Social Media for Lawyers and Law Firm Staff
By Doug Cornelius and Jenn Steele
Originally published in Marketing Technologies – Putting Your Best Face Forward white paper, International Legal Technology Association, March 2008 http://www.iltanet.org/communications/
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The article is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at www.iltanet.org.
There has been a lot of buzz lately about networking through the Internet. In case you missed it, “You” were Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006. With the explosion of personal blogs and other social media sites, there is now more user-generated content than mediagenerated content on the Internet. LinkedIn.com claims to have more than 17 million professionals using its site, and Facebook.com claims to have at least 64 million active users. ILTA even has its own group on LinkedIn, with almost 350 members as of February 2008.
Technorati.com, a website that actively indexes and tracks Web content, is actively tracking 112.8 million blogs, and states that over 175,000 new blogs are being created every day. According to Real Lawyers Have Blogs, 39 of the AmLaw 200 firms have bloggers as of August 2007. Justia.com lists over 2,000 blawgs (law blogs) as of February 2008. If you are not already using these sites, you probably know some people who are. With so many people using social media, lawyers and law firm staff need to consider whether these avenues could be useful for networking, generating business, recruiting and staying in touch with alumni.
The Sites and How They Work
Both LinkedIn and Facebook are social networking sites that allow you to share information about yourself with the people you know or with the public in general, depending on your tolerance for disclosure. Both sites allow you to control who sees what pieces of the information you chose to make available. They are also free, so there is no cost to start experimenting with them.
LinkedIn is a great tool to share connections and create an online resume, and it is the easiest first step into social media. When you create an account, you can publish less information than you have on your business card. You can easily expand that to the information you have on your resume, and take small steps in adding more information as you choose. Then you can hunt down “connections” to people in your firm, former classmates, fellow ILTAns and contacts in your address book. Once you make the connections and finish your LinkedIn profile, there is not much else to do. You can answer questions from other members of the LinkedIn community and provide recommendations for your connections, but there is a very limited ability to share day-to-day information with your connections.
That is why Facebook is a good second step into social media. Facebook was founded for college students in February of 2004 on the campus of Harvard. The site is all about communication and allows you to share information about yourself, both personal and professional if you choose. Facebook aggregates and disaggregates information in several ways. In your personal mini-feed, there is a history of your Facebook activity that shows when you added new people to your friends list, updated personal information in your profile, communicated with other members, or added new applications (although you can suppress items if you want). Your mini-feed is aggregated out and combined with other mini-feeds, so your Facebook friends see your updated information combined with the updates from their other friends. Updates and notifications can be delivered via RSS feeds, so rather than having to go back into Facebook, you can be updated via your feed reader. Essentially, this is a form of mini-blogging, and Facebook is a very effective tool for distributing information to your “friends.” Facebook has also opened its platform to allow other applications to tie into it. You can tie your movie watching habits into Facebook through Flixster, tie the books you are reading into Facebook through Shelfari and point your Facebook “friends” to your LinkedIn profile!
While there is a lot of frivolous communication in Facebook, there is also a lot of professional communication. Obviously, it is critical to know where to draw the line. One person may view a set of pictures as embarrasing or offensive. To others, it is simply the usual firm holiday party.
Facebook is still relatively new. Its strong tie-in with college students indicates that Facebook’s users are going to be pouring into the business community in the next few years as they graduate. Will Facebook crumble under the weight of bad social behavior or dominate as a communications platform? If it is going to crumble, we can ignore it. However, if it becomes a dominant communications platform, we cannot afford to ignore it.
Looking back many years to the adoption of e-mail, businesses (especially law firms) ignored it for a while. Eventually, they had to adopt it in order to communicate efficiently. Now, college students use Facebook as a primary way to communicate; many use e-mail sparingly. Facebook has become the new e-mail for this crowd. It may well become a new communications tool for business as this generation enters the workforce.
Social Networking for Lawyers
There are now also lawyer-specific social networking sites developing. LawLink and Legal OnRamp are each in their early stages. The idea of an online social network site just for lawyers may not sound very exciting; however, the practice of law and building a law practice is about developing relationships. Legal OnRamp is taking that a step further by developing a large repository of substantive legal knowledge to go along with its lawyer-to-lawyer (and in-house counsel) social networking.
Beyond these tools are blogs, which you can use to communicate with the online world. Like other social media sites, these are free or very low cost. We set up our blogs in less than ten minutes. You need no knowledge of any programming language nor do you need to learn any special techniques. WordPress, Blogger, Movable Type and several other vendors provide free blogs and host them on their servers. You just pick a design and some colors, and then you can be off and blogging! Of course, you do need to decide what you want to blog about.
Creating Your Brand
According to almost every career site on the planet, creating your own brand in order to position yourself in the marketplace and attract your target “clients” is one of the most effective ways to reap career results. No, we do not mean the kind made by hot irons, but some folks think this is just as painful before they try. For example, your firm has probably gone to a considerable effort to position itself in the marketplace and attract its target clients, and it can probably attribute some business success to those efforts.
If you already have a presence on the Internet, take a step back and ensure it says about you what you want potential employers or clients to know. If you have pictures on MySpace that might not go over well in a business context, now is the time to lock your profile down to private, so that only your drinking buddies can see the pictures. If you have a blog describing your adventures in belly dancing, for example, consider that while there may be many people out there who will enjoy reading it, your managing partner may not be among them.
If you do not know what online presence you might have, it is probably time to Google yourself. You might find that, like Jenn, you share a name with an adult movie star (quite a shock to her father when he Googled her!). For Doug, who has been using social media for a long time, the top ten results in Google all refer to his presence on the Internet, only one of which is his profile on his firm’s website. You might find that the first few hits are your firm, your presentation at ILTA, your LinkedIn profile and your 25th college reunion. Or you might find that you have no presence at all.
Once you know what is out there, you can start building the presence that you want potential employers and clients to see. One of the easiest places to start professionally is the first site we mentioned: LinkedIn. Go to www.linkedin.com and click “Join now.” The more completely you fill out your profile, the more people will recognize you from three jobs back. Create links to your firm, your professional blog and your volunteer organization, and people can find out even more about you (again, only what you want them to know!). Once your profile is complete, start searching based on name, company or group, and invite people you know to connect. Set your profile to public, and you will start seeing your LinkedIn profile on Google!
A LinkedIn profile may not be enough to show your brand and your expertise to the world. If your organization’s policies allow it, and you have something worthwhile to say, you may consider starting a blog. If your organization does not allow professional blogging, then they should. Some organizations have theme-based blogs for their clients, and you may be able to contribute to one of those. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is both professional and consistent with the image you want to portray. Blogs are one of the best ways to get your message out there; search engines love content in blog form. All of the linking and cross-linking is what makes the Internet so useful.
Remote Social Networking
ILTA’s e-groups are a powerful tool for remote social networking, but it can be difficult to find information about your colleagues around the globe. Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be valuable tools for remote social networking. Did you meet someone at a conference and wonder where he or she might have worked before? A business card can only tell you so much about a person, but a LinkedIn profile might tell you much more. Do you wonder what friends or colleagues you have in common? Check that person’s friends or connections. Do you wonder what books she is reading or what his latest blog post might be? Check out Facebook. You never know what you might find, although you probably hope it is professional, rather than intensely personal. These sites are also a way to continue “listening” to a person after having met them. E-mail or telephone communication is great, but there is only so much time in the day.
Finding That Job
According to almost every job site and recruiter, a huge percentage of job seekers find positions via networking rather than responding to postings. But who has time for intensive face-to-face networking these days? It can be difficult to keep up with connections in anticipation of needing to find your next big opportunity.
Here is where these sites can help you. Just as with remote social networking, these sites help you keep in touch with recruiters and colleagues from across the globe. Because these sites provide up-to-date ways to contact people, you do not have to worry about dead contacts in your address book; just send a message via the appropriate site!
Marketing Your Firm
Instead of creating your own silo of internal alumni databases, use the social media site where your firm’s alumni may already be. As an extranet provider will tell you, 99 percent of site maintenance is related to creating user accounts and retrieving passwords. A walled community for alumni creates another user ID and password that the user needs to remember. LinkedIn allows you to create a private group, allowing you to restrict who can get into the group, for example, there are groups for ILTA and Goodwin Procter. It allows you to easily add connections and then track those connections as they change their LinkedIn profile information.
Use social sites to stay in touch with young recruits. This generation is more interested in real communication and interaction than slick marketing videos. Doug conducted a survey of Goodwin Procter’s summer associates during the summer of 2007 and found that:
- More than 80 percent have a Facebook account
- Of those, two-thirds check Facebook at least once a day
- Only 25 percent have a LinkedIn account
- Of those, only 10 percent check LinkedIn once a week, with the rest
- answering rarely
The Goodwin Procter summer associates of 2007 formed their own Facebook group. The recruiters at law firms should think about stepping into the forum that their candidates are already using. Goodwin Procter plans to launch a Facebook group for its summer class of 2008. This should give the summer associates a chance to introduce themselves to each other and find out about each other prior to showing up at the law firm’s doorstep.
LinkedIn and Facebook are only two of the more popular social networking sites. Users are now starting to splinter into smaller network sites focused on their profession. We already mentioned LawLink and Legal OnRamp for lawyers.
Firms can even use social sites as intranets/extranets. Facebook is powerful enough that at least one firm has chosen to use Facebook as its intranet (kmspace.blogspot.com/2007/12/facebook-as-intranet.html). Also, with the Facebook’s open platform you can integrate your enterprise systems into their platform. Worklight’s Workbook tool allows you to share project information and expertise within the Facebook platform. Your corporate information stays on your servers and is presented through the Facebook communications platform.
Show Your Expertise
Blogs are a great way to communicate your expertise to clients and colleagues. Networking is really about joining a conversation and giving something to the group. A blog is a great way for your firm to be part of the conversation. The blog content will get indexed much more rapidly by Internet search engines and displayed higher in results than static PDF documents published to your firm’s website. One of the easiest ways to become known as an expert, is to publish quality content on a blog. The second thing is to start searching and reading other blogs that are on the same or a similar topic. You can engage another blog author in conversations on your topic. Leave comments, join his/her social networks, and provide relevant commentary. Add to the conversation.
In some states, blogs and profiles in LinkedIn, Facebook and similar sites can be considered advertising. If your lawyers are going to be using these sites, they should be cautioned to comply with their states’ ethical requirements.
Some law firms have strict policies about blogging and other social networking activities. You should check on the policies before setting up any professional blog that could be traced back to your firm.
If you set up an account on a social network site, you need to go back and make sure that your profile remains true and does not violate the ethics rule for your jurisdiction. If you do not maintain your profile or do not check back on your profile, then delete your account.
Whether or not you have set up an Internet presence, you should be checking to see what might be out there about you. Set up a search for your name and see what the Internet is saying; you may be able to take action by deleting things or contacting site administrators if what you find is problematic. It is very easy to set up a perpetual search through Google, Yahoo and many other search providers, which can alert you when new items appear on the Internet. Whatever you decide to do about any of these sites or searches, you cannot ignore the power of online presence.