Alumni Profile - Melissa Cheater, BA '06There’s no way she could have known this growing up, but it’s fitting that both Melissa Cheater and Facebook, currently the largest social networking site on the planet, both entered the public realm at nearly the same time in 2006.
Facebook opened itself up for global public use that year, while Cheater looked to launch a career and put herself out into the global job market. But while Facebook had only been around since 2004, Cheater was already on her way to becoming a social media guru well before that time.
“I hit the job market with ten or so years-experience building websites, almost as many working in social services & non-profit, and a theoretical understanding of what social networks were and why people used them,” she says.
Today, as Western University’s Digital Content Manager, the 29-year old is immersed daily in social media practice and theory, and is responsible for guiding the university through a rapidly changing digital communications landscape. It’s a position that allows her to show off her pride for her alma mater.
“I get to spend the day creating online stories and experiences that show off the school that had a lot to do with who I've turned into, and the campus that I proudly showed to my grandparents when they visited from Newfoundland,” she says.
Cheater used her undergraduate studies in Media & the Public Interest (MPI) in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies to beef up what were already keen interests in digital communications and non-profit, public service.
Combining studies in web design and social networking theory with subjects like social justice, guerrilla marketing and activism, Cheater explains that she built on themes that began as a youngster, when she worked with the YMCA and the City of Cambridge on youth and community-related projects.
“MPI did an incredible job of teaching us how to dig deeper than real-time and look for the driving cultural influences behind trends and perception. It's one thing to see how youth and other communities are seen and treated but the power is in understanding why and looking at the people doing the looking, instead of only looking at the end result,” she says.
In the mid-90’s, Cheater describes how she began experimenting with building websites, and by the time she reached university she had become “obsessed” with user-centric design and information architecture.
“I'm the nerd that lives to build site maps and wireframes for websites,” she says. “And then MySpace happened and I fell in love with what I saw. There had been previous social networks but I'd never seen one so widely adopted and embraced. I'm still a little upset that we lost that one, it was like my first love.”
After graduation in 2006, Cheater signed on with Academica Group – a marketing and research agency that specializes in higher education. New technologies meant that helping schools navigate a rapidly changing communications environment was about to become a big part of Academica’s portfolio, and Cheater was a key contributor for three years.
In 2009 she joined Ivey Business School at Western University, explaining that it gave her the chance to “put strategies into place rather than simply preaching from my agency office and reports.”
Then, in 2012, Western created the new position of Digital Content Manager. Cheater applied, landed the job, and continues to evolve into the role today. She uses social media to stay connected to all of the communities attached to the university – current students, prospective students, employees and alumni. Alumni, in particular, are an audience with which she strives to engage.
“The university experience doesn't have to end at Convocation any more - we can listen to and cheer for our students through their mid-terms and finals, we can enjoy their happy grad photos and career milestones with them,” she says.
Managing social media for an institution as large as Western is really a 24-hour a day job. But Cheater is someone who embraces that aspect, as the distinction between her job and outside life are somewhat blurred. Not everyone would be pleased by that, but for Cheater, it’s natural.
“I'm lucky - I can spend an hour on Vine or Instagram and it's entertainment, connecting with loved ones and friends and research for work all at the same time,” she explains.
“I follow everyone from puppy pictures to tech news, industry people to friends and family and love every second of it, and am constantly monitoring how they are using technologies and bringing it into work the next day.”
Connect with Melissa online:
Connect with FIMS online:
FIMS on Facebook
Connect with Western online:
Western’s Facebook page
Western on Twitter
Western on Instagram
Western on YouTube