There have been some recent scandals involving interns and Twitter accounts. It raises a key question: should you allow interns to handle your social media presence?

I know some businesses opt to use interns due to a lack of resources, manpower, or perhaps even knowledge. At first, it may seem logical to have an intern who most likely spends most of his or her time outside of work on Facebook or other social media sites, handle social media engagement for your business. If they do it for free in their own lives, and they do it well, they might as well do it professionally, right?

In my view, the internship approach can work, but there are some things to consider:

High turnover rates based on schools cycles
Interns are usually students, who are only able to commit to you on a semester by semester basis. A successful social media strategy or campaign takes a longer commitment than that. It takes a deep understanding of your community, an understanding that can only be obtained by long-term engagement. You will not be able to grow your community if there are gaps of engagement around the school cycle, midterms or finals. The bottom line is that, even for the most committed superstar intern, school comes first (and it should!).

Your social media platforms are your opportunity for customers to put a face to a (company ) name
Associating a name to a corporate account is a strategy we continue to use today. If you check out the profiles in our business-related Twitter accounts, you will see the personal “atDell” accounts associated with the corporate account. Any social media efforts will be more effective when your customers to know that real people are listening and responding. Don’t hide behind your logo; give customers real employees they can talk to.

Customer relationships are the most precious ROI you can get from social media
Wouldn’t you want to own that relationship that you spent valuable time on nurturing? When interns leave for the summer or winter break, or graduate, or move on to a different job or internship, they will take those relationships with them. Maybe not the tangible followers you have amassed on Twitter and Facebook pages, but the knowledge of the community – its key players, topics of interest, success stories – will go with your intern. If you’ve seen the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, don’t erase the relationships you’ve built.

Internships can be valuable to both the company and an intern Companies can find new talent, while students can get valuable real-work experience that can make them competitive in the marketplace. Interns can definitely help you with social media engagement where it makes sense, but it only works In the end, your company should own both the strategy and relationship.

One last tip: if you’re going to employ an intern to help you with social media, vet them as you would a traditional employee. Google them, check to see their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, they may even maintain their own Posterous site or blog. Any time you are evaluating someone to contribute to your social media efforts, spending some research time will pay dividends. It will definitely help you differentiate one potential intern from another.

If you’d like to go deeper into this topic, take a look at these slides: