Ever look at your marketing budget, realize it’s a little (or a lot) smaller than you want it to be, and decide that you need some cheap labor to get it done? You wouldn’t be alone there. Many people share that same thought process and look toward interns as a seemingly ideal way to get some great marketing done by a young, digital native that should be able to handle it all – for free! Sounds too good to be true, right? But is it? Let’s explore.
An Intern to Handle Your Marketing?
On the surface, this seems like a great idea:
- Interns are college-age people who – hypothetically – have more experience with online platforms and presence than you and can provide a great deal of knowledge in the area for your business.
- Interns like doing marketing projects on their own and are creative.
- Interns have no expectation of what they’ll do in the internship, so you can ask them to do almost anything your business requires
- Interns work for free or for school credit
Sounds dreamy. We get it. However. There are several major problems with this. First, what’s described above is an illegal internship (see “Is Your Internship Legal?” below), it’s unethical and unfair to the intern, and that’s also not a good way to market yourself. Let’s use social media as an example to dive deeper.
Example: Putting Your Intern on Social Media Duty
As mentioned above, having an intern run your social media seems like a clever idea. However, you’re missing the key point of an internship: they’re there to learn – from you. Your intern came to you to be educated and be directed through the industry they are passionate about. By telling them to “just do social media,” you’re denying them critical parts of an internship: direction, mentoring, education, and collaboration. By putting them into a position neither of you have experience in, how can they learn, correct, or change course? Unfortunately, they can’t. Further, it’s not likely to help them with their first real job out of school.
Another thing to keep in mind is how their inexperience can affect your company. Your intern probably has some experience on social media platforms. On a personal account. A business account is much different and much more risky if you don’t know how to handle reputation management. What it comes down to is marketing experience. Your intern came to you for experience and to be taught about your field – which is supposed to be marketing. A situation where neither of you knows what you’re doing, you don’t do marketing yourself, and your intern is practicing on your brand, with no real leadership, in a public forum?? Yikes.
Is Your Internship Legal?
Unfortunately, in the minds of many business owners, an intern is merely someone they can have work for no pay. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As part of US federal requirement, you must pay your employees – and if you’re looking for an intern for labor – that’s not an intern, that’s an employee.
Interns are exempt from this only if you meet certain requirements. In the landmark case of Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., the Supreme Court held that internships are for the intern’s benefit and that any exception to that requires them to be paid. A few factors from that case to help you make sure your internship is above board:
- Benefit: The experience is for the benefit of the intern, not their exploitation.
- No Immediate Advantage: The employer gains no immediate advantage to having the intern: only through time spent training and educating the intern can there be benefits for the business.
- Educational: The internship is similar in structure to what they would receive in a classroom. Most colleges do not provide a class called “101 Introduction to Coffee Runs.”
- Existing Staff: Your intern cannot replace or displace regular
- Upfront About Unpaid: The employer must make it crystal clear that the internship is not paid and the intern must agree they will not receive wages.
How to Have an Intern
We’re not saying you can’t have interns at your business, or they can’t help augment your marketing, but both need to be done right and they are owed leadership and education. If you want a marketing support system, you really are best to hire a pro, or hire internally. More on that in our Worcester Business Journal article, Marketing: In-house or outsource? If you want a marketing intern, and you have the leadership in place to PROVIDE a great educational experience to this young person, by all means do it! You have our fullest support, and we can give you ideas on how to properly (and legally) implement a rich program that helps the intern have an incredible experience that they will thank you for.
For years now, we’ve run a successful internship experience, providing college students with valuable real-world, hands-on, educational experience in all parts of the internet marketing field. We can help you find both the marketing you need, as well as offer advice when it comes to the dos and don’ts of having an internship. Contact us today to get started.