4 min Read
March 1, 2012

Social Media for Nonprofit CEOs—How one Executive Director manages it

Over the past year, Sarah and I have been offering workshops to nonprofit CEOS, executive directors, and senior leaders on how they should manage social media for their nonprofits. In these conversations we discuss:

  • The evolving definition of social media and popular channels
  • Thinking about social media as part of a broader communications strategy
  • Understanding who should staff it and how much time it takes
  • Elements of social media guidelines

We end each session with a review of how some nonprofit leaders are using social media. Inevitably, questions about the blurring lines of personal and professional brands quickly rise to the top. To help leaders better understand how they might navigate questions of time and content, I asked one executive director how she does it. What follows are excerpts from a conversation I had with Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research Center (ARC), a racial justice think tank and home for media and activism:

How much time do you spend on social media?

I spend approximately one hour every day. I usually check my pages and profiles some time before 9:30am, after 8:30pm, and at least two other times throughout the day. This time includes publishing updates, sharing content and ideas, and responding to comments. While I scan what’s happening on the primary pages and profiles for ARC, someone else manages those accounts directly. This time is dedicated to my use of Facebook and Twitter.

How is your use of Facebook and Twitter the same and how does it differ?

I use Twitter more professionally and politically. I tried tweeting personal thoughts, but they didn’t get much response. On Facebook, I post updates that range the gamut–from articles in our Colorlines publication and news about our trainings to videos I find poignant and even when I’ve had a great meal. It can sometimes surprise me which posts get more of a reaction (likes, comments, shares), so I like to experiment. I actually reached the limit of having 5,000 friends, so I started a page as a public figure and have been working to move my contacts and conversation there.

I probably post more often on Twitter. Twitter is great for moment-by-moment conversations (like live-tweeting the Oscars), but that frequency can turn people off in Facebook. When I first got started I had my Facebook and Twitter accounts linked, so anytime I posted on one channel it would automatically appear on the other. I soon learned that was annoying to my followers. The language of Twitter (e.g. saying RT or mentioning someone with an @ or putting a # in front of a word) doesn’t translate to Facebook and the length or way you tag on Facebook doesn’t work well within the confines of Twitter.

Your Twitter handle (@RinkuWrites) includes the name of your organization. What was behind your thinking to connect your personal brand to your organization’s brand so closely?

I have worked at the Applied Research Center for over 10 years. There is little I say or do publicly that is not already connected to ARC. I’m careful about what I share online, just as I am with conversations I have in-person. I’ve thought about changing my handle to just @RinkuSen because it is that much shorter and easier to remember, and I might do that. Even so, I’d still focus my tweets around our work to popularize racial justice and note my role as ARC’s executive director in my bio.

What about LinkedIn and other channels?

I know that LinkedIn is important for professional networking, but I don’t really get a lot out of it. I have my assistant check it periodically for requests and such, and I look at it once or twice a year, but that’s it. I also blog several times/month and learn a lot by seeing which pieces trigger the most conversation.

Do you have any advice for other nonprofit CEOs who are questioning the need or value to spend their own time in social media?

I see social media as part of my job representing the organization and being a thought leader. I don’t see how any executive director of a relatively public nonprofit could avoid it. In the future, I can imagine board of directors’ evaluating their executive director’s use of social media as part of their annual review.

If you are nervous, start with one channel and build your confidence and community. It took me about nine months of writing tweets and status updates until I really felt like I got the hang of it. Along the way, I’ve gotten better by asking my staff for feedback and seeing which tweets or updates get the most responses.

You can follow and connect with Rinku: