Social media strategists share ways for brands to engage with audiences


Elle Love

UNO PRSSA hosted a virtual speaker event with Andrea Hennings and Kacie Hughes, two professionals with varied backgrounds in social media and brand management. Graphic courtesy of Kylie Squiers/The Gateway.

Henry Doorly Zoo’s Community Engagement Manager Andrea Hennings and Flywheel’s Communication Manager Kacie Hughes met virtually with the UNO PRSSA Chapter to discuss ways they continue to engage their brands with audiences through social media.

Hennings has worked at the Henry Doorly Zoo for 14 years, handling the Zoo’s social media and website and doing videography and photography work for the Zoo and the Wildlife Safari Park in Ashland, Nebraska. She is the first to take on the role of the Henry Doorly Zoo’s Communication Engagement Manager for eight years.

Hennings graduated from UNO in 2010 as a journalism and media communications major with a minor in geography. Afterwards, she interned for Silicon Prairie News and worked at various companies including Hayneedle, the Omaha World-Herald and Bailey Lauerman, an independent advertising agency headquartered in Omaha. While working at Bailey Lauerman, she said she found her niche as she worked with the Henry Doorly Zoo. There, she gets to do her favorite tasks of snapping shots with animals and filing for storytelling, she said.

“Anytime, I get to introduce myself to anybody or if they see a zoo local, they’ll ask if I get to work with the animals and I give them a jumbled answer of ‘yes, I do,’” Hennings said. “I get to go behind the scenes and help tell the conservation stories of keepers, their animals and what they get to do at the Zoo,” Hennings said.

The Zoo hires professional photographers for larger campaigns, but for the most part, Hennings and her team take the photos. During the pandemic, Hennings and her team collaborated with Millard Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, to tell the story of rehabilitating newly-arrived snow leopard cubs with swimmer’s syndrome because of the zoo’s best reputation for behavioral husbandry.

“That was one of my favorite stories because despite circumstances relating to the pandemic, two zoos were able to do good for the animals,” Hennings said.

For her part, Hughes has worked at Flywheel for three years, taking on many roles such as content manager, social media specialist and, currently, communications manager.

“With Flywheel, I love the versatility and getting to do a bunch of different roles and taking this really ‘boring software’ and turn it into fun. Like for example, we did a Fly July where it’s a Tasty-like videos of fun recipes like making Lemonades in July as a whimsical way to promote our sales,” Hughes said. “And, when I’m not doing social, it’s working with our leaders and telling stories of how they have impacted the business or the WordPress community in Omaha.”

Hughes manages not only Flywheel’s social media, but also WordPress, the company that purchased Flywheel in 2020. Hughes’ work focuses on customer communications, PR strategy and media relations.

“My job title as ‘communications manager’ is very broad, so I’m not pigeon-holed into only doing social media or press releases,” Hughes said.

Both Hemmings and Hughes agreed that adaptability plays a role in excelling in PR roles during the pandemic along with being empathetic to others in the workplace.

“Do not be afraid to reach out to anyone whenever you need help,” Hennings said.

“Empathy plays a huge role in the PR world,” Hughes said. “You have to adapt, empathize, and be realistic but also, don’t forget to stay on top of the news.”