If you are a practicing attorney, chances are high that you have had a person on the street stop and tell you that you need to leverage your social media presence. First things first: step away from anyone who uses the term “leverage” in any other context than using actual levers and force to move a thing.
Next, think about whether you want to actually be social or whether you want to be the digital equivalent of a guy who aggressively ambulance chases at his kid’s swim meet. You would not do that (hopefully) and you should not do that on social media.
Does that mean you shouldn’t have a social media presence? No. It just means that you should participate in the rich pageantry of social media like a normal human being, not simply as a client-gathering machine.
Here is the big secret to being a successful social media person, lawyer or otherwise: be social. People are on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Pinterest and Ello (okay, no one is actually on Ello) because they want to talk with friends, discuss issues of the day with like-minded people, and share pictures of their cute animals and children. They are rarely there to get yelled at about what legal needs they might theoretically have but never mentioned.
Perhaps because everybody and their mother (literally!) is on Facebook, lawyers do not seem to be quite as awful on Facebook. We all know that Facebook is where you post cute kid pictures, create a group for all your friends training for a marathon, or invite people over for a barbecue. It often functions as the digital equivalent of a neighborhood group or the more convenient version of an email list. Neither of those are places where you would just randomly start shouting your practice areas or credentials at anyone who stopped to talk to you. Do not do that on Facebook.
Twitter is a unique online experience. In fact, I can’t think of any real world analogue. Never in my pre-web life did I send small bits of text off into the world for anyone who might wish to read them. It would have been like mailing hundreds of postcards with the same message, at the same time, to a few people I knew and hundreds I did not. Perhaps because it is such an oddity, Twitter is the repository for a lot of bad lawyer behavior like the kind Sam wrote about.
This happens on Twitter when lawyers — or anyone else, really — don’t understand that Twitter may feel like a yelling into the void, but it really isn’t. Regardless of the superficial oddity of the format, Twitter still requires you to converse with people about things they care about other than your business. Yes, those people might be more attenuated than your somewhat-real-life Facebook friends, but they still do not need you to tell them every hour that you are a lawyer who handles bankruptcy cases.
Need I even warn you off of Pinterest? That is for posting recipes and paint swatches, not lawyering.
If you want a platform to advertise your credentials and discuss your last big win, use LinkedIn, particularly if you are job hunting. However, LinkedIn is generally the least social of all the social media, and rightly so. First, as far as talking to your colleagues, everyone knows it is not that interesting to stand around talking to other lawyers about your credentials. If that is the thing you love most, you are probably already networking in person. As far as talking to prospective clients, if they are finding you on LinkedIn, fantastic — but you are then taking that conversation offline (or at least to email) right away.
Other corporations and brands use Twitter and Facebook to connect … why shouldn’t we? This is mostly because we are under ethical obligations about how we advertise.
You will not be surprised to learn that if you are going to use the Internet to promote your business interests, you fall under certain of the rules of professional conduct. The big thing you need to know about how the rules address social media is this: a consultation can now occur in any medium in which a lawyer advertises, and that presumably includes offering your services on Twitter. This means that your chat with a virtual acquaintance on Twitter or Facebook might drift into representation territory if you are not careful. Besides, even if it might be permissible under the rules of professional conduct in your state, do you really want to be the lawyer that offers a $100 discount for liking you on Facebook? Worse, do you want to be the person that begins conversations about people’s potentially sensitive legal issues in a public forum? No you do not.
Much like real-life friend-making, being social online is a process. You build a following on Twitter by tweeting posts that interest a wide variety of people and responding to interesting tweets posted by other people. You make and keep friends on Facebook by sharing common interests. People will follow one of your boards on Pinterest if you post pictures of delicious pies. Some or all of these things may lead to clients in the same way that real-life friendships can lead to clients. People learn to like you and trust you in a non-legal setting, paving the way to like and trust you as their lawyer. See? No mystery.