It was November 2010. Cleveland was still reeling from “The Decision.” In his Syracuse University dorm room, freshman Bob O’Brien ’10 was mad at work ramping up for an important Twitter campaign. Its primary purpose: to make LeBron James “feel the pain” – through cheers and chants – when he returned to the Q with the Miami Heat Dec. 2.
Little did O’Brien know his campaign, CavsChants, would attract so much attention. He appeared on “Good Morning America” and blanketed Cleveland media. His Twitter account attracted more than 5,000 followers.
“It showed me the power of Twitter,” O’Brien says. “That’s when I started seeing social media as a potential career.”
Now a senior on the cusp of an exciting career in technology, O’Brien is more saturated in social media initiatives than ever before. At Syracuse, he’s part of an eight-person team responsible for driving the university’s social media strategy. That means formatting, gathering and cranking out content for all the university’s social media platforms. O’Brien also analyzes the social media metrics and pinpoints what methods are working and which aren’t.
“I really enjoy the digital media space,” O’Brien says, “and it’s something I think I’m good at.”
While O’Brien’s digital skills continue to grow, it was CavsChants that put him on the map. The attention his campaign received ultimately earned him a speaking slot at Syracuse’s major social media conference, #140cuse, at the end of his sophomore year.
“I don’t think I would have gotten the job had I not done that freshman year,” says O’Brien, who spoke in front of 300 people at the conference. “It was the first domino to fall, and I’m very grateful that it did.”
O’Brien’s social media wizardry and speaking skills were on display his junior year at Syracuse as well, when he shined as the Republican candidate in a mock presidential campaign.
“You were given a political persona and tasked with running a social media campaign,” he says. “I was my team’s candidate and came out on top for all three debates.
That’s no small feat, considering 18 teams were competing.
Whether he’s speaking in front of hundreds of people at a conference or conjuring political spin at the podium, O’Brien says he owes all his public speaking panache to Gilmour speech and debate teacher Gay Janis.
“I’ve been thankful for her and all that she taught me,” he says. “She taught me how to give a solid public speech and make sure people are engaged throughout. She taught me the nuances that separate a good public speaker from an exceptional one.”
O’Brien tries to learn more every day, but it’s getting to the point now where he’s teaching as much as he’s learning. The guy who follows “the tech scene closely and the Indians religiously” was recently tapped to speak at an independently organized TED event called TEDxSyracuseUniversity. His talk was titled "Diamond Minds: What Baseball Statistics Can Teach Us About Student and Teacher Evaluation."
“I'm thrilled to have been selected, and I'm especially excited to teach people about advanced baseball statistics and how we might improve other areas of our society using sabermetric principles,” he says.
An information management and technology major, O’Brien attributes his immense drive to his dad, Bob O’Brien, and mom, Ann Chiarucci O’Brien ’76 GO. While his mom nudged him toward speech and debate, working for his dad one summer –and rising daily at 6:30 a.m – had a lasting impact on him, too. “My dad showed me what it takes to succeed in this world, the kind of commitment it takes,” O’Brien says.
At 22, O’Brien is as committed as ever to his own career, looming largely on the horizon. He knows his social media and tech talents will help him foray into any number of fields, though today he’s setting his sights on communications and public relations jobs, like the one he had at Edelman in New York last summer.
“I’m ready for the real world,” he says. “I think.”
Favorite place to unwind:
In our sunroom back home, especially when it’s raining
Best advice someone’s given you:
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Also, “When you meet someone important, take your coffee black. It sets the tone.”
My grandparents’ gnocchi
Singapore or Hawaii
The first thing you do in the morning:
Roll out of bed and make my coffee