08/09/2013 11:26 am ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

Think Hiring a Summer Intern for Your Social Media is a Good Idea? Think Again

Getty Images

They're young, smart, and obviously attached to their smartphones and other digital equipment, typing whatever they had for breakfast or what hair color they think they'll switch to this afternoon or whatever thought just crossed their mind.

So sure, why wouldn't it make sense to hire one of these smart, savvy, smart-phone-carrying prodigies to do what they seem to know how to do best: social media.

It's tempting, and I get it, really I do. Sure, you can learn ballroom dancing or Italian or basket weaving if you really wanted to, but that's not what you do. Why waste the time and energy when you can hire a ballroom dancing expert, an Italian language pro, a basket-weaving coach, or better still basically free labor to crank out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other channels what you need and want to say?

Assigning Twitter and other social media platforms to the summer intern who is presumably an "expert" in the field due in large part to their age intuitively makes sense. But think about it: Would you give your teenage son or daughter not just keys to the car when they have never driven a mile in their lives, but park them at the helm of a 747 and expect them to fly?

What might seem like a great idea is in reality counterintuitive. Do not allow/expect an intern to represent you, your firm, your message and your brand on social media platforms. I would argue that it's riskier to do that than do nothing. And I think it's pretty risky to do nothing.

Digital/Social strategies are the most amplified branding/messaging platforms possible. Whereas the New York Times used to brag about its weekday circulation of 1.5 million, the number of page reviews, reposts, re-tweets, and more make your personal/firm brand and reputation publicly available to a potential audience of multiple millions - at least potentially.

What that means is taking social media seriously - creating a strategy plan with an experienced digital marketer that leverages the right marketing assets and materials. Anything else quite frankly is a tweet about what you are eating for dinner or where you are.

I have plenty of virtual examples in my secret "Social Media Hall Of Shame." Examples of "newbies" dancing out onto the Internet without the faintest idea of how it works, or how powerful it is when used correctly with a plan. In my not-so-scientific survey, I have determined that most people open a Twitter account after lunching with someone who has suggested it! Nothing could be worse; what it amounts to is typically an egghead (the symbol that shows up when you haven't bothered to upload a professional photo of yourself) with zero followers, 15 following and zero tweets.

I can spot them a mile away.

Yes, it's great to have an online presence. And yes, there are lots of different places where both a person and a company should have a virtual profile. But setting it up is only the beginning of a very long, winding, frankly never-ending road. It is a long-term process that needs consistent and ongoing input and interaction, with the end goal of keeping it fresh, engaging and on message for you and your clients. Would you go to all the effort of opening a storefront shop, ensuring the shelves stocked, the displays are gleaming and the merchandise enticing only to lock the door and leave the lights on the next day?

So what to do? Don't go onto the digital highway without a plan, and certainly don't put an intern behind the wheel. Both strategies will not yield the results you are seeking, and are likely to cause more damage than good. That precocious summer intern who can snap out tweets and posts like they're yesterday's breakfast can and will come in handy. But keep in mind they know nothing about your business, your clients, your target audience or anything else in terms of how to properly represent you, never mind understand it.

Hire a professional, figure out how best to say what you want and present it to the world, and come up with a strong, sensible, detailed plan. Only then can you hand it off to the intern, with very, very detailed instructions, and even then be sure you're sitting beside them when you hand them the wheel - so they don't crash you and your business.