While social media is often associated with distant friends showing pictures of their pet or what they ate for dinner, it is advantageous for small and large law firms to participate in at least some of the many forms of social media now available. Social media is a broad category. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).”
Josh James, who founded Omniture (now a part of Adobe), wrote a post for Forbes.com in which he outlined the importance of social media. “The primary reason you have to be social is because that is where your customer lives,” James writes. “Even if you are not leveraging it to close business and interact with your customers, you have to spend enough time online to at least understand the shift in the world.”
Using social media can also help your customers and employees understand you and your business. James provides an anecdote about his own company, where he used Twitter, the popular abbreviated messaging service, to mention a feature he liked in certain products. Two weeks later, in a meeting with engineering, James was shown a product by his company with that particular feature built in. James was impressed at how such a simple tool could get the company moving in a singular direction, writing “We never had a meeting to discuss it. I never sent a memo. The engineer took the cue and figured out how to make the product better. That was pretty amazing.”
Choosing what service to use, what topic to discuss, or what to be social about can seem to a new participant as awkward as choosing what topic of conversation to strike up when making an unfamiliar acquaintance; in other words, where does one start? Tim Schendt, a 3L at Campbell Law School is a social media aficionado and early adaptor, believes that focusing on your niche is the easiest and most beneficial use of social media. “There are basically two schools of thought,” Schendt explains, “businesses either try to craft an image that they think appeals to customers, or they share insight and information about what they know and do best.” The second school is seen as preferable because it is more natural, and that authenticity is one of the strengths and driving forces behind the rise of social media.
In an online post, Rachel Zahorsky, a legal affairs reporter for the ABA Journal, illustrates the benefits of this authentic approach. “Jumping feet-first into the blogosphere expanded the national reputation of lawyer Dan Schwartz as the go-to guy on Connecticut employment issues,” said Zahorsky. “Former Monroe Country, NY assistant public defender and litigation associate Nicole Black reignited her legal career after a nearly three-year hiatus through a series of legal blogs.” These were not grand blogs that sought to force an image on other people in the hopes of drumming up business. Rather, these blogs allowed clients and peers to better understand the lawyer while simultaneously providing an outlet for the lawyer to demonstrate their interests and expertise.
While a more authentic approach is desirable, Schendt cautions users not to be reckless with whatever forms of social media they use. One of the problems with social media is that it is nearly always accessible and content can be produced quickly. Sometimes this easy access has resulted in users producing content that they regret and has had a negative impact on their business. Indeed Greek Olympic track star, Voula Papachristou, was taken off the team because of an errant tweet. For lawyers, social media is a professional extension of themselves and should be treated as such.