LAW LIFE: Lawyers try out Google+ for businesses

By Sylvia Hsieh

The Daily Record Newswire

Since the release of the Google+ business platform in November, lawyers have had a chance to try out the latest social media brand and decide for themselves if it lives up to the hype.

Here's what small firm lawyers and legal marketing experts are saying about the pluses and minuses of hosting a business profile on Google+:

The pluses

* It's where grownups hang out.

Lawyers who like Google+ say it attracts a more professional crowd than Facebook and is less of a spam-magnet than LinkedIn.

Mike Young, an Internet lawyer who advises businesses in Plano, Texas, said that Facebook is "where people go to play games like Farmville or Mafia Wars or post family pictures," and LinkedIn is "where a lot of unemployed people are looking for work."

He uses Google+ to network with other attorneys and share news articles and blog posts with lawyers in different practice niches.

Leslie Sammis, a criminal defense attorney in Tampa, Fla., set up a Google+ page for her three-lawyer firm, Sammis Law Firm.

"I use Facebook for friends and family, but it seems like Google+ has more legal professionals, other attorneys and expert witnesses where you can link to blog posts that you've written and other people can comment on it, and where you can keep up with what other attorneys are saying on their blogs," said Sammis, who recently reconnected with an expert witness on Google+.

* It lets you target your audience.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the unique feature of Google+ is its circles, where a user must categorize individuals into different groups.

The upside to circles is that you post only to those circles that you think are interested in the content you are sharing.

Young, who has set up circles for colleagues, for media professionals and for attorneys in other practice areas, said this makes Google+ a better way than Facebook or Twitter to target content to a particular audience.

"You don't feel like you're sending something to someone who doesn't want it," he said.

John S. O'Connor, a mass tort attorney in Charlotte, N.C. who represents several hundred plaintiffs in lawsuits against numerous banks for mortgage fraud, uses Google+ to group different plaintiffs into their own circle and report updates relevant to each group.

"I find it a useful way to communicate the more mundane aspects of the litigation, such as anything filed in the public record, so people feel they have access to the latest information on the litigation," he said.

* It should help in the rankings.

Another benefit of adding Google + to your social media toolbox is that it's believed to help in your search engine rankings.

Because Google has a captive search engine audience, it can incorporate your Google + profile and social media content into its ranking criteria.

"When potential clients Google your name or your firm name ... your individual profile or law firm page shows up very, very high in Google," said Sammis.

Sammis set up her Google+ business page with the help of her brother, Jason Miller, president of Internet LAVA, a Houston Internet marketing firm for attorneys and law firms.

According to Miller, Google searches are already more personalized because they take into account +1's -- icons that people click on to show that they like a particular website or other web content -- that are shared among those in your circles.

Miller advises lawyers to establish a Google+ business page, then include a bit of code that Google gives you in your website so that Google knows you are the same person who published both pages.

That code ensures that when Google scans your website, "it will know that the person on Google+ is the same person that published this site," said Miller.

* It allows more administrators.

Unlike the individual Google+ pages, the business platform allows up to 50 administrators.

That means "you can have more than one person posting content and have different people designated in each practice group," said Steve Matthews of Stem Legal Web, a web marketing law firm consultant.

Matthews added that because you can control who is allowed to post comments on content you share, it cuts down on unwanted comments.

"You don't have people dropping spam links on your page, which for law firms is always a consideration," he said.

The minuses

* You're playing catch-up.

Skeptics of Google+ say it's not yet in the same category as Facebook or LinkedIn.

"For someone who promotes social media and the importance of it, I am not a big fan of Google+... yet," said Stephen Fairley of the Rainmaker Institute in Gilbert, Ariz.

For Fairley it's all about the numbers.

With 800 million people on Facebook, over 250 million on Twitter and 180 million on LinkedIn, Google+'s 20 million users mean it is still a relatively small player in social media.

"Google+ is really late to the game. ... I wouldn't waste my time at this point," he said, noting that Google's last two attempts at social media -- Google Wave and Google Buzz -- flopped.

* There's some start-up time.

Another concern for lawyers who have a limited amount of time to play around with social media is that the circles on Google+ can take some getting used to.

"Facebook and Twitter are pretty simple. Google+ is a little bit more complicated," said Miller.

In order use the site properly, a lawyer has to spend some time organizing his or her contacts into appropriate circles -- a job that is not conducive to outsourcing.

"If lawyers don't go in and organize and label their circles for themselves, they're not really getting the benefit that separates Google+ from other social media. They need to learn how to do it and get the hang of it," said Miller.

* The search engine benefits may be exaggerated.

While most people assume that using Google+ will ratchet up your search ranking, it's still a guessing game as to to what extent Google has leveraged its social media with its search engine.

Some believe there are other ways to optimize search engine results without expending the time on Google+.

"There are different ways to get search engine optimization that have nothing to do with Google+," said Fairley. He suggested lawyers list their law firms on Google Places to optimize search engine results without using Google+.

* You can't use pseudonyms.

Initially Google said that no pseudonyms would be allowed on Google+ accounts, although the company has recently backtracked on this policy after encountering opposition from privacy groups.

Many law firms would like to brand themselves not by an individual lawyer's name or firm name, but according to search terms, such as "New Orleans oil spill lawyer."

"Each firm has to use its actual name," said Sammis. "When you set up a Google+ page, it asks for your phone number and Google pulls up your listing on Google Places. It connects everything with your main phone number."

But some see this policy as a positive move that will limit spam and abuse by users that open accounts under various false names.

"I think it has cut down on a lot of garbage compared to other sites that allow unlimited accounts," said Young.

* You still need to draw people in

Another potential drawback to Google+ is that a business page can only include other businesses, not individuals, in a circle. (However, an individual can include a business in a circle.)

This means that on the business platform, law firms still have to draw individuals to their page in order to amass a following.

Published: Wed, Feb 22, 2012

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