The Social Media Experiment
by Jim Thomas
Two years ago, my social media bio consisted of a poorly used LinkedIn account and an announced aversion to the very idea of "friending" business and community connections. Then, my wife and I allowed our eldest daughter to join Facebook and I followed suit to keep tabs on her. In rapid succession, the social media consultants who were brought into my firm, Minor & Brown, to help us with LinkedIn told us we needed to add Facebook and Twitter to our efforts, too. I ended the resulting blank stares and earned my partners’ gratitude by volunteering to lead our firm’s experiment into social media for law firms.
Today, I’m 4,100-plus tweets into Twitter. I have Facebook friends that are my friends and many more who share my interests in business and the community. Some of my actual friends have even defriended me because they find my Facebook feed too boring—I thought I got past that when I went to law school.
I blog, not only in my own blog, No Funny Lawyers (there are no funny lawyers, only funny people who made career mistakes), but also on Huffington Post and in guest posts for other bloggers. Tweets about my blog—my own and from other readers—are responsible for bringing my writing to the attention of the people responsible for getting me on Huffington and other blogs.
And I still have an under-used LinkedIn account. In theory, my LinkedIn connections could introduce me directly to almost 150,000 people. This year, I resolve to make better use of those possibilities.
Social media has even become a practice area of sorts for me. My seminars on the legal issues businesses should consider when using social media are always well attended (if only I could say the same for my more traditional topics). The greatest risks in social media, I tell those classes, are not, however, legal concerns. Harm to your business is much more likely from the mundane pitfalls of looking stupid and wasting your time.
The same is true for you and me. Professional ethics add a layer of concern to our usage of social media, but we know those rules; we just have to remember to apply them. Don’t allow the informal and humorous nature of much of social media to lull you into forgetting either the law or why you are there. You are there to add value to your law practice. I admit to losing sight of the business goal on more than one occasion, but I have never forgotten the ethical overlay even when some client stories would have made great material to share.
For me, and I suspect for most lawyers, personal branding—being more attractive and memorable to potential clients—is the primary value of social media. I use social media to highlight my expertise; my commitment to certain causes and issues; and my more traditional business development activities, like speaking gigs and articles.
Social media also allows you to network on an unprecedented scale. The good and bad of any in-person networking event applies to social media networking. I was certainly pleased the first time my tweet on a business law issue was re-tweeted (folks sharing my comments with their friends) multiple times. It also brought home the potential for harm. The offhand remark you might regret making at a cocktail party typically would not get too far. With social media, however, it is passed around and around, and saved on servers across the globe forever.
Reduce the risk of a dumb post going viral by setting your social media goals up front and applying those goals in every tweet, Facebook comment, and their kin. Goals also will reduce the time you could waste. Wasted time is inevitable; staying on-goal limits the huge time traps inherent in the games, quizzes, and videos that will stream by you. I use the blocking, filter, and list features found in most social media platforms to segregate or eliminate the time-wasters.
Another sure way to waste your time is by making your social media all about your great legal work and why folks should engage you. That might be your goal (it is mine), but you get there indirectly and primarily by being social, which means sharing useful information (which is not limited to promoting your latest blog post) and by engaging in conversations that relate to your goals.
This does not mean that how you use social media should be all business, either. Remember clients don’t hire lawyers or law firms; people hire people. Don’t be afraid to show a little of your personal life, but not too much about your kids or your vacations, please. I also learned that although my daughters begrudgingly tolerate my requirement that I be their Facebook friends, it does not mean they tolerate me actually mentioning them by name.
Something on your hobbies or activities is good; several of my connections are road cyclists or photography enthusiasts, and now they know I am, too. Post even more on your community efforts. Tell us why you serve on the board or as a volunteer for your favorite nonprofits, and don’t forget to "tag" the nonprofit (in Facebook include "@" before the name) so your comments can be seen by others who support it, too. My social media community knows that education reform, children’s issues, and the arts are important to me. Many of my non-social media colleagues could not say the same.
Your social media profile should have a style reflective of your personality, or at least the part of it you use when you talk with clients. Will posts written like a brief or a press release engage your intended audience? Probably not. No Funny Lawyers was started on the whim that if I could bottle the non-technical and sometimes funny (or at least attempted) explanations of business law I give my clients, then maybe some other business owners might find enough value in them to pick up the phone.
A word of advice on blogs: There are a bazillion blogs, but few are on topics and updated regularly enough to be relevant to your potential clients (and the search engines they will use to find you). Be intentional in your decision to blog—pick a subject, a voice, and an audience, and make a commitment to set aside the hours it will take to post good content regularly.
My blog posts, like my other social media posts, are a mixture of law, business, and community concerns. People who follow me online and eventually connect with me in person and folks who know me who eventually join me online, tell me the same thing: I provide useful information. Folks can understand my concerns and me. I engage in conversations and invite others to do the same. Sometimes, I am funny.
All of that helps me create stronger relationships that, in turn, result in referrals I might have missed before. The mix of social media, and the time spent in each platform, might change—I mentioned this is an experiment—but social media is a permanent part of my business development plans. Lawyers follow clients, and our clients and referral sources, whether they be individuals, businesses, or governments, are using social media in increasing numbers. Social media will rarely be the only reason a client engages you, but it can be a valuable part of the client development process. D
Jim Thomas is a business lawyer and a director of Minor & Brown, P.C. He is open to discussing social media with readers over a coffee or a beer, especially if you are buying. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at NoFunnyLawyers.com.