Social media is this decade’s annoying buzzphrase, popularized by a horde of social media gurus, ninjas, and experts who constantly proclaim loudly and frequently that social media is The Answer to just about everything, including getting clients. Lawyers have taken the bait, and have swarmed to social media like flies to honey.

The results vary. Many lawyers use social media for self-promotion, which is actually kind of uncomfortable to watch. At best, it just makes them look silly and has little or no result. You can’t tweet something like “If you have been injured, call the personal injury powerhouse!” and expect to look like anything other than a clueless n00b. Other lawyers are trying to use social media strategically, but can’t get comfortable with the medium — or just aren’t very good at it. Despite the hype, only a handful of lawyers seem to be building any substantial business on social media.

Social Media is Not a Marketing Medium

That is probably because social media is not a marketing medium. It is a social medium. Hence the presence of the word “social” and the absence of the word “marketing.” The direct result of using social media is an expanded social network — not clients. Just as with offline social networks (your soccer team, dads’ night out, neighborhood picnics), though, a likely result of an expanded social network is more clients because more people know, like, and trust you with their referrals.

Online, though, social ties take longer to form and are usually more tenuous. How many times must someone see your avatar and username dropping quickly down their Twitter or Facebook feed before they recognize it? How many more times before they remember that you are a lawyer in a particular state? How many more times before you will be the lawyer they think of first when they have a chance to make a referral to a potential client in your state?

This is why posting something like “Considering a divorce? Call us — we can help!” is so ridiculous. For one thing, nobody comes to Twitter or Facebook to read stuff like that. Chances are you will just get unfollowed or un-friended. But even if you don’t get cut off, you aren’t building a relationship. And even if someone somehow interpreted your self-promotion as relationship-building, you would have to do it constantly if you wanted anyone to remember you and refer a case to you. Like this guy:

Gah! He has 3,737 tweets as of this writing, and they are pretty much all like that (well, as far as I went back, anyway). Imagine having that conversation in any other social setting. Your daughter’s swim meet, for example.

Angela: Hi Jim. I just saw Audrey's 50 fly. Wow, she did great!

Jim: Did you slip and fall at the pool today? If so, here's my card. I can help.

Angela: Um, that's great, Jim. Is Audrey going to be on the IM relay later? I know Emma was hoping she would be, since Emma hates backstroke.

Jim: Are you in pain? Call the injury powerhouse today for a free consultation!

Angela: Okaaay. Hey, I'm going to go grab something from the concession stand for Emma. See you at the ice cream parlor after the meet!

The Secret to Becoming a Social Media Rock Star

The secret to becoming a social media rock star/ninja/guru/whatever is that there is no secret. Being social online is only different than being social offline because you have to communicate through your keyboard, microphone, and webcam. Except that, at an offline networking event, people are more or less trapped in the same physical space for an hour or so. Online, nobody has to listen to anyone they don’t want to. If you want people to listen, you have to be interesting.

People don’t have Facebook accounts just so you can show up and brag about yourself any more than they go to an ice cream social with their family hoping that you will come up and talk about your business, and leave a card. That should be common sense, but many lawyers seem to think the Internet was invented for marketing purposes, and go around littering the information superhighway with their billboards.

That’s a mistake. It’s no secret why most lawyers on social media don’t have much of an audience. The reason people are on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn is to share pictures of their grandchildren and talk about the great meal they just had at the new restaurant in town. They want to post selfies (for better or for worse) and read interesting links posted by their friends. Pushy marketing is annoying and unwelcome.

If you want to be popular on social media, be someone worth knowing. Be a good friend, tell funny jokes, and share interesting things — just like you would do to make friends offline. You may not become a social media rock star, but at least you won’t get a reputation as an annoying pain in the ass.

By the way, take a look at the people who are following those social media “rock stars.” It’s mostly other social media rock-star wannabes, who are, in turn, followed by other social media rock-star wannabes. A social media rock star at the top of the food chain may have some interesting things to say about becoming a social media rock star, but it’s a fair bet they don’t know anything about promoting a law practice on social media.

Metrics that Don’t Matter

Let’s go back to the lawyer from the Twitter feed I posted above. He’s actually got quite a few followers — over 1,200. That sounds awesome! Right?

Well, let’s look at how he got them.

So, begging. And most of the followers are other law firms, lawyers, and social media consultants who seem to have a similar understanding of how to use Twitter.

Social media has lots of built-in metrics, which are usually force-fed to you, constantly. Facebook is constantly telling you how many people like your latest update. Twitter is constantly telling you how many followers you have. LinkedIn is obsessed with your connections and endorsements. Blogs are all about pageviews and subscribers and more.

None of those metrics is particularly relevant to your business, however. It is a mistake to think they do. You can be a social media rock star and still not have any clients.

How much of your firm’s revenue (and more importantly, profit) can you attribute to the social connections you have formed or strengthened through your firm’s Facebook page or Twitter account or blog? That can be hard to measure, but if you cannot point to a critical mass of clients who found you as a result of social media, you are probably wasting your time.

How Not to Waste Your Time on Social Media

For starters, use social media only if you enjoy it. If you enjoy writing, try a blog. If you want to post pictures of your cat, try Instagram. If you want to share photos of your kids, try Facebook. If you want to stay on top of current events, try Twitter.

Other than mentioning your law practice on your profiles and sprinkling in the occasional update related to your practice area, don’t worry too much about marketing. Just be social. If you are forming relationships and extending existing ones, the clients will come.

Or they may not, but at least you will be wasting time doing something you enjoy.