In Depth: Social Media

Surprise! Social media is not a fad. From networking to marketing to eDiscovery and picking and monitoring juries (yes, really), it plays a role in the practice of law. But what, exactly, is social media? Community. Communication. Storytelling. Social media is an elastic media, meaning it changes and adjusts the more it is used. Twitter started as a way to send quick status updates about what you were doing, and now it’s a news source and a way to organize groups–be it a friendly meetup or political uprising.

Social media’s elasticity makes it useful, challenging, and sometimes frustrating. Here is what you need to know.

What is social media/social network?

Social media is generally defined by the sharing of articles, blog posts, images and other content through various online platforms or networks. The more familiar ones are Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Other networks include FourSquare, Yelp, SnapChat, and Pinterest. See Wikipedia for a mostly complete list.

Most social media sites require you to setup a profile.

How do I setup a profile?

With an email address.

Really. With an email address.

The important thing is to completely fill out your profile on each network, especially if you are making the profile public. Referral sources, clients, potential clients, reporters and anyone looking for you want to find you. Completely filling out a profile gives search engines content and context, and for some networks, like Google+, what you put in your profile impacts your search results.

Most social media profiles contain the following elements:social-icon

  • Your Name
  • Your Handle/Username
  • Profile Picture
  • Link to your website
  • Your Bio

Fill out each element.

Each network also has its own set of nuances, and sometimes what seem like a standard fill-in-the-blank can get you into ethical hot water–LinkedIn, with its “specialties” and “skills and expertise,” for example. Allison Shields, who co-wrote the book on LinkedIn for Lawyers, also wrote a post explaining legal ethics and social media. Check with your bar association or local ethics body to be safe. The New York State Bar released Opinion 972 related to LinkedIn profiles, and the Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee issued Opinion 2012-8 addressing “skills and expertise.”

To maintain consistency across networks, a rule of thumb is to pick a phrase or three to four words that best describe you and/or your practice and use those in all of your profiles.

When it comes to the profile and cover images, you can get creative with graphics, backgrounds and such, especially on Facebook. Doing so can strengthen your brand, make visual connections between your law firm website and social networks, and help you stick in visitors’ minds.

How do I get the most out of social media?

First, decide what you want to achieve. Remember, social media is just one weapon in your arsenal, and it may not always be your best weapon. Used strategically it is an asset, so figure out what you want to get from social media. For example, some use it to stay abreast of legal technology trends, while others find it a useful research tool, a method of networking with other small businesses or potential clients, or a platform to establish themselves as an authority.

Once you’ve listed the goals you want to achieve, spend some time exploring the different networks. A key goal is cultivating social interaction. Each network has different ways of building connections beyond the simple posting of updates. There are Google+ Communities, Facebook Groups, entertaining animated gifs, even chats centered around a hashtag like #legalchat or #cbafutureschat or conferences such as #MILOfest and #ABATECHSHOW.

It is not uncommon to find social media overwhelming at first, especially Twitter. We’ve got some quick tips for connecting on Twitter and some hidden Twitter tricks to help you get the most out of Twitter without drowning in tweets.

Another key consideration: it IS NOT NECESSARY to be on every network. Spend some time exploring the networks and then focus on the ones that are best suited to your goals and your law firm.

Watch the video below to learn more about making social media work for your law firm.

What tools can I use to better manage my social networks?

Tools abound for social media management.

HootSuite is one such tool. LTRC Marketing master Rose Frommelt walks you through some of its finer features that make it easier to follow, share, engage and track your social media.

The most robust tool for social media management is probably Radian6, now the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Other tools include Buffer and SproutSocial. Such tools help automate functions in order to help you better optimize your social media marketing. Find the one that fits your workflow and your budget.

Do I need to be concerned about ethics with this social media stuff?

Short answer: Yes.

It doesn’t take much to run afoul of ethics rules or otherwise embarrass yourself. It’s useful to have a social media policy, even if just for yourself, to avoid pitfalls. Check this list of social media policies from businesses large and small, universities, and state and local government agencies to get some ideas.

The Digital Edge has a nice podcast on ethical pitfalls of social media that includes judges’ (mis)use of social media. It is also important to keep in mind what you share on social media. It isn’t always just an update or a beautiful picture of a sunset, and you don’t always have control over what happens to a post.

What other social media is there?

The social media space is fluid, so while Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn may grab all the headlines, others like reddit, Instagram and Pinterest are also quite popular.

Google+ in particular keeps evolving with its Hangouts function. Hangouts on Air, for example, presents opportunities for lawyers. The most obvious is marketing, and the second obvious opportunity is group communication and collaboration. But it is possible such platforms can develop into tools for the law firm of the future or more distributed law firms as physical borders continue to fall. Its evolution could make it the new legal interface.

There are also new apps on the market, like Wickr, Secret, and SnapChat, that can pose challenges. They are part of a new breed of privacy-first apps where content self-destructs and the user remains anonymous. There are companies like Datacoup and Handshake (out of the UK) that aim to pay consumers for the use of their data, effectively turning the data broker model on its head, and potentially forcing Facebook, Twitter and other sites that rely on the volunteering of information for ad dollars to rethink that model, too.

One More Thing

Social media is elastic; it changes and evolves as people use it. Your use of it will change and evolve, too, so remember to measure your interactions against the goals you set for yourself.

Simple yet often forgotten: keep your profile information updated.

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(Image Credit: Shutterstock)

About Gwynne Monahan

Gwynne Monahan
Best known by her Twitter handle, @econwriter5. Generally speaking, she is a writer posting random, perhaps interesting, things.

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