Virginia Heffernan would have us believe we are experiencing a “Facebook Exodus,” or so she lamented in the New York Times magazine this weekend. Describing the packs of former users signing off the site for good, she wondered if Facebook was no more than a college clique, doomed to become an “online ghost town, run by zombie users who never update their pages, with packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles they once hoped to exploit.”
The description—although poetic—is dead wrong.
As of August 4, 2009, there were about 78 million users on Facebook, 40% of them over the age of 35. Facebook’s users in every demographic are increasing, not decreasing, with certain demographics like those over the age of 55 increasing by 514% from January through July 2009.
Ask the rare individual why he or she “quit” the site (or read their testimonials in New York Times or Newsweek‘s articles), and you will hear a litany of complaints. “I got hooked.” “I didn’t want to hear my friends’ updates on the minutiae of their lives.” “I friended too many people.” “I didn’t like the corporate intrusion into my online world.” “It took too much time.”
Tune out those voices; lawyers should not quit Facebook.
Facebook is a microcosm of the real world. If you procrastinate at work by playing online solitaire or doodling on your notepads, you will waste time on Facebook. If you think it is extremely tedious to talk to acquaintances at business functions or school open houses about things like the weather or the movie you just saw, then you will hate going to a website where you interact with those acquaintances every day in a similarly banal manner. If you do not like seeing advertisements on billboards on your way to work, or in your magazines, then you are bound to be bugged by the advertisements along the sides of your Facebook homepage.
But (and this is a big but) lawyers for generations have built their business through personal relationships. Contracts for legal services are signed after years of coffee dates and hand-shakes and “how’s your kid?” and “congratulations on your pregnancy” and “happy holidays” wishes. Facebook is a fabulous tool to help lawyers deepen our conversations and relationships with acquaintances so they can become our friends, and then hopefully, one day, our business contacts.
Facebook is a blessing for lawyers
Facebook is a blessing for lawyers, not the curse that these articles would have you believe. However, for a truly optimal experience, you must learn to work the site’s magic. Here are some pointers.
- If you are worried about privacy violations and how much of your information is available to your colleagues, to advertisers on Facebook or to search engines like Google, create a set of professional privacy settings on Facebook.
- If you do not want to see the random musings of every business acquaintance and elementary school buddy that you have become “friends” with, hide their status posts from your Facebook “wall” by right-clicking next to their next post that dares to grace your wall. Then, you can tune into their lives only when you want to.
- If you feel like you are spending too much time on Facebook, create “social media” time blocks at the beginnings or ends of your days, and stick to it. Go ahead and take a Facebook vacation. But do not disengage completely. You will regret it later.