For those of us born before 1990, the rigours of social media can seem like a chore.
Though most business owners would agree that a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest is a necessity in today's competitive market, the question still looms: Who's going to do all the tweeting and posting and pinning?
Frequently, the job is delegated to the youngest person in the office – the 22-year-old intern or the recently hired university graduate. After all, your newest staff member lives on Facebook, is a whiz on LinkedIn and has a thousand or so Twitter followers, so it seems like a logical move.
But handing over the reins to an intern or junior employee can have a negative impact on your business, says Winnipeg-based Ryan Caligiuri, a growth consultant for small and medium-sized business.
"I've seen it a lot," he says. "And I always pose this question, 'You wouldn't let your intern stand front and centre in a booth at a trade show, would you?' And they say, 'No we wouldn't.' So then why would you put them front and centre online on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?"
It's a mistake to entrust social media duties to inexperienced staff members who don't have adequate business acumen and brand knowledge, says Shane Gibson, chief social officer for Socialized!, a boutique social media agency in Vancouver.
"I won't outright say you shouldn't have the youngest, most tech-savvy person in your office do your social, but what I will say is it's a recipe for disaster if you don't train them properly and if they don't understand your business goals," he says.
"When you hand your staff the keys to social media, you give them the most powerful word-of-mouth engine that's ever existed in history. And to relegate that to the most junior person on your team with no guidelines and no support is crazy."
One important consideration is tone of message, says Leslie Hartsman, president of Hooplah Inc., a Toronto-based Internet marketing company. Tone is essential to building relationships with customers, he says, and employing a succession of interns to handle social media can sabotage that engagement.
The young employee sets the tone of voice, he says, and "then because they're so young, they go to another job or their internship's over and there's no one to control that tone of voice any more. And then it changes, and people aren't used to the change," he says.
Young staff members may also be accustomed to the Web's "shoot from the hip" culture and may take risks you don't want to take, says Mr. Caligiuri.
"I experienced this once with an intern who was at a client of mine for about six months," he says. "The intern tweeted out a photo they thought was funny, but it was actually quite insulting to their market. That cost some ruckus with the brand, then [the intern] tried to respond, and that didn't go very well," he says.
Whoever is handling your social media needs to be well-versed in business etiquette, as well as your brand objectives and business goals, says Mr. Caligiuri.
"When it comes to running a really great social media strategy, you're going to be faced with answering questions, asking questions, connecting with people who know your brand and your service quite well," he says.
Alexandra Samuel, director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, says she encourages her graduating students to look for opportunities in social media, because as "digital natives" they have a degree of comfort and expertise that can benefit a company. However, that doesn't mean new grads should be left to their own devices.
"What any organization needs to remember is that effective social media depends on the intersection of at least two kinds of expertise," she says. "One is a full understanding of the nuances between different social networks, and having people who understand that intuitively is really important. But the other competency that is really essential is basic communication and marketing strategy."
Often, organizations hand social media to a junior member of the team not because they think they're the best choice for the job but rather because business owners don't think it's important enough to pay anyone more than $35,000 a year to do it, says Ms. Samuel.
"That can't be what it's about," she says. "You need to give them a seat at the table and make them a core part of your communications team. We're way past the point where social media can be a little corner of your communications strategy. This is one of, if not the, main communication channel for most organizations."
It's essential that a social media policy be put in place before you hand over the keys to anyone, says Mr. Hartsman, and that strategy must be integrated with your overall marketing and communications plan. "There's got to be a plan, there's got to be an objective, there's got to be benchmarks and you've got to work toward them," he says.
Ms. Samuels suggests enlisting a more senior employee or consultant to act as a social media strategist and put together a plan, then having one or more junior people support that person with the execution.
To avoid missteps, Ms. Samuels says younger employees should be "put through their paces" and trained to deal with different scenarios.
"Ask her to write a Tweet based on 20 different headlines, or ask him, 'Which of the following stories do you think you would post on our Facebook page?' And think about whether their choices reflect your brand and reflect your voice," she says.
At the same time, says Ms. Samuels, it's a good idea to listen to the digital natives in your office, because they could be an important voice telling you it's time to loosen up.
"If they say, 'You know, I think it would be better if our Facebook page was first person,' or 'It would be great to share this picture of our CEO with his shirt untucked,' even if that makes you feel uncomfortable because you think it doesn't represent your brand, it's actually worth listening to," she says.
"If you're trying to implement a social media plan that involves seven checkpoints before every Tweet is sent out, you're going to suck."