Marist Alum Running Michelle Obama's Social Media


By Margaret Price

“We work in an amazing place where we do incredible things,” was Kelsey Donohue’s, a Marist alumna of the Class of 2013, mantra during her time working in the White House as First Lady, Michelle Obama’s, Assistant Press Secretary.

Citing the opportunity she had working in the White House within two years after graduation helped Donohue to get through days that “felt more like an episode of Veep than real life.” She never imagined she would be telling stories of corralling two Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, and R2D2 from the cast of Star Wars across the White House colonnade.

The network she built in Washington led her to her position on First Lady Michelle Obama’s communications team. The team was small, only four individuals. Donohue recognized she saw more effective results from running around and going to events, than sitting behind a desk all day.

Donohue visited Marist on Monday as the inaugural speaker for the new Center for Social Media, an exciting addition to the School of Communications and the Arts.

Kelsey Donohue with Marist communications professor Jennie Donohue. Photo courtesy of Margaret Price.   

Kelsey Donohue with Marist communications professor Jennie Donohue. Photo courtesy of Margaret Price.   

The Center aims to educate students on both using and consuming social media. Monday’s event was the first of a variety of speakers and workshops the Center is planning to host for the semester.

Donohue was originally at Marist as an education major—she sought to combine communications with her passion for working with students to create a career.

Prior to her time in the White House, Donohue interned for the Department of Education in Washington D.C. Her internship led to a full-time job at the Department of Education. She also gained experience at EMILY’s List, an organization determined to elect Democratic women into higher, leadership roles in government.  

The goal of the First Lady’s communications team was to “peel back the curtains of the White House” through all of Mrs. Obama’s social media platforms. The Obama’s often referred to the White House as, “The People’s House.”

The First Lady worked closely with the team from the start—as she  often suggested ideas or tweaked ideas the team presented.

During Donohue’s time in the White House, the team created a Snapchat account for Mrs. Obama, in order to align with the Michelle Obama’s vision to “preserve authenticity” in the White House. Instagram, Twitter, partnerships, and influencers were the primary channels for reaching the public prior to Snapchat. Along with providing a look into the White House, the accounts served to promote initiatives, like “Let Girls Learn” and “Reach Higher.”

As for branding, Donohue explained the concept of “buckets.” The First Lady played a variety of roles in her life, for example, being a mom and a politician and an activist. These are just a few of her buckets. Before posting anything the communications team asked, “does this fit in a bucket?” Donohue encourages us to find out what our buckets are and to discover issues we are passionate about.

Donohue attributes many of her management and teamwork skills to her experience working as an orientation leader and tour guide at Marist.

She offered students the advice of “always moving forward and being mindful,” continuing with sharing her own  method of following journalists involved in every issue she touches and keep an eye out for influencers.

Staying connected and offering support to the Marist community is valuable to Donohue, as she is eager to lend a hand to current students and recent graduates by reviewing their resumes.

Margaret Price