Q&A with Kellen Manning

April 29, 2014

I approached Kellen Manning a week ago to see if he’d be willing to answer some questions about his work. Kellen manages social media for MIT’s Division of Student Life.

Kellen, what’s the hardest part of managing social media for your department?

Probably the fact that before I got here social media in my department wasn’t a priority, so everything was new. We didn’t really know our audience, what would work, what wouldn’t work, or if we even had an audience at all. So the act of building an audience and engaging with said audience in ways that interest them was and has been a challenge. As time goes on, we are taking more chances with content and replying, so the gap between what we know and what we don’t is getting smaller. But, due to the nature of working with students, the audience and their needs are constantly changing. So, it’s a process.

What tools do you use to help you do your job?

We are using Hootsuite Pro for the bulk of our posts. We use it to follow conversations that are going across Twitter that may be about MIT or something related to MIT. I’m constantly searching keywords for tweets to respond to, as well as to retweet.

How long have you been managing your department’s social media? What’s one lesson you’ve learned in that time?

I’ve been managing social media for the Division of Student Life since September 2013. The one lesson I’ve learned is that despite what I was told when I started, MIT students are definitely active on Twitter.

You say MIT students are active on Twitter; how have you been able to get them engaged with the Division of Student Life? 

Ah, good question. There are actually a number of ways we do it, and a lot of times it's just responding when students have questions, asking questions, and keeping conversations going. 

In these examples, students merely responded to something we wrote, and we responded with ways to help them, whether it was to push their blog to our audience or to calm their fears. Once, a prospective student responded to our tweet stating how nervous she was about Pi Day. A simple "good luck" seemed to go a long way.

My favorite type of interaction, though, tends to be with students who don’t follow. On Hootsuite I track a lot of keywords ("mit student", #MIT, “MIT diversity", etc.) so I get to see a lot of tweets that I normally wouldn't get to see on my basic timeline. One example is an incoming student who mentioned his lack of photography skills. I responded by tagging @ArtsatMIT with a mention that they could help. They picked up where we left off and told him about photo classes at MIT. And of course he started following @MITstudents after that. 

I've found that the most important part of engaging with students on Twitter is to listen and respond. Even just retweeting something interesting that they say goes a long way in gaining their attention. 

What do you read/watch/listen to that helps you stay on trend? What are your resources to help you keep learning more about social media?

Well, first off I check Fast Company, Digiday, and Mashable fairly regularly for updates. I learn about the what, how, and where of social media from these three.

From a voice and engagement standpoint, I always think about a quote from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki. He was speaking about the state of anime and the basic problems he sees with the genre and medium at large. Basically he said the problem with anime is that there is a whole generation of creators who grew up devoted to anime, and they use what they’ve seen in other anime films/shows to influence their work.  This leads to their work coming off as inauthentic. What they should have focused on was actual human interaction, and let those real-life scenarios influence them. So, while I definitely pay attention to people who work in my field, I tend to pay more attention to conversations I see on Twitter on a daily basis. I also try to take as much as I can from how people interact offline. Taking elements from that goes a long way in connecting with your audience.

What are your favorite people or brands to follow on social media?

The first brand I can think of is Waffle House.  I have actually become obsessed with their account out of a mixture of forehead-slapping hate and general admiration. Waffle House does an amazing job of engaging their audience. They are constantly replying and retweeting, which is an aspect of Twitter that I love doing. Their voice tends to come off a bit forced with the use of dated slang and overreliance on trying to be funny. That double-edged sword of excellent engagement, while being unafraid to try things, no matter how bad it seems, fascinates  me.  

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Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Former MIT Social Media Strategist

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