The myth of the social media intern

25th October 2018

Collectively, we’re still confused about the power of social media.

On the one hand, it is capable of swaying elections, it makes large swathes of the general population addicted, and attracts about $30B in advertising this year.

On the other hand, especially in business, social media is still often regarded as a frivolous business function, one which management can afford to ignore and delegate to the lowest rungs on the corporate ladder.

Case in point: earlier this year, Marriott International, fired a social media manager for inadvertently angering Chinese authorities (he’d liked a tweet relating to Tibet). The company, $40B in market cap, was paying the person $14 an hour.

This discrepancy is embodied in the stereotype of the ‘social media intern,’ a mythical creature responsible for any and all trainwrecks on corporate social accounts, while at the same time being mocked as 100% expendable.

How do we know? It’s a running joke on the Internet.

We tracked 2 month’s worth of conversations mentioning “social media intern”, on Pulsar TRAC and found that the vast majority were jokes at his/her expense:

These posts get high engagements: out of all the tweets we tracked, 83% of them were retweets of a joke into users’ own timelines. The most popular tweet was about restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings’ Twitter getting hacked (something that was blamed on, you guessed it, the social media intern):

19 to 21-year-olds, the sort of people who many older people might consider great candidates for social media internships, were the quickest to crack or amplify jokes on this topic.


social media intern mentions


Of course, there are plenty of social media interns out there. A search on LinkedIn yields 3.5 million results.

But that’s less than half as many as “social media manager,” the most generic (and often entry-level) position relating to social media: it racks up 8.8 million hits and a respectable salary of about $65k in NYC, according to job and salary site Glassdoor.

And some large corporations are starting to give this domain the respect it deserves.

Here’s 3 companies currently hiring for a range of social media roles:

  • Cosmetics retailer Lush requires 3 years of experience for a social media specialist, who are expected to “curate and craft conversations that engage audiences and adds value and meaning to projects.”
  • NBC Universal requires 5+ years experience for its Director of Social, who needs to be “both creative and also data-driven to inform insightful pivots and decisions that drive the brand forward.”
  • And Amazon wants 10+ years experience for its head of social for Prime Video Originals position, where “you will have the opportunity to build and direct an in-house team, work with agencies, and partner with social media platforms to develop and implement plans.”

Now let’s just wait for the work that goes behind social media to become respected on social media itself.