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Think you have what it takes for a career in social media?

Can you deliver a bold idea in 140 characters? Social media manager Colleen Donnelly shares what you need to 'make it' in her industry.

Think you have what it takes for a career in social media?

Colleen Donnelly, social media and content manager at (RED)

Social media marketing is invaluable to a nonprofit’s mission and can be very powerful in educating audiences and raising awareness for a cause. While many might think this role simply means posting to social media channels like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all day, the job is more than it seems.

Colleen Donnelly, 24, social media and content manager at (RED), an organization founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to get businesses and people involved in the fight against AIDS, shares what it takes to successfully engage a digital audience of more than five million people daily and what you need to get hired for a role like hers.

You have to be educated to educate an audience

In order to create social media content for a nonprofit you must know, and more importantly, understand the facts and history for the cause you’re fighting for.

Donnelley discovered her passion for social justice in college but it wasn’t until she interned in Kibera, the second largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa, that she truly understood the reality of injustice that plagues the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. There, she implemented a new funding program at a community development organization and shared stories of residents who had been affected by the post-election violence of 2008.

This empowered her to seek a career path where she could make sure others were educated about the challenges facing the developing world and not ignoring the issues.

Diverse experiences will teach you necessary skills

After her graduation, Donnelly landed a six-month marketing internship for a nonprofit that provides microloans to those living on less than $1.25 per day.

“It was through this internship that I learned the power of social media to capture the world’s attention. I was hooked,” she said.

Donnelly then joined a tech startup, which was the perfect opportunity for her to learn more about social media and digital technology. While working at a tech startup was never part of her plan, it taught her how to thrive in a fast-paced environment and remain articulate and ambitious in high-stress situations. It also gave her the opportunity to improve her technical skills, which helped her land her current job.

“When I was offered the job, (RED) had only been around for seven years, yet it had accomplished so much in so little time. It was the first nonprofit to amass a Twitter and Facebook following of over one million people. And it was a nonprofit whose work was making a significant impact on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Donnelly. “I felt the culmination of all of my experiences come together.”

Create content with passion

When creating content for (RED) Donnelly asks herself, “Does this inspire me?” If the answer is no, she won’t post it.

“Our digital mantra fits within 140 characters,” she said. “Participation not promotion. Dialogue not monologue. Leading not following. Empowering not excluding. Inspiring not forcing.”

For Donnelly, passion drives success and she believes if you creatively apply that to your work, you’ll become an expert and stand out. When creating strategic activations for (RED) campaigns, she has one motto: “Focus on bold ideas that require creative participation. Scrap ideas that require a credit card or a car because most millennials have neither.”

Don’t stand by and wait, be proactive

Donnelly’s advice to those seeking a career in social media is to be resourceful and pro-active.

“Make a list of the organizations you’re passionate about and go on [social media] to find out who works there. Don’t be afraid to ask them to coffee for an informational interview.” She suggests, “There is a world of incredible programs out there that need volunteers and that offer the kind of hands-on experience that looks great on resumes.”

The nonprofit sector consists of organizations like (RED) that are small and mighty, and because of their size, they’re looking for candidates who can wear multiple hats.

Donnelly’s last piece of advice is, “Be lovingly assertive, and most importantly, don’t fear failure and always stay humble.”


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