What’s New in Social Media Marketing for Lawyers?

A recent MIT study concludes that fake news spreads “farther, faster, deeper” on social media—at a rate of five times faster than the truth.

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At ABA TECHSHOW, Herb Dixon and Megan Zavieh highlighted a vast assortment of issues in a program titled “Think Before You Tweet: Ethical Issues in Social Media,” including preservation of evidence litigation, divulging client confidences, and following advertising ethics rules. Not to mention simply embarrassing yourself professionally—such as posting something that may not be unethical or a rules violation, but still makes you look stupid and goes viral like crazy.

In “The Law and Social Media: Tips for Every Lawyer,” an ABA CLE webinar on March 15, I moderated a program with colleagues Cynthia Dahl, Kathryn Deal and Molly DiBianca, covering social media issues that range from employment law matters to tweeting jurors, messaging witnesses, friending judges, cybercrime and prosecution, DMCA and trademark issues, virtual law practices, professionalism, and marketing. In other words, everything that is ever involved in practicing law or being an attorney.

In the just-released ABA Formal Opinion 480, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility reminds lawyers of the confidentiality obligations for lawyer blogging and other public commentary and felt the need to remind us—again—of the duty of confidentiality under model rule 1.6, along with 3.5 (trial publicity) and 3.6.

Ad Age’s article, “Over Sharing,” discusses a growing number of people using Facebook less or leaving altogether—citing poisoned politics as just part of the problem.

Facebook’s recent algorithm change prioritizing posts in the News Feed that spark conversation among friends and family over passive consumption of public content and posts from publishers is a huge shift that has a significant impact on marketers and advertisers.

These are just a few examples of “social media for lawyers” that passed in front of me in the last two weeks. But what had the biggest impact on me was attending a recent CLE program in Southern California on how lawyers should use social media for professional development—with two in-house counsel from major corporations and two practicing attorneys. This is not a compliment. I realized that after all of these years, a so-called “expert panel” talking to a few hundred interested attorneys knew very little about the subject matter in addressing Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If the instructors doing the teaching are clearly clueless on the subject matter, what about everyone else? The conference, program, and speakers shall remain anonymous.

Just to give you a refresher, LinkedIn started in 2002; Facebook in 2004;  Twitter in 2006. Last I checked it is 2018—and so social media is not all that new. Yet, the legal profession continues to struggle with fully wrapping its arms around the best way to use these and many other social media-related tools and formats. It is made all the more difficult by how rapidly the primary social media sites shift how they function. A social media presence is not something you can set up and simply let the status quo handle monitoring the profile, network, tools and settings for each.

We all know the impact that social media has had on our lives and society. We’ll keep politics out of this, but you know what I mean—it has changed decision-making, shifted important outcomes, and the analytics and tools-for-purchase are often used for evil instead of good. For every grandmother that gets to see daily posts, photos and videos of the grandkids growing up from afar, or the guy that gets a job from his expertly crafted profile, there is some dude in Russia screwing with us. So maybe I did not keep politics completely out of it, but that is really the point.

When you are looking at your and your law firm’s social media portfolio, the assumption is (or should be) that people are looking, reading and researching on a smartphone. They are not on a desktop or even a laptop; maybe an iPad, but more likely than not on a handheld device. So your marketing strategies should be based on that assumption.

Not everything technological takes off. Most law firms like to pretend that their apps are a big success. But while your phone probably has an Uber app, it probably did not find the room or space for a Big Law or even a Little Law app. The vast majority of them are flops. I thought QR codes would be more of the rage than they turned out to be—when was the last time you used a QR code reader to do anything? But social media (and particularly the major social media apps), are the most widely used (by time) parts of the Internet. You need to stay on top of this stuff.

The ABA’s Law Practice Division—through this online publication, Law Practice Today, the Law Practice magazine and its book publishing unit—offers a litany of resources and how-to articles and books on this subject matter. Just make sure the shelf date is recent, or it is likely extremely outdated. Let’s take a quick look at the Big Three (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and how they relate to your law practice.

LinkedIn

If you are a business lawyer or just a human being in the workforce, LinkedIn continues to be a critical component of marketing—whether it is marketing yourself (which is really the primary part of the LinkedIn Empire) or marketing your practice. Every non-retired adult should have a LinkedIn profile. Every law firm should have a LinkedIn page. You should make sure your profile paints the proper picture of you. Join the right groups (alumni associations, trade groups, areas of interest, etc.). Build a connections library. Double-check your settings for privacy and visibility.

What’s new?

LinkedIn is now owned by Microsoft. So just like when Google buys a business (for example, when it purchased YouTube, among a thousand other “little” companies), you can expect some sort of integration into the new owners’ primary product line. So if you use any Microsoft products, like Outlook or Explorer, figure that LinkedIn will likely work better in certain environments.

When someone is checking you out online, many end-users prefer the data that a LinkedIn profile provides over the glossy, carefully crafted biography you present on your own website. Because LinkedIn is such a powerfully optimized site, your profile will often be at the top of a search for you or your business. So a poorly crafted LinkedIn page can easily lead to a loss of business—or an increase if you do a good job with it.

If you are in the job market, might be or unfortunately joined it involuntarily, you need to realize that this is by far the primary resource used by recruiters, search firms and human resource departments for finding and hiring employees. The first thing I tell someone looking for work is to put a lot of energy into LinkedIn, and probably invest in the premium services. This is not new, but it continues to have a greater impact on the job market every day.

Most experts will tell you the same thing about LinkedIn—that most professionals continue to underutilize the power its information provides. The site gleans key information on your contacts and shoots it to you in a variety of e-mails (perhaps more than you’d like, but interesting enough to avoid unsubscribing). It is a core competitive intelligence tool. And if you are a lawyer with a business-to-business practice, it is probably far and away the social media outlet of choice for your law firm.

For a consumer-based practice, LinkedIn is not going to bring you your “typical” new client. It may bring you a better-educated consumer, someone in the B-to-B space or a lawyer-to-lawyer referral, but not so much a new client sought through marketing or advertising strategies.

Facebook

A lot has changed on Facebook in recent years. The importance (or not) of Facebook is often heavily debated with many of my law firm marketing clients. Often, the debate rages around whether you are using it strictly for personal purposes, or if there really is a business development advantage to think about. As Facebook has slowly evolved into being more about making money than serving the social good, the way it has functioned has changed accordingly. It is not as easy for a plaintiffs’ firm to market for free on Facebook as it once was, but that does not mean it does not still offer a for-pay platform worth pursuing.

What’s new?

As noted at the top of this article, the Facebook algorithms continue to make it difficult for businesses to market without paying a premium. It is hard to post in a way that creates the type of visibility you need to get in front of a prospect. However, some of those paid advertising services, based on sophisticated demographic and end-user information, are very powerful (and successful) advertising tools for the modern consumer. The Yellow Pages are dead, radio and TV are tougher platforms to succeed in—this is a way of finding tomorrow’s client in much less of a scattershot method than any of those traditional media, and even better than equally uneven Google AdWord and related search engine optimization campaigns.

Visibility of posts has a much shorter timeline. If you are a business trying to break into my news feed, you probably need to pay good money to do so.

The age of the average Facebook user continues to grow older. The old adage of being on Facebook to follow what your kid is doing has long gone out the window. You can tell just from my own (middle) age and the sites not referenced so far in this article that if I was looking to reach a younger audience, LinkedIn and Facebook would be somewhat irrelevant (Twitter is the most likely established social media mechanism to capture a greater age range). If this article was about reaching a younger audience through social media, it would be all about Instagram (owned now by Facebook), Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest, Kik, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Tumblr, along with whatever other apps I may have never heard of that are on my teenager’s iPhone. The Facebook page for a young adult is now designed to tell parents what they want to see and hear—the real stuff gets Snapchatted.

The real value I’ve found for most attorneys on Facebook is in keeping themselves front and center to an array of clients and colleagues. It paints a picture of you as an interesting human being. Yes, you need to still worry about what you say in front of clients (which are why I avoid political posts, offering up those little quizzes and surveys about my favorite TV shows growing up, or ranting about something few people care about). But it also gives you the chance to more subtly market your practice—I’m teaching a CLE, I’m going to a law conference, here is an interesting article on changes in the tax laws—that has a greater impact than straight-shooting marketing. I’ve seen posts from lawyers that have led me to refer other lawyers—anyone know a family lawyer in Portland, Oregon?—or that simply create personal and professional bonds that may lead to business success. In returning from an ABA meeting, at least two dozen lawyers asked me about the experience of taking my son to the Super Bowl—which they knew occurred from a variety of Facebook posts detailing the experience.

As is the case with LinkedIn, it is still very important that you periodically look at your Facebook privacy settings—they do change unexpectedly from time to time—and make sure they show the world what you want. But the Facebook picture you paint still has a lot of marketing value—even if many CLEs tell you otherwise. You can search my array of articles and CLEs on the related topic of social media marketing ethics. The lessons taught there are related to following the various state bar ethics rules as they apply to social media platforms, but I never that suggest you should not be participating in them.

Twitter

For me—after spending lots of time focused on Facebook and LinkedIn—I’d say Twitter finally became a daily tool in the last year. From the original thought and concept—keeping it short, with a 140-character limitation—to the increased use of links to more information and streaming video. Twitter is where you go for the most recent news and information. It’s faster than a website or blog, in some cases an almost instantaneous feed of things that happened two seconds ago, if not live.

What’s new?

For starters, last years’ doubling of the character limit to 280 allows for greater “detail.” More embedding of images, articles, and videos (including live streams) is allowed than ever before. Gone is the thought that the messaging was too limited. You can do a lot with an effective post, with a solid following and the right hashtags.

For marketing purposes, Twitter offers paid advertising and promotional options (like the aforementioned big social media networks, it wants to make money, not just offer a free public resource to the planet). The Twitter end-user demographic is wider than the others, and those that live on Twitter consider it a seemingly routine part of every hour of the day. For the entrepreneurial lawyer marketer, a news opportunity that equates to a related practice area provides that first-strike, quick-strike capability. The use of hashtags and developing an influential following combine to offer a network that can unquestionably bring in business—and often will get you exposure to media (to get yourself quoted as an expert), potential clients that like what you have to say and stand for, and put you on the map as a thought leader in a particular field.

If you are a Twitter user, you may just use it to follow others for information, or you might be more focused on being followed. Obviously, just following can provide lots of information and insight. But saying something to your followers (or getting noticed and retweeted by someone with a greater following) is the real power of Twitter.

Nothing about Twitter should discourage you from participating in some way, shape or form. Twitter users can employ many strategies, and like everything else, it feels like they are changing daily.

What else is new?

As I hope you’ve surmised in this article, a lot is new in social media—despite my reminder that social media itself is far from new and novel. It continues to engrain itself every day on our personal and professional lives. Knowing how it works is a model rule of its own (it is malpractice not to understand technology today). Every day brings a reminder of its power and impact. Clearly, something this entrenched in society offers audiences and visibility that every law firm business development staff needs to know and use. Unfortunately, many of the great automated tools for republishing on multiple web platforms are limited by the social media sites themselves—you need to post directly, not automate. But you still have ways to use such tools to do something once and get it published multiple times. The bottom line is to stay vigilant and cognizant of changes in social media use for marketing purposes—because they do deliver dividends for every lawyer in some manner.

About the Author

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on marketing and business development and is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. Micah is a past editor-in-chief of Law Practice Today and a current member of the Board of Editors. He can be reached at micah@htmlawyers.com or by phone at 856-234-4334, and on Twitter at @mbuchdahl.

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