Placing an Intern in charge of your restaurant’s Social Media campaign is akin to making them Ambassador to a country with 200 million people.
Children shouldn’t supervise children. As responsible adults, we all know the consequences. So, why is it that Interns are now being saddled with the serious responsibilities of managing Social Media/Networking campaigns for multi-million dollar restaurants?
It’s doubtful any successful restaurant chain these days would put an intern at the helm of its public relations and media outreach efforts. It is also doubtful that an intern would be the first- or last responder to customer complaints or suggestions for a restaurant system with 10,000+ locations around the world. Finally, who would think that an intern would have more power and authority than the legal department in today’s mega chain? As far-fetched as these ideas may seem, this is exactly what is happening.
Social Media and Social Networking are phrases that didn’t really exist five years ago. Today, approximately 20% of all global Internet traffic is in the territory of social networking (namely Twitter and Facebook). This shift is consumer interest activity has businesses chasing the Social Media ball and launching new “departments” to meet the growing demand. However, many of these departments are being run by interns. An example of this can be seen in Pizza Hut’s recently highly-publicized exploit, “Twinterns.”
While I am all for interns seeing real combat and getting up close and personal with the harsh realities of enterprise, I cannot recommend myself or others put them in charge of a company’s image–not for a small company and certainly not for a multi-billion dollar brand like Pizza Hut (@PizzaHut for the Twitter crowd).
Let’s put this into better perspective. If Facebook were a country, its population would make it the 18th largest nation on Earth. Can you imagine assigning an intern as Ambassador to the world’s 18th largest country? Why, then, would you put an intern in charge of your social media efforts? Sure, you may want to dip your toe in the social media pool; you may have a wait-and-see attitude on whether to commit. Regardless, would you appoint an intern to represent a nation of 200 million people?
The average “chain” marketing department is greatly regulated by the legal department. Ads and messages are closely scrutinized. The (often) grossly overpaid Chief Marketing Officer must pitch and obtain approval for any 30 second spot he may want to run. Meanwhile, an intern (whose name the Chief Marketing Officer may not even know) is riding the social media wild horse, unsupervised! Why? The answer is simple–neither the marketing or legal department fully understand and realize the power, influence, size and scope of social media. “Let’s put one of those kids in charge who knows about all of that stuff.” This movement is not a video game, and although interns may know something about the latest X-box game, they are not equipped to handle this level of social marketing. The stakes are high and the losses can be overwhelming.
Could it be that many top marketers are using the “silly rabbit, tricks are for kids” mentality? Are they equating social media to some sort of fad or short-lived school yard game? Certainly, we must be alert and change with the times. However, social media is more complex than opening a symbolic department and sending out a press release to showcase our latest fashion. Social Media and networking is a very important component of the Internet. It is perhaps the most important communication evolution mankind has witnessed in centuries. Social Media can be compared to a 10-year old child who is growing up quickly. In our society, we do not let youngsters raise children–we should not let interns command the newest marketing and communication phenomena that has been spawned within the last three years (if not the last 300 years). The excuse, “But I didn’t know,” will be no defense when breaking the law. Companies will still be held responsible for the actions of their employees. There is no ‘get out of jail free’ card issued for a lack of knowledge.
The time is now to address who will be in charge of your Social Media Marketing effort. Ask yourself one last question: If you wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your PR department, why would you put them in charge of your Social Media Marketing effort? Involve an intern if you like, but never send your Brand Image lamb to slaughter.