Be smart about the social media conversation

By Nora Riva Bergman and Mark Powers

The Daily Record Newswire

If you're not already participating in the social media conversation, you're thinking about it.

And if you're not thinking about it, you should be.

Social media is not going away. In fact, in the last three years its use as a marketing tool among companies and law firms has grown dramatically. According to eMarketer.com, by the end of 2012, the growth of social media as a marketing tool for U.S. companies will reach 88 percent. That's more than double the 44-percent reach of social media in 2008.

What's more, the American Bar Association's 2010 Legal Technology Survey reported that 56 percent of respondents use social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, LawLink or Legal OnRamp, as compared to only 15 percent in the 2008 survey.

As the number of attorneys using social media has more than tripled in the past two years, now is the time for you to join the conversation.

We say "join the conversation" because, at its core, that's what social media is all about -- conversation. It's a natural adjunct to traditional referral-based, relationship marketing. It's all about conversations and relationships. But now those conversations and relationships can take place online.

While you might be ready to be a part of it, the sheer volume of social media opportunities can be overwhelming. We suggest breaking things down to the three-step approach outlined below.

We also want to provide a brief caveat: You must know and comply with the Rules of Professional Responsibility in your jurisdiction. At the same time, remember that the use of social media doesn't make otherwise ethical conduct unethical. So get out there and start using social media to grow your networks, your relationships and, ultimately, your bottom line.

1) Develop a policy.

Your firm needs to have a social media policy setting forth the ground rules for everyone, regardless of whether your firm is engaged in social media -- because even if you're not participating in social media, your employees are.

There are a number of online resources that can help you craft a policy for your firm, including socialmediagovernance.com. We know that, for most law firms, the temptation will be to create a lengthy policy filled with legalese. But do your best to avoid the urge; a simple, straightforward policy may be more effective.

Some points to consider including:

* Be respectful.

* Be authentic.

* Don't "friend" clients, attorneys or members of the judiciary.

* If you discuss your employment with the firm on any social networking site, act professionally.

* Don't disclose any confidential or proprietary information.

* Don't give legal advice.

* Don't disparage the judiciary.

* Don't imply that you're speaking on behalf of the firm.

You also may want to create a policy that allows for social media time during breaks. People have always chatted in the break room during the day; now some of those "chats" are taking place online.

If your expectations around your staff's use of social media are clear and you have professional, responsible people on your team, hopefully they will not abuse the privilege. If they do, you'll need to deal with that -- but understand you'll be dealing with a people problem, not a social media problem.

2) Create a plan.

Before you can use social media effectively, you need to create a plan around specific goals. Is your goal to build your professional network? Is it to establish your level of expertise in a particular area? Is it to reach out to past, current and potential clients by creating a virtual community?

Whatever your goals are, you need to get clear about them and then create a plan to achieve them.

If your goal is to build your professional network, then LinkedIn is the right platform for you. With over 100 million members, LinkedIn bills itself as the largest professional network in the world.

Build your profile and search for colleagues you already know on LinkedIn. A great way to increase your visibility and credibility is to join groups and contribute to the discussions that take place online.

LinkedIn is also a good platform to establish your professional expertise. By engaging in discussions or starting your own group, you can begin to demonstrate your level of expertise in a particular area.

But be careful when setting up your LinkedIn profile about the listing of "Specialties." Many jurisdictions don't allow attorneys to hold themselves out as specialists in an area of law unless they are so designated by the bar. Be sure to check the rules in your state.

Twitter can also be a great way to establish credibility in a particular area. You can become known by sending out focused tweets designed to keep your followers apprised of the latest legal happenings in your particular area.

Both Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to establish yourself with your potential referral sources, as opposed to connecting directly with clients.

Finally, if your goal is to connect with past, current and potential clients, then Facebook is the place to be.

Facebook allows you to create a business page for your firm and keep your personal Facebook profile personal. Your business page can include photos of firm events, updates on the law, and other information of interest to your clients and referral sources.

With a relatively small investment of time and money, you can build an online community of fans who will think of your law firm every time they or their family or friends need an attorney.

3) Set up a Social Media Power Hour.

While social media can be a wonderful marketing tool, it can also be a dangerous time-waster. To make the most of your online time, schedule social media work only at specific times during the day. Or consider taking short (five- to 10-minute) "social media breaks" during the day to check in on your networks.

How much time will you need? It depends. If you're starting a blog, you may want to budget an hour a day or several hours a week. If you're developing your network on LinkedIn, you may need only 15 to 30 minutes a day to connect with colleagues and comment on group discussions.

Regardless, block the time by creating a Social Media Power Hour. Use your Power Hour to focus on reading, writing, Tweeting and posting valuable content to your social media sites.

Remember, you don't have to write all the content you post. Consider using a marketing assistant who can post on a regular basis. You may already have someone in your office, such as a young associate or law clerk, you could designate as your social media guru.

You also need to be smart about how you use social media. Use the onsite tutorials available at most sites. They can save you a tremendous amount of time as you're setting up your profiles.

Use social media utilities such as HootSuite.com, NutshellMail.com and Twinbox from TechHit.com. These utilities make it simple to check in on your networks from your smart phone and allow you to push updates and content from one site to all your other social media sites.

Regardless of whether you're already using social media to market your law firm or you're just thinking about getting started, be smart. And remember, social media will never replace the personal relationships in your network. Use social media to support your personal marketing, not to replace it.

Nora Riva Bergman is a business coach and certified practice advisor with Atticus. She has practiced as an employment law attorney and certified mediator and has served as an adjunct professor. She can be reached at reallifepractice.com and atticusonline.com. Mark Powers is the president of Atticus Inc. and co-author of "The Making of a Rainmaker: An Ethical Guide to Referral Marketing for Small and Solo Firms." He can be reached at mark@atticusonline.com.

Published: Tue, Jul 10, 2012

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