Using Social Media to Help Your Career

By now we've all heard that social media has become a "must do" for law firms but what many legal marketers don't realize is that the same tools that can help promote your firm can also help you get promoted.
According to the Nielsen Company, people around the world spent 82 percent more time on social media sites in 2009 as compared to 2008. In the U.S., that number grew to an astonishing 210 percent. Considering the amount of time spent on sites like Facebook and Twitter, social media has become a hot platform for expanding your career and raising your personal profile.
Heather Milligan, Director of Marketing at Barger & Wolen LLP in Los Angeles, has made a name for herself in legal marketing circles because of her prolific use of social media. In addition to her "day job," Heather is the author and editor of The Legal Watercooler, a blog where she writes about the legal industry, legal marketing, social media and occasionally, Girl Scout cookies. For her, the decision to use social media to advance a career is a simple one.
"Because of the recession, there are fewer legal marketing jobs out there so you need to differentiate yourself and social media is a great way to do that," Heather stated. "It allows you to land the job you want as opposed to the job you need."
Similarly, Susan E. Jacobsen, President of LUV2XLPR, has used social media tools to drive new business to her public relations company and serve as a conduit for people looking for new jobs. She has used Twitterto secure media interviews and placements for clients and has also built strong relationships with colleagues and journalists through the site.
"Social media is not about technology. It's about forging and strengthening relationships through various communications tools; it's about interaction and engagement, not downloading an application to your iPhone or BlackBerry." 
While both Heather and Susan stress that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for social media use, there are some tools they both recommend.
LinkedIn - "If you're starting your personal social media strategy from scratch, you should start with LinkedIn," states Heather. Fill in as much of your individual profile with as much information as you can - education, job responsibilities, previous employment, activities and interests. Be sure to use keywords in your description to increase search engine optimization and drive more traffic to your profile. Susan has used LinkedIn as a "connector of sorts" among professional colleagues and has been able to help place colleagues in new positions through her contacts. In addition to completing your profile, it is important to join relevant groups - ranging from legal marketing to college alumni - on LinkedIn and engage in the site's question and answer forums. Responding to questions from other professionals not only helps you join the conversation, it also promotes you as a credible expert on a given topic and helps define your personal brand.
Blogs - "Blogging is where you most effectively demonstrate your knowledge of your subject," stated Susan. For many, the idea of creating and posting a personal blog is overwhelming but Heather points out that the time dedicated to blogging can vary greatly from person to person. For those looking to get their feet wet, commenting on legal marketing blogs is a great way to join the conversation without committing to your own blog. Heather herself says she spends several hours per week on her blog but, with the help of a smartphone, the blog "flows in and out of my life." If you do decide to start your own blog, be sure to create new content on a regular basis and interact with other bloggers to create a dynamic conversation. The best blogs are those that are updated regularly and bring interesting topics to the table.
Twitter - This microblogging site gives legal marketers the ability to "follow others in the industry like reporters and thought leaders and then engage in discussions, offer advice, ask questions and show interest," says Susan. With relative ease and quick set-up, you can share interesting articles and information with followers, providing you a platform to become a trusted and respected source for people around the world. Twitter gives you the opportunity to have a real-time conversation with like-minded individuals you may otherwise never meet. Reporters are increasingly finding both story ideas and sources on Twitters - Susan herself has been spotlighted in USA Today, all because of a tweet she sent out regarding her stay at a hotel in New York. For those interested in joining Twitter or beefing up their Twitter account, read Susan's blog for more tips and tools.
Facebook - Despite recent privacy concerns, it's difficult to find people not on Facebook these days. Most Facebook users are on the site to keep in touch with friends and family but the site can also be used to update colleagues and business contacts on your work. If you are using Facebook for both personal and professional reasons, be sure to carefully monitor your posted information and settings, so that information best suited for your personal life (political opinions, old photos, etc) isn't accessible by business contacts.
New social media sites are popping up almost constantly and, as Heather warns, "do not be beholden to third parties for social media."MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have all at one time or another enjoyed the status of being the "it" social media spot. It's important not to limit yourself to just one third party application and to be flexible enough to try new sites and tools as they are introduced. 

Heather also cautions that users must "practice restraint of pen, tongue and keyboard." Think twice before posting anything that could potentially alienate followers or readers, including political messages, complaints about others or even simple information overload.
For those still questioning if social media can help raise their career profile, Heather notes that computers, email and smartphones were all considered unnecessary at one time but have since become indispensable tools in the lives of most professionals. 

By Jennifer Becker, senior writer at Patton Boggs LLP, for the May/June 2010 Issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter

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