Your firm has decided to engage in social networking. You’ve set up accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even Google Plus or Pinterest. But nothing much seems to be happening: you’re not getting followers, and no one seems to be interacting with you or your posts and updates. Are you doing social networking wrong, or is it just not productive for lawyers? Let’s find out.
Many lawyers forget that the key to social networking is actually networking. In real life, if you went to a networking event, you wouldn’t just walk around the room and talk about yourself, your law practice, your latest case, etc. Although some of those things might come up in conversation, if you were an effective networker, you would listen much more than you speak (remember: two ears, only one mouth!), you would find out what others were interested in, what they were doing, and how you could help them. You would ask questions and seek advice from others. You’d talk about more than just the law. You might even occasionally discuss personal interests or vacations.
The same principles apply online. If it’s all about you, few people will be interested, and if all you ever talk about is the law, people will tune out.
Also, keep in mind that each social network has its own culture and customs, the same way different groups in real life have different norms and conventions. What is perfectly appropriate on Facebook might not be quite as accepted on LinkedIn. That being said, there are some basic things you can do across all networks to improve interaction:
Listen (Follow). At a networking event, you can’t listen to what others are saying unless you start a conversation or join a group. Online, that means following and connecting with others. On LinkedIn, make connections, join Groups and read the discussions. On Twitter and Google Plus, follow those with similar interests, industry leaders, and people who might be good referral sources (or clients). Look for relevant Google+ Communities to join. Check your streams to see what they’re talking about. On Facebook, invite Friends to connect with you, follow Pages, and check your News Feed regularly.
Initiate conversation. If you want people to engage with you, you need to engage with them. They need to know you exist. If your firm has a presence on any of the social networks, make sure it’s easy to find; put links in your email signature and on your website. Reach out by sending personal messages directly to individuals, liking or sharing others’ content, re-tweeting, or mentioning others in your Updates (where appropriate). Say ‘thanks’ when people follow you or accept an invitation to connect, and personalize your own invitations.
Target messages and updates. Don’t send every update or post to everyone, or automatically cross-post everything to every network you join. Use Facebook Friend Lists, Google+ Circles and other tools to target your messages to the people or groups who will get the most value from (or be the most interested in) what you have to say in a given post.
Use visuals. Photos, cartoons, infographics and video are ‘hot’ on social media. Posts and updates that include some kind of visual content get more engagement than text-only messages. (That also means if you’re posting a link to a website article or blog post, you’ll want to make sure that the original blog post or article includes an image – the image will be seen on your post as well).
Show a little personality. Each network is different, but there’s always room for a little personality, whether it’s a glimpse into your firm’s culture, a feature on a specific employee or department, or even some more personal (but still publicly appropriate) postings about hobbies, interests, travel, or even family. There are ways to show a little personality and remain professional – and don’t forget: people do business with people they know, like and trust. Let your online connections get to know you a little better.
Make your content shareable. Think about your own use of social media: what kinds of posts and updates are you likely to re-share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.? What is it about those posts that make them attractive to you or that encourage you to share them? Is it simply a request within the post to share it with others? Is it content that is useful to you or to your audience? Is it particularly timely? Is it something that is a ‘universal truth’? Is it inspirational or motivational? What lessons can you learn from examining the posts you re-share from your own feed?
Consider hashtags. Hashtags (#) are now supported on many of the social networks, including Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, in addition to Twitter. Not only will hashtags help people discover your posts and updates in searches, but they can add another dimension to the discussion. They can also help you to find people to follow or discover people discussing a particular issue.
Be creative. Mark Merenda from Smart Marketing is fond of saying that there’s really only one rule online: be interesting. I think another way of saying that is to be creative with social media and online tools. Think not just about law or business, but about what interests and engages the people in your networks.