It is no secret that social media has been widely adopted by government agencies. The question is: why would a government agency want to be connected to constituents round-the-clock? The answer: it is a relatively cost effective way to engage with the public.
The challenge (and the hidden cost) is that consistently keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GovLoop, or any other social media accounts can be extremely time-consuming. Building on high rates of unemployment coupled with current students and recent graduates looking for any work they can get, many organizations are adopting what appears to be an easy fix: hire a social media intern.
But is it really that easy?
Social media strategist Corey McCarren challenged the GovLoop community last week to be cautious about such a quick decision. While interns could be a low-cost advantage for an agency, it could just as easily turn into a public relations nightmare.
Pre-approving content is one way to mitigate liability, but drafting an official message goes against the dynamic nature of social media. Robert Bacal, CEO of Bacal & Associates, asserted (http://www.govloop.com/xn/detail/1154385:Comment:2014309?xg_source=activity), “…it should be mandatory that people look at how social media is used, by real humans, rather than make decisions based on how they think real humans should use it.”
Managing social channels requires direct engagement, meaning that the intern would be required to actively respond and interact with the public on its post in real-time. Social media would lose its effectiveness if fans and followers had to wait for each post to run through an approval process.
Jason McCain, a Management and Program Analyst for the U.S. Air Force, summarized this point best: “Sure you can put out ‘pre-approved content’, but what then? Does is just sit out there? Are there ways to provide feedback or comment on the material? If the answer is ‘no,’ then it is not social media. If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need to engage in that dialogue to be effective. This cannot come in the way of ‘pre-approved’ messaging.”
If an agency does decide to hire a social media intern, there appear to be candidates ready to jump at the opportunity, paid or unpaid. Kenyatta Hawkins , who is currently an unpaid intern, said, “The reason I’m personally doing this is simple: networking and experience in the public sector. I’ve tried the front door approach and applied to numerous jobs at USAJobs, but I have had no luck. So I’m trying a back door approach.”
The bottom line is that you have to accept the consequences of leveraging an intern for such an important, public-facing role, as Steve Radick, a Lead Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, cautioned his colleagues: “If you want an intern to help out with your social media efforts, that’s great, but understand that what they’re doing has impacts on your communications, marketing, customer service, public affairs, crisis communications, etc. efforts too.”
About the author: Allison Primack is a GovLoop Graduate Fellow and a Graduate Student at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Administration at the George Washington University.