The Role of Social Media in the Practice of Law
Social media platforms present a wealth of opportunities to modern businesses, and those in the legal industry are no different. As a lawyer, not only can your social media profiles serve as business development tools, but they can also serve to establish your reputation to potential clients for career advancement purposes and open up a channel for connecting with colleagues and practice area groups.
Before we discuss strategies for making the most of social media for law firms, let us quickly go over the major platforms.
Major Social Media Platforms
- Facebook. Facebook is a robust social networking platform through which people can connect with friends, family, colleagues and companies or brands they like, and on which you can post pictures, comments, links and even videos. It provides a well-designed vehicle for business promotion via fan pages, and also has the biggest user base worldwide.
- Google+. Google+ is a newer platform that integrates well with a number of other Google solutions (such as Google Maps and company reviews). It is advantageous to participate in Google+ for two reasons: 1) your content will be indexed faster in Google’s search engine; and 2) you can claim the content you publish through your website, allowing your links to appear in search engine results with your photo next to them, thus improving your click-through percentage.
- LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a business-and employment-focused social media platform where career histories and company information are the core content. Posting Facebook-style status updates has also recently been incorporated into the platform.
- Twitter. Twitter is a platform for posting short messages (140 characters or less). Brevity is the key with Twitter, but you can still post links to longer-form content.
When done correctly, social media activities on these platforms can generate returns that make the effort well worthwhile. So, what are some effective social media strategies for attorneys? Here are a few basic ways to plug in to the social network:
Attorney Use of Social Media
Social media lends itself very well to serving as an amplifier for your blog, article and opinion content. That is, when you produce a piece of writing on a new practice area development, or on a proposal regarding changes to the law, posting it to your firm website is a good start. But then the next logical step is to tweet it, post a link to it on Facebook and share it through other popular means. This allows you to maximize the reach of your hard work, and to share it with the broadest possible audience.
Building up your list of fans and followers will take time, so be patient. On Twitter, search for other attorneys in your field to correspond with and follow. They may often follow you back. It is also a good idea to keep an eye on relevant hashtags (a way of grouping posts about a certain topic, signified by a #) for conferences or other legal developments, and to chime in with your thoughts and opinions. On Facebook, joining any practice-area pages you can find and posting good commentary and content will expand your exposure and broaden your fan base over time.
As you can see, interacting with others through social media is also a key method for increasing the visibility of your profile online. If another attorney or other outlet (e.g., a newspaper) posts an article or comment, you can respond to it and become a visible part of the conversation. This demonstrates that you are engaged in current developments, and shows that you are an active participant in ongoing legal conversations.
Why bother? Prospective clients may see your posts, comments, and other writings when doing research on a particular issue. For example, if they read an article in The New York Times about a new piece of banking legislation that has recently passed in Congress, and see that you have left an intelligent comment, they may contact you. Or if they have been following a hashtag on Twitter regarding a legal topic, and see that you have linked to a post of yours on the topic, you might get a message from them. That is, clients may see your trail of online activity and decide to reach out for a consultation based on the quality of your content.
In short, social media can be a business development tool.
It may require regular investment over the long term, but attorneys who put in the time now will become the most visible online.. As the Internet becomes more integral to the legal industry over time, this effect will increase. For that reason, it pays to spend the time now cultivating a social media presence.
A few caveats: when participating in social media for law firms, be sure to review and comply with any social media law firm policies and ethical rules about connections with judges and other parties, and do not run afoul of attorney advertising rules. Your connections and posts on social media are public and should be free of impropriety.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Social Media
- Keep your personal profile separate from your professional profile.
- Post regularly, but do not post too often and overwhelm those with whom you are connected (also known as “spamming”).
- Focus on content that is relevant to your practice area, as opposed to non-professional items.
- Deliver value in your content; do not produce shallow pieces.
- Use a link shortener like bit.ly so that your links on Twitter do not eat up your character limit.
One last note: Do not fall victim to thinking that short content can be produced off-the-cuff. For attorneys, competent analysis of legal issues is always essential, and your social media posts should get a similar level of scrutiny to a memo to a client, if not more. They are public and persistent, so make sure they represent the level of quality you ordinarily bring to your practice.