We're All Interns

The big hullabaloo the past few weeks was a snark tweet about ConEd and the “intern” handling the Twitter account.

This, naturally, caused a few tweet thread responses that social media executives are not interns, and then another tweet that the current social media executives are the CCOs and CMOs of the future.
But to mangle the quote from Pogo, I have seen the enemy and he is us. The reality is that if there’s a perception problem in social media in the bigger business and media world, it is our own fault. We can go along the whole connotation and denotation path, but the current connotation for social media is that it is a young person’s career, and that a lot of things are handled by interns (or the work is low-level enough that it could be handled by an intern).

And you know what? The connotation isn’t far off from reality. To loop it to public relations and communications, there’s an issue there that we don’t have a seat at the C-suite table, at the executive level. Social media has the same issue, there’s no seat (or limited seats) at the grown-up table, and a good part of that is the snark of social media.

Yes, the snark. In our circle jerk of social media (advertising and trade) media, and social media people themselves patting themselves on the back for the creativity ... well, the tone is less than executive-level professional. Yes, the executives might love the engagement and the sales funnel from such snark and creativity, but are they going to point to it and say “yes, these are the future CMOs and CCOs for our corporation”? Likely no, they want the gravitas of the (potentially, okay really boring) analytics group or advertising folks. You know, the traditional and staid careers in marketing that know how to be buttoned-up and present.

But back to Pogo. About 15 years ago, a junior social media person wrote that social media was the purvey of young people and that older people - and I was eventually called out, along with friends - were not fit to do social. Forget the communications aspect, the crisis components, the strategy and tactics that are learned from experience ... social media was/is a young person’s game and those old people don’t know what they’re doing.

And that “social media is for the youth” mindset continues on in both social media and in corporations. Gotta know the latest tool, talk to a college kid! Not sure what to do on the social channels, hand over the reigns to the intern! And yes, people might want to dispute that this is the problem and reality, but we are reaping what we sowed.

What’s the solution? Better jobs - meaning jobs where the pay is commensurate with the experience, and the experience is aligned with the responsibilities. More analytics - too much of social is “gut” feelings, and that means nothing in the sales funnel. We might want to claim that we aren’t beholden to data and numbers, but those are what drive business and cash IS king in corporate America. More gravitas - yes, certain accounts need to be snarky (well, need is a strong word) but it is about speaking to your audience. But it is also about knowing which platform is the right one for which audience (that seems to be a losing battle in the era of automation). And knowing not to be a copycat account that does make it look like it’s just an intern doing the work.

And organizations like Social Media Club and SocialMedia.org are pushing forward to try to bring an aura of professionalism to social media; but organizations need to realize that social media is like community relations and other communications and marketing - with a few caveats, it’s real-time and now one of the first engagements a customer has with a brand.

A version of this post was originally published on Social Media Club's Blog.

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