Getting Paid to Snapchat: My UMSocial Internship Experience

It was a humid Monday afternoon in July. I had just hiked down a steep wooded decline in Nichols Arboretum while wearing a dress, an unplanned addition to my day. With phone and stack of UMSocial t-shirts in hand, I finally caught my breath at the Huron River. In the shadows of Mott Children’s Hospital, I tucked a rolled-up tee in a nearby tree branch and grabbed a quick picture of it (hidden in plain sight) for a lucky viewer to find. I then waited eagerly with my coworkers James and Aerielle for the perfect moment to arrive.

We were Pokemon hunting. For Snapchat.

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My name is Kelly Arnold. I’m a rising sophomore at Hope College majoring in Communication with a focus in Marketing. And I’m an intern here at UMSocial.

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Officially, I help with digital marketing and social media strategy. In reality, I’m usually working on a variety of tasks. As you can see, being a social media intern doesn’t mean I sit at a desk all day. Sometimes it requires me to interview people from around campus for our “Wolverines of Ann Arbor” series. Sometimes it means I relive freshman year and cover Days 1, 2, and 3 of Orientation on Snapchat. Sometimes it means I actually do sit down to do my work.

When I’m at the office, I write for our social blog on topics ranging from best practices to industry innovations, as well as monthly UMSocial recaps. I also conduct and coordinate #UMichChats, which are Twitter chats that feature multiple panelists. I spend much of my time scouring Twitter as well as some of my favorite social media sites (major shoutouts to Digiday, Mashable, and Fast Company for educating me throughout the summer). And I’ve helped compile analytics across platforms and have helped to audit more than 1,000 social media accounts to streamline quality content.

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Coming into this internship, I wondered what I might learn. Being a digital native, I felt that perhaps I already knew much of the why and how behind the content I saw as I meandered my way through my favorite platforms. This summer, my eyes were opened to a world of HESM, BCC, and SEO. As my 15 weeks on the job come to a close, there are several important things I’ll take away with me:

Everything you see is curated

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Mad Men, the TV show about the “golden age of advertising,” showed us how much energy and care went into developing an ad back in the 1960s. It’s crazy to think that today, social media managers are putting that same amount of effort into each tweet, snap, and Facebook post your eyes happen to rest on.

This is something I thought I understood, but found out I really didn’t when it came time for me to write content myself. Exclamation point or period? Emoji or no? Add some adjectives or keep it simple? Each brand will craft its content differently, and understanding your brand’s tone is absolutely essential. But next time you tap through your favorite “Discover” channel, consider the effort that led to you seeing an article titled “10 Bizarre Eating Habits of U.S. Presidents”.

Social never sleepsyou never know what might happen.

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I believe I originally heard this important morsel of wisdom on my very first day of work, when it was said by U-M social media director Nikki Sunstrum during a meeting. From Olympic memes to new music releases, events happen on a 24/7 basis, and social is expected to report on them regardless of the hour.

In my short time here, Instagram redesigned its entire interface, and Snapchat changed the face of “Discover” and added “Moments.” Let’s be honest: nobody saw Pokemon GO coming. When these developments occur, it’s my job to know: to be one step ahead, to tell the story. That’s what it all comes down to. Being well-versed in social media, with access to a seemingly never-ending stream of information, means that I can hear the story before others. And I get to tell it.

Roadblocks and errors happen. You might not be able to get that Pokemon snap right on the water like you wished, and that one notable alumnus you wanted for your Twitter chat may not return your emails. Part of this internship that challenged me personally involved being more adaptable and flexible, which—as difficult as it may be to some—is essential. Welcome to the world of “don’t expect anything.” You’ll see tweets that confuse, pictures that insult and words that inspire.

You can put down your phone for an hour and nothing might happen. You can put down your phone for five minutes and everything might happen. It’s crazy, it’s exciting—it’s social media! Be ready for what may come your way, and keep yourself informed. As we like to say: be social, stay social.

If you want something, ask for it.

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Around the end of winter break last year, my dad and I were sitting on the couch as we both aimlessly perused the internet. We had been offhandedly discussing my summer plans, him continuously hinting that I needed to get a job. After throwing around lots of ideas, he finally looked me straight in the eye and asked it: “What do you really, really want to do this summer?”

In my heart of hearts, I dreamt of working in social media. And even though I worried it might be out of reach, I decided to see if I could make it happen. I had previously met Nikki Sunstrum through an experience as an editor-in-chief of my high school’s newsmagazine, and remembered I still had her contact information. So I wrote her and asked about internship possibilities.

What originated as a shot-in-the-dark email turned into me sitting here today, writing to you all.

Being here at UMSocial has been one of most fulfilling experiences of my professional life. From meeting Facebook experts at a conference, to watching a volunteer genealogist at the Clements Library beam with pride as she told me about her latest project, to walking through the fountain along with incoming freshmen, these experiences will stick with me long after I leave Ann Arbor. My gratitude runs over for those who helped me along the way these past few months. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of the UMSocial team.

Who knew you could get paid to Snapchat?

This post was written by Kelly Arnold, a sophomore at Hope College studying communications and a summer 2016 #UMSocial intern. #StaySocial with her: @KellyAArnold