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The immense opportunity that comes with social media isn't lost on today's featured PLANOLEADER; in fact, you could say it's the driving motivation behind her role. Enter Colleen Donnelly, the Senior Manager of Social and Content at (RED). With her passion for social justice and innate talent in the digital space, Colleen has been able to bridge the divide between philanthropy and content to create content with real impact. Colleen's unique experiences and singular focus in telling social stories that educate and inspire people to get involved in (RED)'s important mission left us wanting to know more. So, we recently stopped by (RED)'s New York office in Chelsea, Manhattan where Colleen kindly gave us a tour of the space and spoke more about the unique rewards (and challenges) of creating content through a social good lens. Discover our full interview below.
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Colleen, and I lead social media at (RED), the nonprofit founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to engage people and companies in the fight to end AIDS.
Before (RED), what were you up to professionally, what role did digital play in your job description, and what have been some notable moments throughout your career so far?
Social media wasn't the original path I chose — but it was one that became a natural fit for me once I discovered my passion for social justice. I attended College of the Holy Cross where I studied Classics and Peace & Conflict Studies. I had the incredible opportunity to study and intern at a nonprofit in Kibera, the second largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. It was through this experience that I decided to pursue a career in social good — and social media felt like the most powerful medium to create real change. I ran social media at a tech-startup before joining (RED) in 2013. It was the perfect experience to prepare me for (RED) which is always focused on finding new, exciting ways to engage people with the AIDS fight. Most notable moments in my career thus-far include: winning a Shorty Award in 2017 for Best Hashtag, contributing to the work that has now seen (RED) deliver half a billion dollars to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, and live-tweeting, Instagramming etc. from a pop-up concert in Times Square on World AIDS Day in 2015 with U2, Chris Martin, Kanye West, Carrie Underwood and Bruce Springsteen.
Talk to us more about the unique challenges (and rewards) of planning and creating social content for a nonprofit. What has been your favorite part of developing (RED)'s distinct look and feel on Instagram?
My primary challenge at (RED) is creating content that will grab people's attention and inspire them to get involved with the AIDS fight in 2018 — a time where there are so many issues calling on people's attention at home and abroad. How do we let our generation know that we can end this treatable, preventable disease once, and inspire them to help reach that goal by supporting (RED), all in one tweet or post? That's a question I ask myself every day at (RED). But here's the big opportunity. Social media is a platform for social justice, and it's a huge benefit that social media knows no boundaries. It means anyone, anywhere, can support (RED).
Walk us through your day-to-day. How much would you say your role has evolved since first starting with (RED). At the moment, what is your favorite part of the job?
There's definitely no two days that look the same, and I love that about working at (RED)! We are a small but mighty social media team of two, and we work really closely with all the other teams at (RED) to make sure our social media presence is the best it can be for (RED), our partners, our supporters... and of course our followers. When I started working at (RED) in 2013, I was managing the day to day, drafting copy and briefing design on creative needs, engaging with our community and coming up with new ways to grow our audience. Now, I've moved into a role that focuses more on strategy, the big picture and really focusing on reach and engagement. I'm focused more on how to align (RED)'s social media objectives with the organization's broader objectives, and leading social campaigns that help us raise awareness and money awareness for the AIDS fight. My favorite part about my job is that every day, I'm able to communicate with our social audience of over 6 million people, and hopefully inspire them to join the fight around an issue I'm so passionate about.
How have you learned to strike a balance in planning/creating content that is promotional vs. educational?
The way I design our strategy is all around engagement. We tell stories and ask questions with content that is designed to establish a relationship with our followers directly on the platform. This has turned our following into a true community — who will, in turn, trust us when we do ask them to take action during our big campaigns — EAT (RED) SAVE LIVES in June and (SHOPATHON)RED in December. We've built the strategy with our audience in mind — they are primed and ready to buy a product or take a (RED) action when we ask them because we've provided educational, inspirational content that gives people exciting reasons to be a part of the (RED) community.
What does the idea of "planning" mean to you and your role at (RED)? Can you share any previews or insights into your current plan for (RED) this year?
I strongly believe that the more you can plan ahead, the more headspace you will have for creativity and new ideas. At the same time, social media is rapidly changing, and you can never predict what is going to be 'trending' or what new platforms will arise — so as much as you plan, you have to be ready to jump on what's hot when it's right for your brand.
2018 is a big year at (RED) — it's for sure going to be our biggest and best yet. We're already in the thick of planning our 5th annual EAT (RED) SAVE LIVES campaign which will kick off this June. All I'll say for now is get ready to be tweeting, eating and fighting AIDS with us all month long.
In your opinion, who are a few brands or individuals in the nonprofit, social good, or wellness space that we should be keeping an eye on or follow immediately?
@ONECampaign — (RED)'s sister organization — keep an eye on for their relevant and powerful #PovertyIsSexist campaign. @BrandenHarvey — his mission is to tell stories of good in the world, and you won't regret following him! @NickKristof — a journalist I've been following for nearly ten years who champions unsung heroes and social justice in one of the most compelling ways.
Based on your experience in this particular industry, what are your top best practices or tips for those looking to plan and share impactful content in this space?
- Be human. When drafting copy or a creative concept, make it colloquial in a way that's true to your brand voice. For example, if we have a somewhat complicated AIDS statistic I want to share, I think about how I'd explain it to a friend at a bar, then translate that to social media. Your followers will respond to it and trust you more for it.
- Take risks. Managing social media is one of the only jobs where you will get immediate feedback — once you share content, you're instantly able to tell whether your audience responds to it or not. This means social media is the perfect platform to test new types of content, variations on your brand voice and more — then learn from it and apply those insights to your strategy.
- Seek inspiration from unexpected places. I've found that some of my best ideas haven't come from looking at what other brands are doing on social media — but from museums, books, podcasts and other storytelling mediums that have nothing to do with marketing. You'll be surprised by what you can find if you lift your head up from your phone and open yourself up to what's out there.