Should lawyers mix business with pleasure when it comes to social media?
Previously, I would have answered that question with an emphatic “NO!” But now, I’m not so sure.
Panelists at the NALSC (National Association of Legal Search Consultants) 2018 Fall Symposium in New York City have me wondering whether I should soften that stance. Until now, I have maintained a strict separation between my personal and professional presence online. I advised my candidates to follow that practice, as well, because anything they post online can be found during the vetting process of a job search. The experts on the NALSC panel, however, recommended including a personal touch to increase effectiveness and audience engagement.
But, think before you click! While social media usually is less formal than traditional written communication, lawyers must beware of crossing the line from appropriate professional conduct into the danger zone. You also must take care not to violate any ethical rules.
Why use social media?
Beyond websites, which are almost a requirement for doing business, law firms and lawyers increasingly promote themselves on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others. According to the American Bar Association’s 2017 Legal Technology Survey, 96 percent of lawyers responding say they use social media, and 70 percent incorporate it as part of their overall marketing strategy (compared with 60 percent just two years ago). Lawyers most often used LinkedIn for professional purposes, with 90% indicating that they had a LinkedIn profile, 40% using Facebook , and 26% active on Twitter.
Social media, used correctly, can help lawyers promote themselves and their firms. The benefits of being active on these platforms include establishing yourself as a thought leader in your practice sector; gaining new clients by being approachable and engaged; keeping updated on industry developments and trends; networking to increase exposure; and sharing information quickly so your clients and potential clients can learn more about your services.
What should you share online?
You want your online presence to be engaging and boost your desired image. Think about who you want to reach and what would interest them. About half of your posts should link to other people’s content, such as articles and blog posts; a third should be interactions with others, such as comments and “likes”; and the remainder should consist of promotional content such as links to your own blog posts or articles about your law firm and its capabilities and successes.
It’s social media, however, so it’s important to interact with other people, not just post content. Reach out to friends and colleagues to build your online network of contacts. When you collect a business card, immediately send a request to connect on the social media platforms you use regularly. Join groups and respond, comment, share, and like others’ posts. But be careful what you click on, because that becomes part of your online presence, as well.
As the panelists recommended, you also should share a little bit (but not too much!) about yourself to make yourself relatable and to stand out from all the other lawyers who are being strictly business. You can present yourself as an approachable, caring lawyer by offering useful tips, opinions, personal interests, quotes, and articles with a personal touch. Remember that social media is about people, and people want to interact with other people, not nameless, faceless entities. But, be careful.
What are the danger zones?
- Controversial subjects
Especially in response to the recent wild news cycle it’s tempting to immediately fire off some posts to share your thoughts and opinions with the world. Comments regarding touchy issues such as such as politics or religion can be risky. You may alienate a large cohort of your audience, including clients and potential clients. You also might unintentionally create a client relations problem or positional conflict if you take a stance opposed to clients of your firm.
- Unprofessional conduct
On impulse, you might post comments on social media that you never would say in a face-to-face conversation. Pause and ask yourself whether the comment would be appropriate in the courthouse, a business meeting, or at a dinner party. Is it something you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the newspaper? If in doubt, leave it out.
- Unethical conduct
Lawyers must be especially careful to avoid ethical constraints regarding client confidentiality, legal advertising, misrepresentations, the unintentional creation of attorney-client relationships, and any risks related to social media use during litigation. Most states are silent as to how existing ethical rules affect social media use but some, such as California, have issued advisory opinions. For more information on professional ethics issues and social media, see: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/Conduct-Discipline/Ethics/Ethics-Technology-Resources/Social-Media.
Bottom line: Think first!
While social media can be a great tool for lawyers wishing to promote themselves and build their practices, or even to present themselves as experts or attractive candidates for a new position, it must be approached with care. The judicious use of personal information in addition to compelling professional content can be especially effective but must be approached with care. The undisciplined use of social media unfortunately can create the wrong kind of presence very quickly. Online comments are broadcast to the world and preserved for posterity. A screenshot can save social media comments forever and the Wayback Machine preserves websites into eternity.
So, I’ll try adding a little personal touch to my business posts on social media—but carefully.