Interns make coffee, not social media strategy

Richard Meyer Principal , Online Strategic Solutions

Posted on August 4th 2010

I read a LOT of business books because I love to read about the changing world of marketing and what others think about social media, the web and empowered consumers.When I received a copy of Liana “Li” Evans new book “Social Media Marketing” I wasn’t expecting too much but when I opened it to a chapter called “Interns make coffee not social media strategy” I said “finally someone who gets it!”

There are a lot of people out there who talk about social media but don’t really understand the “why”behind the rise of social media.  This book will not only explain that readers it will take them by the hand and put them in a new mindset of social media marketing.

Social media is NOT a tactic, it’s not just developing a Facebook page, it’s a way of thinking about consumers, customer and most of all marketing.  Ms. Evans starts out with the basics of social media and then takes the reader on journey to understand what social media is all about.  She talks about giving up control and transparency and then continues to discuss how social media is integrated into the whole marketing plan.

In the chapter on “Interns make coffee not social media strategy” Ms Evans says:

  • Interns don’t really know your brand
  • Interns don’t know your ethics of brand philosophies
  • The have no real vested interest in your brand
  • They might know Facebook but do they really understand and know marketing ?
  • Can they relate to your target market ?

This is a great list of why companies should not be using interns to develop and execute social media strategy and she then quantifies this list with “would you let an intern plan a major PR event ?”

The book is an excellent read for those who know social media and those who are still trying to figure out what social media is all about and how it fits into their marketing strategy.  I highly recommend it.


Richard Meyer

Principal , Online Strategic Solutions

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Posted on August 4th 2010 at 5:41PM

While I agree in general with the idea that interns ought not have total control over your SM strategy, there is something to be said for their participation. A firm believer that experience mixed with youth is always successful in a SM strategy, I feel that a young person (intern) should be given a message and asked how they would communicate it via facebook/twitter etc. They understand the use of SM in a unique way. This team effort is the best way, in my opinion, to have a successful SM strategy.

Posted on August 4th 2010 at 6:09PM

Great article Richard! I would have to agree with you a few points and disagree on others. I definitely agree social media should not be an intern thing. Simply, social media strategies involve more effort than many companies are willingly to provide. Also many of those companies don't truly understand the importance of their social media strategy in the social world. As a result, social media is perceived as something unimportant and something that the intern could do. However, it has to be done strategically and understood a particular way of which you bring up in the questions mentioned above.

What I don't agree with is the whole idea that interns are not capable of being able to accomplish anything. There's great talent in those coffee making interns. I'm not suggesting they should be given the greatest responsibilities but you can't deny that they might not be able to provide anything to the situation. The title itself is very demeaning. So in part I do agree that social media strategies are serious and should be taken serious, saying that interns could not provide anything more but the coffee for the meetings is silly.


Posted on August 4th 2010 at 7:01PM

I always get conflicted by the interns line of debate in SM.

I know the intent is to say "young people do not equal SM experts," and of course I don't dispute that at all. There are definitely companies who need to be lead away from that line of thought, and that's why it's important to hit it hard in strategic SM articles and books.

But when I see things like "interns are for coffee" or "would you let an intern plan a major PR event," I question the integrity of the source. In my (admittedly, still-youthful) experience, professionals who are dismissive of interns haven't been excelling marketers, because they're squandering a resource.

Part of why I know what I know now is because as an intern I never had to get coffee and I did get to co-plan major PR events. Interns should be invested. I just came from an expensive photo shoot planned almost exclusively by an intern, and it was the smoothest shoot I've ever managed. That's how skills are developed!

So, while the author's point is well-taken, I'm hesitant to buy the book based on the list you excerpted.

Posted on August 4th 2010 at 7:10PM

Rich -

Thanks again for taking the time to read and review my book.  This was probably one of my favorite chapters to write!  I was once an intern and I can definitely see the value of having them on your social media team, but leave the strategy development to the experienced marketers on your company's payroll. Thanks for capturing the essence of the chapter so well.  Oh and btw, you can see more about the book at the site that supports it:




Posted on August 4th 2010 at 8:13PM

This was a post that really interested me today. In fact, it became the focus of my blog post- "In addition to coffee, interns also make future hires." I completely agree that handing the social media strategy of a brand to someone who doesn't understand social media at its core is unwise. I just don't necessarily agree that an intern is incapable of doing the job right.

Thanks for sparking a discussion.

Posted on August 5th 2010 at 6:57AM

I catch your point (and have to say you're right, interns shouldn't be responsible of social media strategy), just two little things you say that hurt my ex-intern little heart.

Interns do not only make coffee. The idea is to learn, and sadly printing documents and preparing hot beverages for everyone you don't learn a single thing, only feel the least important person on Earth.

Also, I once was in a company that used their interns for pretty much everything, including preparing most of a (relatively) important PR event. Interns. That had only been at the company for, like, one week. Preparing events for the clients.

Sadly, most companys use their interns as underpayed employees, while others (as you say) make them only prepare coffee. I think is important to remember the intern is not a social media strategist, nor a barista.


Posted on August 5th 2010 at 7:58AM

I understand that having an intern develop a strategy and lead in the execution is probably a huge mistake, but depending on your brand, it may be beneficial to have interns involved in the planning and execution. Some companies only hire interns that are enrolled in a degree program relevant to the internship that they are applying for. However, I do see you point - there is still a proliferation of job positings looking to hire a social media specialist / intern who can drive a social media strategy and "spruce up the company's facebook page."

Posted on August 5th 2010 at 8:05AM

All the same, interns can make a valuable contribution, and if all they are doing is making coffee, you shouldn't be wasting their time :)

Posted on August 5th 2010 at 9:20AM

To be honest, I'm a bit appalled by your argument.  Your interns are there to learn, if they don't expand their skills and aren't capable of helping with your social media strategy, then you're at fault.


  • Interns don’t really know your brand - they must, otherwise they wouldn't have come to your company to work....for free/very little money
  • Interns don’t know your ethics of brand philosophies - sounds like a great time to teach them what it's like outside of the classroom
  • The have no real vested interest in your brand - they have a vested interest in finding a job, and hoping that you will be the one to give that to them
  • They might know Facebook but do they really understand and know marketing ? - they know marketing better than you think.  They ARE the consumer, something that marketers forget to be when creating strategy - in particular a SOCIAL strategy.
  • Can they relate to your target market ? - I'm gonna assume, that regardless of their age, they should've had some form of classroom training to help them along with this point. And even if they can't how well do the other employees relate?

If you don't see your interns as helping your business, don't offer them a position at all.  It's a wate of their time and your time if they aren't learning anything from your company.  If an intern is actively seeking a position that is based around social media, chances are they know SM better than anyone else in the building; they grew up with it and have made it their passion.

This is a terrible view to have on interns, and I hope no one that read this post shares your views.

Posted on August 5th 2010 at 4:31PM

It is unfortunate that Ms. Evans' very valid point is obscured by the extremity of her view. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to hire an intern to set policy or create strategy for a business. Only a foolish company would bring on someone with no experience to tell them what to do. Interns are there to learn. They are not there to run the show.

Neither, I might add, are interns there to do only grunt work. There is a large distance between being in charge and doing basically nothing, and Ms. Evans seems to have forgotten about all the ways a smart intern might bring value.

Social media is a huge time suck. A company can actually free up enormous resources by teaching, guiding, and assisting interns in performing various social media tasks, and then giving them increased latitude as they become more experienced. The smartest companies will also teach interns the whys and wherefores of how social media fits into their overall strategy so that interns can make intelligent choices while working on their social media responsibilities.

Andy Maguire, CEO                                                                                                    




Posted on August 5th 2010 at 6:35PM

I have to point out, that many companies seeking interns are those without a marketing department whatsoever, or the resources to hire someone with real experience in the realm of social media.  Our organization only has about 20 people, of which only three (myself, my assistant [a former intern] and an intern) comprise the web department.  

Social media is perhaps of even more use to a company without a strong brand, without the means to do extensive marketing, and without strong leadership or company vision.  So then, are interns of even more use - having the familiarity with social media - in general - puts them ahead of the flock.  I'd rather see my web intern developing social media strategy than our accounting staff, who have a hard time logging into our e-shop's backend.


Posted on December 7th 2010 at 4:30PM

Great blog post on a great book. I, too, read the book and have been quoting it like crazy. Li has some great content for us all. She also has some cool short videos on YouTube if you search for her. 

As for this chapter of her book, we practice what she preaches. We came across clients that had hired previous social media companies that used unpaid interns and had a horrible experience. They were relieved that we have a dedicated team of paid, degreed professionals working on their campaigns. Great stuff!

Posted on June 5th 2011 at 1:38AM

instead of cribbing about people not understanding social media.. why not educate them and build thier capacity to understand the topic... you might have many years of experience.. but do the interns have that...did you learn everything from your mothers womb..a guide should facilitate the interns..