In a difficult economy of rising unemployment, struggling newspapers and advertising agency cutbacks, Alexa Robinson graduated this year from the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill with a degree in... journalism and advertising. But she wound up finding a position that carried an entirely new job title -- one that didn't even exist when she started at UNC -- "Twintern."
As Pizza Hut's first-ever Twitter intern (Twitter + intern, hence, "Twintern"), the 22-year-old Greensboro NC native has been on the job in Dallas since late June. Alexa took time from her 140-character-a-message day to talk to Nielsen about what it's like to be entrenched in the social media campaign of one of the country's largest food brands. (Disclosure: YUM! Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, is a Nielsen client). Pizza Hut's Twitter account had roughly 3,000 followers when Robinson started, and it now has 15,000-plus followers; she's Tweeted about giveaways, promotions, new products, the Pizza Hut iPhone app, menu changes and more, and invited fans to send Tweets about their favorite foods/vacation photos/celebs).
Q. Is a "Twintern" what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Alexa Robinson: When I headed off to college, I was an undecided non-major. Until the end of my sophomore year, I just took general college arts-sciences classes, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. When it came time to declare a major, I thought about business, but I decided I would take an intro class to the journalism school, with advertising as my major. I thought that advertising looked fun, and I was curious about it. I'm really glad that I did, because I had an incredible experience. All the professors I had were amazing, and well-versed in everything that they taught, and many of them had been in the industry. During my last semester, I took a New Media class, where we discussed Twitter, Facebook, mobile marketing, social media...all of the changes going on in the world of media. I had been involved in social media before that class, but it definitely gave me an idea about how social media was going to transform the marketing and PR worlds.
Q. How did you find out about the "Twintern" job opening? What intrigued you about it?
A.R.: My parents both graduated with degrees in journalism, and my mother was watching CNN toward the end of April, and saw a news interview with Pizza Hut's VP of marketing, Bob Kraut, about his plans to hire a Twintern. She called me and told me, ‘I just saw this job position on CNN, and I think it's really up your alley. I really think you should apply.' I had nearly forgotten about it when I got a call from Pizza Hut's HR department for a phone interview, and I was surprised. It was a great opportunity and I jumped at the chance to talk to them. It's unreal to me that I got chosen."
Q. What's been most surprising about the job so far?
A.R.: I had no clue what to expect coming in. I knew I was going to be in charge of the Twitter account and engaging with our followers there, hoping to increase the amount of awareness about Pizza Hut on Twitter. I think the most surprising thing has been how open the senior management is to the fact that my position exists and of moving further into the social media space in general. I know a lot of companies are hesitant about getting involved in the online space, or they're not sure it's a place for their brand. None of that hesitation is present at Pizza Hut. It definitely reflects on the company as an innovative leader. Brands want to be where their consumers are, and where those consumers are having a conversation. You definitely want to be a part of that so you can contribute more. If your consumers are all on Twitter, why wouldn't you join in? That's Pizza Hut's philosophy. Obviously there are risks to getting involved, but I think they're necessary risks if you want to get involved and converse with your consumers."
Q: What's been the reaction on Twitter?
A.R.:"A lot of people who didn't know about the Twinternship position were surprised when I started tweeting so much about so many different things. When I started, it sparked a lot of conversation - not just on Twitter but about companies and brands that are on Twitter, and I think that's been good for the social media space. I don't think Twitter is just a fad. It has so many different applications, and people use it for so many different things - personal, business, networking - that I think there are a lot of different ways that brands can spin it in the future. And I've learned a lot about what kind of voice companies and brands are using on Twitter, and watching what other companies are doing in the social media space. I'd like to create a general awareness of how Pizza Hut is involved in the online space...and look for other places to explore that we aren't in yet. I hope to leave some sort of mark...
Q: Pizza Hut just announced a program to "Send the Twintern to the edge" to promote its new Edge Pizza. Consumers are asked to suggest "on the edge" places in America to send you to deliver pizza. Are you up the challenge?
A.R.: Sure. We have just started taking entries. I'm hoping I'll get to go to some pretty neat places. I think it'll be a really good contest.