How Not to Suck at Social Media

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Many lawyers seem to fear social media, perhaps because it involves technology and technology = hard. But as technology, social media is about as simple as it gets. Just visit a website, sign up for an account, and start posting things.

If anything, lawyers should fear social media because it is social, and few things are as awkward as a lawyer trying to build business in a social setting. Many lawyers have an annoying tendency to misread social as marketing and then behave like billboards or business-card dispensers instead of human beings.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to use social media. Here’s how to use it without looking like a tool.

Ignore the “Experts”

You could be forgiven for thinking social media is complicated. After all, there are plenty of self-styled “experts” who insist it takes thousands of dollars and exclusive coaching sessions to figure it out.

This works, I think, because social media feels unfamiliar to so many lawyers. Partly because normal socializing apparently feels unfamiliar to so many lawyers, but mostly because it involves technology, and many people assume technology is complicated. For many lawyers, technology is still something you hire somebody else to do for you.

But social media is actually quite simple, and there is only one way to succeed: be interesting while being social.

Most consultants will try to give you a formula for “social media success,” which is a bit like handing you a joke book and then sending you to a cocktail party to network. (If you need to learn how to sign up for a Twitter account, fine. Hire your nephew or neice to show you.)

Besides, almost nobody is famous just for having a Twitter account. People who are popular on Twitter are mostly people who are popular in real life. You may not have Justin Bieber’s following—online or off—but you shouldn’t be surprised if your online audience looks a lot like your offline one.

Be Yourself, but Interesting and/or Funny

In order to use accounting software, you need to have a basic grasp of bookkeeping, not filmmaking. Similarly, in order to use social media, you need to have a basic grasp of being social, not advertising.

In order to succeed at social media, you must be social. You must be interested in people, in making friends, and in sharing experiences.

You don’t need to be a social butterfly offline, but if you want to succeed online, it helps to have a little experience. But it is perfectly okay to be an introvert offline as long as you can be an extrovert online.

So be social, not someone who does the online equivalent of showing up to lunch with a pile of business cards. Spend as much time responding to what others post as publishing your own posts. You will meet more interesting people that way, and maybe even make a few e-friends.

And be yourself. Get rid of your @SpringfieldDUILawyer Twitter handle and just use your name. Nobody wants to make friends with a practice area. Have a personality. Above all, have fun.

What Does Success Mean When it Comes to Social Media, Exactly?

When it comes to social media success means attracting an audience, whether that means blog subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or whatever. And not just an audience, but an engaged one—with people who are interested in hearing what you have to say. You can’t buy that with a coaching program; you have to earn it.

How does this get you clients? It may not. But you will have a much better chance of getting referrals than if you try to shovel advertising tweets at everyone. If you build an engaged audience, you will expand the number of people who know who you are and what you do. That is what makes a network of potential referral sources, after all.

But it does take a lot of people. For every offline lunch you have with a real person, it might take 100 (or 1,000) Twitter followers or Facebook friends to result in a single referral.

Should You Use Social Media?

If that sounds like a lot of time and effort for an uncertain result, it is. But then again, so is every “networking lunch” you schedule. If you do manage to build a good-sized social circle online, you will have a lot more people who may refer you a client, even if each person is less likely to refer to you due to the more tenuous nature of your connection to them.

But social media does take time and effort—and it can take a lot of both. The best reason to spend time and effort on social media is because you enjoy it, not because you are trying to get clients (just as the best reason to blog is because you would be writing anyway). Nobody likes to be marketed to, but everybody likes their friends. Go make friends, and the referrals will probably follow.

Originally published 2012-06-20. Last updated 2016-01-05.

Featured image: “Closeup portrait confused, skeptical business man” from Shutterstock.

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  • Gwynne

    “And not just an audience, but an engaged one ”

    Exactly. If there’s no interaction, why are you on a social media channel? I can use RSS for passive consumption, and that doesn’t require creating yet another account.

  • “The best reason to spend time and effort on social media is because you enjoy it.”

    So the question is, what do you do if you don’t particularly enjoy social media? Do you just skip it or hold your nose and pretend you’re having fun?

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Skip it. (But give it a try, first. Most people enjoy it for staying in touch with friends and family, if nothing else.)

  • Paul Spitz

    Also, unless you crave controversy, avoid politics and religion. Pretty much the easiest way to get me not to follow you on Twitter is to tweet about how important God is in your life. And if you don’t share my politics, I don’t want my feed littered with your attempts to cram your politics down my throat.

    • Hans Flensted-Jensen

      I completely agree with you. And when I meet people who are reluctant to engage in social media I always recommend to stay clear of sensitive subjects (as for example religion and politics). Starting out with softer subjects is also one the points I usually make.