Our Fascination with Charlie Sheen and Social Media Interns

Whenever I hear about a company who plan to “launch” their social media “efforts” with the help of social media interns, I always break out laughing.  Well, not literally so.  But I am amazed at how many companies think that college students who “speak” the language of social media are appropriate to represent their brand in the online world.  Just as I pointed out in a previous blog post, I shouldn’t be doing other brand’s social media precisely for the same reasons that interns or external contractors shouldn’t be doing yours either: We don’t know you.

Let me first point out that I have met many a savvy college student who are active participants in the social web and can also bring tremendous value to a corporation.  My recent visit to my alma mater Amherst College only reminded me of the talent brewing who are ready to take on, and change, the world.  The problem, though, is that too many companies are relying on college students and social media interns to do the brunt of their work in social.  With no strategy, they hope that somehow a Gen Y college student will be able to deliver on the promise of social media because they “get it.”

Charlie Sheen, Twitter, and Social Media Interns

I’m actually writing this blog post because of the news that you’ve probably heard that Charlie Sheen is looking for a social media intern.  In the last 48 hours his Ad.ly link from Twitter has generated more than 400,000 clicks.

The ad points out that they are looking for a “social media savvy individual to work closely with Charlie Sheen…on executing a social media strategy,” with use of a plethora of Twitter hashtags.  Here’s the ad in its entirety in case you missed it:

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I believe that Charlie’s brand has already suffered some damage.  Is he trying to make matters worth by thinking that social media interns can be effective in representing him and his brand to hundreds of millions of potential people on the likes of Twitter and Facebook through implementing his social strategy?  It is interesting that Charlie understands how he can communicate directly with his fans with his recent entry into Twitter and uStream broadcasts.  You’d think he’d see the wisdom in bringing on a full-time employee to help carry his message forward instead of entrusting his brand in someone who might not have sufficient professional experience.

Something tells me that if your company is trying to hire social media interns and have someone “do” social for you on the cheap, you internally are not valuing your social efforts.  You have lack of budget, so you think that somehow this intern is magically going to help establish ROI by simply “proactively engaging.”  Guess what?  If you don’t value social media, STAY OFF IT!  You’re only bound to make a mistake similar to what happened in the famous case of Habitat UK.  I really hate to flog a dead horse, but for those who don’t know the story here’s how it was originally reported on Social Media Today.  The result?  The following “sorry for the Twitter mistake – we blame it on the intern” statement from Habitat UK:

“The hashtags were uploaded without Habitat’s authorisation by an overenthusiastic intern who did not fully understand the ramifications of his actions,” a spokesman said.

“He is no longer associated with Habitat.”

Marketers in 2010 were estimated to increase spend in social media marketing more than any other type of marketing activity with the exception of email marketing.  Social media, as you know, is free, but it requires sweat equity.  If you don’t have enough budget for it, where do you spend your marketing $$$?  Maybe it’s time to start looking at where you are investing, especially if they are in traditional marketing channels that may not be as effective or other online marketing efforts that might slightly overlap and be considered partially redundant with a robust social presence.

In the world of business, you truly get what you pay for.  If you have a Community Manager to manage a robust social strategy combined with training that you can provide specific operational guidelines to your social intern for, go ahead and hire them.  Otherwise, think twice before you literally hand over the keys to your Kingdom of Brand to that college student…

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