In 2020, Resolve to Turn Over a Social Media Leaf

There is no shortage of potential clients on the top social networks.

Thirty years after becoming widely available, the internet remains full of opportunity for those who embrace it as part of their marketing and business development strategy, and full of pitfalls for the unwary. Social media platforms are no exception. Lawyers and law firms have increasingly used LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other tools to develop reputations as thought leaders and to grow their professional networks and practices. As with any communications media though, care is required to succeed.

To the risk averse—no doubt a large portion of the legal community—the very potential of a negative outcome might be enough to completely quash the idea of pursuing personal or firm-branded social media efforts. Being aware of such pitfalls can and should serve as guardrails for activity, however, not as a reason to avoid what could become a valuable communications asset.

The Opportunity

By far, social media was the dominant force on the web during the 2010s and likely will continue in that fashion at least during the 2020s. According to a report by Statista, as of 2018, in the United States alone, 244 million people, or 79% of the population, had a social media profile. By 2023, that number is expected to increase by 13 million. There is no shortage of potential clients on the top social networks.

When it comes to shopping for legal services, Clio’s Legal Trends Report 2019 revealed that 57% of surveyed clients searched for a lawyer on their own, including through online search engines and social media. According to the American Bar Association’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey of 4,000 ABA members, 35% of respondents who use social media for professional purposes have been rewarded with clients as a result, either directly or through a referral.

Generational trends are crucial to consider as well. As of August 2018, according to a survey by eMarketer, 90.4% of millennials, 77.5% of Generation X, and 48.2% of Baby Boomers are active social media users. As millennials increasingly become decision-makers and purchasers of legal services, reliance on a lawyer’s online presence to establish credibility in their practice areas will likely accelerate.

The Pitfalls

Before we discuss the steps lawyers and their firms should take to get up to speed on social media, we must acknowledge a few of the potential problems. The first is discussion of clients, either with regard to active representation or general commentary on their actions.

Beyond the state-by-state ethical and professional conduct guidelines, a social media post should never harm the relationship with a client, or the strategic position or goals of a client. In larger firms especially, a lawyer wishing to post on, for instance, a company’s activities may not be aware a client relationship exists. In this case, it’s wise to always check for such a relationship beforehand. Likewise, language that could be considered defamatory, plagiarism, harassment or copyright or trademark violations are potential hazards. In California, lawyers should also be wary of language that implicitly or explicitly expresses their availability for employment, in the wake of California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400, finalized in late 2016.

By and large, these concerns can be alleviated by the creation and enforcement of a defined blogging/social media policy, or following existing firm policies.

Your First Steps

Choose Your Desired Audience, And Set Up Where They Are: For lawyers practicing in business law, the platform of choice is LinkedIn. According to the company, there are 46 million B2B decision-makers on the platform, and 10 million C-level executives. For other lawyers focusing more on individuals as potential clients, Facebook or Twitter are a better bet. If the emphasis is younger clients, and you feel you could produce high-quality, regular visual content, Snapchat and Instagram are currently where that audience primarily resides. At least initially, pick a single platform and develop your influence there.

Start Slow: You don’t have to devote large amounts of time to finding interesting content and writing the perfect post. A few minutes of catching up on your feed and industry news can provide a good basis for a quick post. Sharing others’ posts, including ones from an official firm account if available, is an easy way to stay active.

Post Reliably: Think about your favorite newspaper columnist, blogger or even YouTuber. The reason you keep going back to consume their content is that you can always count on them to produce something new. Pick a day, or a few days, every week to share something new.

Be Patient: If your first few posts don’t receive much engagement, don’t be discouraged. Many lawyers have invested years building their reputations online through regular posting. Focus on adding meaningfully to the online conversation, and the rest will follow in time.

Share Your Passions: Discuss the areas of the law and other topics you find most fascinating. Your enthusiasm will be obvious and contagious, and will make others with similar interests want to connect with you and interact with your posts.

At its core, marketing and business development is about creating and nurturing relationships, and social media makes this possible on a large scale. Lawyers who embrace this ever-changing tool, invest the time in building their presence and remain cautious with what they share will reap the rewards. The alternative is leaving relationships and revenue on the table.

Reprinted with permission from the January 7 issue of The Recorder. © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved. The original article can be viewed here.

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