Virgin founder Richard Branson says part of an executive’s job is to have a social media presence: “Your brand is all-important, and an essential part of the brand is how it’s seen through Twitter and Facebook.”

The board of the Texas Computer Education Association would agree. They believe their CEO, Lori Gracey, should have a social media presence too. And she does.

I know what you’re thinking: of course she does, she runs an association devoted to the use of technology in education. That’s true, but Lori has the same challenges as any other association CEO: finding time for social media and managing the personal/professional divide.

Social media at work

She manages two Twitter accounts, her own and TCEA’s. She doesn’t post much on her personal account, but she says she’s an avid reader of tweets from experts in education technology:

“It’s how I stay current. I check Twitter four to five times a day to see conversations, what’s trending, what I need to know about. If I have questions, I ask them on Twitter and get answers from educators all over the world.”

She’s the only one on staff who posts to the TCEA Twitter account, but three of them update the Facebook page. They keep a social media calendar to collaborate on topics for upcoming months.

TCEA’s education, membership, advocacy, and IT staff use social media, especially for their own professional development. Lori says, “I encourage staff to use it. It’s the nature of who we are, an education technology association. We email back and forth about who we follow and what we’re reading.”

Lori’s also a social media advocate and trainer for her members — teachers, librarians, and principals. “Social media is great tool for them. You may be the only algebra teacher in your district, but need help with a problem one of your students is having. Without social media, you’re by yourself, but with it, you can reach out to algebra teachers around the world.”

Engaging with members and prospects

The entire staff has responsibility for managing specific groups in TCEA’s MemberFuse online community. Even the secretary manages the group for 2nd grade teachers. “Not everyone is an educator,” says Lori, “but they can look for resources, pass them by me first, and post them.”

The staff monitors group discussions, highlights posts, and most importantly, welcomes new participants. Lori says, “When a member posts something for the first time, that initial response is so important. It’s their first dip into the pool, and we need to be there to encourage them.”

TCEA uses Twitter and Facebook to not only engage members, but also prospects. “People want to know who you are before they give you money. With social media, they get to know you better, what your interests are, what you’re responding to. With tweets, they get short real answers, unlike long scripted emails.”

Lori also emphasizes the importance of listening and monitoring social media to know who’s mentioning the organization and what they’re saying about you. She stresses the need to respond to people, to thank them or let them know you’ll fix a situation. “That’s the most powerful reason to use social media – the immediate response everyone sees. It helps to grow the organization’s reputation and membership.”

The personal/professional divide

Like many CEOs, Lori keeps Facebook personal. “If you keep it personal, you don’t have to worry about offending anyone with your football preferences.” When members ask to friend her, she tells them she only uses Facebook with family, but she’d love to talk to them on Twitter.

Tips for newly social CEOs

When Lori leads Twitter training sessions for fellow association executives, the first question is always: “How do you find the time?” When Lori started out, she followed about ten people and read tweets for five minutes every night before bed. “It wasn’t overwhelming,” she says.

Her advice dispels anxiety about time management and public perception. “Don’t worry about posting,” she says. “Just read and learn from others. You don’t have to contribute right away. You don’t have to spend time thinking about the proper way to say something or finding things to share.”

Whom to follow? Lori says, “Find conference speakers, start with them. They’ll mention other people worth following.” She has stepped up her Twitter activity since her early days and now uses Tweetdeck as a Twitter dashboard.

Why does she make the time? “I know so much more in my job simply because of using Twitter,” she says. “It’s hard to know everything as a CEO, there’s just not the time. But I have people on Twitter who, in a way, are working for me. They’re answering my questions and gathering the information I need. They’re there to help. You don’t get that anywhere else, that immediate and overwhelming response. And it’s all free. It doesn’t take that much time, but makes a huge difference.”

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer whose life and knowledge, like Lori’s, has been greatly enhanced by Twitter.