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Digital Marketing Interns - 5 Steps To Maximize Their Value

I've done plenty of hiring across digital marketing--from Chief Marketing Officer to unpaid digital marketing internships.

Hiring interns, in particular, can be tricky proposition.

What seems like a low-to-no cost resource can quickly become a time sink and headache. If not properly managed, an intern can be like a young puppy, running around like crazy and peeing in the corner when you aren't looking.

Learning from my own mistakes, I've learnt that when these 5 steps are followed, interns can add tremendous value:

  1. Manage Expectations

  2. Recruit by Category Knowledge

  3. Hire For Specific Tasks

  4. Reduce Managerial Overhead

  5. Pair Interns Together

Manage Expectations

First, start by managing your own expectations. During the summer, your interns may come and go based on family vacations, competing work, summer programs, and flakiness. Remind your team not to be dependent on an intern for any critical task, instead treat them as an output booster when they are present.

Second, set expectations properly with your incoming interns. From a work perspective, expect diligence, earnest effort, and punctuality. With these three traits the sky is the limit. I can't help but be reminded by Keanu Reeves' quote from Hardball "Half of life is showing up."

Recruit by Category Knowledge

Having an interest in the category a business operates in generally leads to productivity. Operate a business in mental health? Hire a Psychology major. Need someone to write travel content for your hotel? Recruit from Hospitality programs.

When recruiting around category knowledge, draw on their academic closeness to the topic to deliver a different type of output than what a typical digital marketing professional may provide.

Hiring digital marketing interns based on category knowledge or the task or project they work on depends on risk to revenue and how manual the task is
Digital Marketing Intern Hiring Matrix

Hire for Specific Tasks

Digital marketing interns are put on projects that tend to be low revenue-risk and require a fair amount of manual overhead.

Within digital public relations, interns generally work on

  1. Outreach

  2. List-building

  3. Reputation management

Within content marketing, interns can provide value in:

  1. Creating content like blog articles, product descriptions, and social media posts

  2. Replying on forums like Reddit, Quora, and Yahoo! Answers

  3. Scheduling social posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Broadly speaking these tasks all require a bit of research, hierarchical thinking, and social savviness.

Reduce Managerial Overhead

First, have all interns start on the same day. Streamline their onboarding to a 1/2 day if possible.

Once interns are up-to-speed, structure their internship around learning periods followed by operationalizing the learning.

For example, if an intern will be working on blog posts give them a week or two to put together a presentation on "Blog Posts for SEO Best Practices". This will force them to do their own research, digest best practices, and really understand what its important. Along the way, you may even encourage them to create a post on your company wiki around "Blogging Best Practices" which can be leveraged in the future.

Once they have this baseline knowledge, put them to task on creating those blog posts. Because they've taught themselves less time needs to be spent on manager-led teaching.

It's then possible to follow-up with additional learning loops. For example, the interns could then present on "How to Analyze Success of a Blog Post" which will provide their baseline for measurement and optimization.

Pair Interns Together

As a sub-topic of reducing managerial overhead, when multiple interns work together on the same task they simultaneously build camaraderie, increase each other's productivity, and reduce the back-and-forth of questions to an intern manager.


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