Will Work for Follows: Hiring a Community Manager

Keith Hannon is the assistant director for social media at Cornell University.

During the past few months, several peers at other institutions have asked me for my job description. Typically, I just forward the job description my supervisor posted when he was hiring for my position, but lately I have been thinking about how hard it is to determine whether or not someone would make a good social media or community manager. There aren’t too many people out there with a bachelor’s in social media, so determining who is worthy of owning the keys to your institution’s social media castle can be a challenge.

While living and working in Hollywood for seven years, I met many talented people whose jobs couldn’t be further from their career aspirations. I’ll shoot straight with you—I was one of those people. With a degree in video production and ambitions to write and perform comedy, I spent my days working as a production assistant for Nickelodeon. If you’re not familiar with the entertainment industry, production assistant is short for “shut up, do what you’re told, and feel lucky we’re paying you.” The skills I had developed in college grew dustier with each passing year. Just when I thought my life would be devoted to meeting the demands of 10-year-old divas, something interesting happened.

(Keith Hannon circa 2005)

(Keith Hannon circa 2005)


Facebook and Myspace were just beginning to fight it out for online social supremecy, Youtube was starting to heat up and most relevant to me, social gaming was creating online communities at an unprecedented rate. Anxious for a change of scenery, I decided to roll the dice on a new gig with an online game publisher looking for someone with sports journalism experience.  I would be the new community manager of its sports-themed virtual world. In college, I was the voice of the Ithaca college football team for four years, a sports anchor for the school’s TV station and an intern at the “Best Damn Sports Show Period.” I was excited to be back in a sports-centric industry. My only experience with virtual worlds was the five minutes I had spent in Second Life before a guy approached me and asked if I knew where he could get a gun. I was hoping this position would be a little more wholesome.

What I thought would be a sports writing job turned out to be much more. Learning the online community management business opened my mind to a whole new world of entertainment possibilities. All of a sudden, that dusty communications degree was alive and well as I began crafting content to engage more than 300K monthly uniques! Fast forward a couple of years and I’m staring down the barrel of parenthood. Instantly the City of Angels becomes undesirable. Luckily for me, Cornell’s alumni affairs office was looking for a community manager and was willing to take a chance on a Hollywood drop-out.

Most community managers agree that each social network requires its own unique touch. Spreading one piece of content across all of your networks is a sure way to scare off your followers. While the content should be different, the goal is usually the same—to tell a compelling story. Whether recapping an event, highlighting an alumnus in the news, spreading a campus press release, gamifying a piece of nostalgia or producing a video, community managers are storytellers. The specific platform dictates HOW we tell the story and that’s the real challenge.

Certainly enthusiasm and familiarity with the tech sector and with social media are important, but I’m of the opinion that it’s crucial to find someone who can tell a story both in 140 characters and in a 1:40 video. In alumni affairs and development, we frequently talk about how we have to compete for donors with other nonprofits. In social media, we’re not comepting directly for an alum’s wallet, but we are competing for their attention—which is a much more daunting proposition. With an endless number of distractions on social media platforms, mobile devices and the web, it’s imperative that we craft an engaging story to draw them in. To be successful, you need someone who knows how to not only communicate but also entertain.

Am I a tad biased? Probably, but I think you have to consider what we’re after. We want Facebook posts that generate comments and likes. We want tweets that are catchy enough to be clicked on and retweeted. We want videos that strike a chord in the hearts of our constituencies and that have the potential to go viral. The frontier of alumni events is clearly livestream and that requires someone who is both video production-savvy and story-minded.

Social media is a serious business but there are skeptics out there who fail to understand how important these channels of communication are to institutions. If social media is going to be taken seriously in higher education, we need people who can produce compelling content on a regular basis.

If you’re looking for a community manager, don’t look for someone with a lot of social media experience, because you could be looking for a long time. Instead, look for someone who has the production training, creativity and personality that enables them to convey the story that is unique to your institution.

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