalize as some interns will work as hard, if not harder than ft employees. Other interns won’t. If I had to answer, I’d probably say that more often, interns don’t work as hard, but that’s just based off my observations.

      Not every intern takes a job in hopes that it will turn into a full time opp. Many students take internships that they really don’t like at all, but they do it just so that they get the experience, and can put it on their resume. One of my friends had a great internship, where he was given a great deal of responsibility, but was certain that he would never want to work there. He didn’t like it. It’s often a trial and error thing for students and young pros.

      I never said they’re self centered…but they absolutely do have their own future in mind when taking an internship. The greater majority aren’t taking internships to help the company…they’re doing it to help themselves. Does that mean that once they’re there they won’t want to help the company? No. Again, it’s a case by case thing.

  20. I agree with Katie and disagree with you!

    Looking at this issue from the point of a student who is looking out for internships: it is important to realize that we all look for “starting” our career from somewhere. Every professional today must have been a fresher someday, right? It is pretty unfair to easily say that social media interns should not be encouraged. I agree that there are issues pertaining with interns. But it all depends on how carefully you choose them. Just like how you choose your other employees! Trust me, there are passionate ones out there 😉

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