Social networking: how much time should it take?

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Time seems to be one of the most-common reasons why attorneys who do not use social networks do not start. In the world of hourly billing, all time has a value, and many attorneys seem to believe that (1) networking online will take a lot of time and (2) may not be worthwhile in the end.

The second belief may or may not be true, just like having lunch with a potential client or colleague may not result in a new client or referral to the firm. The first belief is a misconception, at least partially.

Networking takes time, whether that networking takes the form of a bar association event, a happy hour with colleagues, or online social networking. Just like “regular,” offline networking, time spent networking online is up to the person doing the networking online. Networking online is “real” marketing. It should be a necessary part of your job, not just frivolous web surfing. But you do not need to spend more than 15-20 minutes a day to benefit from networking online.

So let’s take a look at three major online social networking tools—LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter—and how much time you will probably have to spend to see some benefit.

Setup time

LinkedIn and Facebook each require about an hour of setup time. Do this in your office and have your resume handy, since you will need to complete your profile with previous jobs, education, etc., in order to get the most benefit. Also, make sure you have a digital photo to use for a profile picture.

LinkedIn really walks you through the setup process, making it easy to complete your profile.

Facebook does not hold your hand like LinkedIn, but setting up a Facebook profile is still quite simple. Pay special attention to the privacy settings. You can create groups (such as full access and limited access or attorneys and clients) of your friends and decide who gets to see what information.

If you are new to social networking, check out our Facebook 101 post.

Twitter takes just a few minutes to set up. It asks for very little information from or about you. You can be up and micro-blogging in no time.

The next couple of weeks

Once you have gotten set up with a social networking site, especially if you are new to online social networking, you will probably have no idea what to do. The biggest mistake you can make at this point is to do nothing. That would be like scheduling a meeting with an important client and not showing up.

Instead, you should spend the next couple of weeks figuring out what LinkedIn, Facebook, and/or Twitter are all about.

First, look around and figure out what others are doing. then, try doing similar things yourself.

On LinkedIn, check in on the Q&A section. Answer a few questions, maybe ask one or two, and interact that way. If you want to do more, check out I’m on LinkedIn—Now What? by Jason Alba. New LinkedIn users may get absorbed initially, but because there is not much to do on LinkedIn other than finding connections, the novelty wears off quickly. For a week or so, you might find yourself spending a half hour per day on LinkedIn.

On Facebook, browse your friends’ profiles, leave comments, and post status updates. It is easy to get absorbed by Facebook, especially if you like to communicate. You can comment on nearly everything, share photos with friends you have not seen in years, and more. Facebook is a lot of fun, but it is also a good place to solidify and maintain connections you make offline or on LinkedIn. (Alba also has a book for Facebook users.) During the first couple of weeks, it is easy to spend an hour a day or more on Facebook. This is up to you, of course, but the “honeymoon period” will wear off, eventually.

Twitter is a different thing, entirely. While you can easily get absorbed searching for new people to follow, responding to every tweet, and posting maniacally, Twitter is built for short attention spans. As you get the hang of it (n.b.: “Having coffee.” is the kind of lame tweet that wll get you nowhere), you may spend up to a half hour per day on Twitter, but you don’t need to. Beware: Twitter is addictive. If you own a Kindle reader, check out Twitter: How Short Messages Can Make A Big Difference To Your Business by Joel Comm.

So over all, during the initial social networking “binge,” you may spend an hour or more per day. But (1) you don’t have to, and (2) it probably won’t last, which brings us to

Maintenance

Once the honeymoon period ends, as it does for most people, you can reasonably expect to spend about 15-20 minutes per day or less, total, keeping up with your online social networks.

LinkedIn, for example, requires almost no maintenance. Accept connections as they come, invite colleagues you meet, and make sure you update your contact information and work history when it changes.

Check your Facebook mini-feed a few times each week, just to make sure you are not missing anything important.

If your Twitter friends post a lot, stop in once a day to glance at what they are tweeting about and reply if you have something to contribute. Post once a day or so yourself, so you stay on the homepage of the people who are following you.

You can certainly do more, if you want to, and you can leverage tools you may already use, like RSS readers (Outlook 2007 has one built in) to focus just on the things that interest you. (I keep an eye on Twitter for people who mention my name, for example.) But really, I don’t think you need to spend an enormous amount of time with your online social networks in order to connect, keep up, and maintain your relationships with potential clients and referral sources.

So dive into the online social networking pool and see if it works for you!

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  • Domain Jim

    Great article, thank you. Although I think that social networks may be used for marketing purposes, I cannot imagine a lawyer finding clients via Facebook. The problem being that social networks are too crowded by ingenuine people.

    However, I agree on the Linkedin – this is a good way to rise a profile and say “hey, I’m not a dinosaur, I surf online, I’m a 21st century lawyer”!

    For people who now rush to sign up for social networks, I will remind – do your time management. Once you’re in, you may see yourself wasting too much time.