KMLW

Breaking Chains to Build New Links: Social Media

If you are anything like me, you have never approached networking or self promotion in a systematic way.  In fact, you may be terrified of it.  Yet, our ability to network and self promote is essential for building a client base, building our own name, and building our careers.  Each month I’m going to tackle one strategy for networking or self promotion in an effort to help all of us break the chains we’ve put around ourselves and begin building new links.  If you have a topic you’d like covered, e-mail me at chainstolinks@gmail.com 

This month we’re talking about Social Networking and the Internet.  For those of us who came of age during the Facebook Revolution, social networking is, most likely, second nature.  We keep in touch with friends and colleagues from college and high school through the internet and are still a little shocked when our parents ask to “Friend” us.  For our generation, using social networking tools is not a challenge, it is using them appropriately that can be hard.  For men and women who are a little bit older than those of us who were on Facebook when it was just for college kids, social networking can be daunting from a technological perspective (e.g. how do I create a page, is it even worth it?).  Nevertheless, an internet presence is no longer optional.  It is an essential part of any successful career building and self-promotion toolbox.  Thus, this month, I take on the internet.  How do we use it successfully as a tool of career development and what are the pitfalls we want to avoid?  I’d like to thank Amy Campbell of Infoworks, who also publishes a very useful blog on law firm marketing, and Carol Todd Thomas, the Chief Marketing Officer for Jones Walker for their incredibly helpful commentary. 

What are the Advantages of an Internet or Social Networking Presence?

Carol Thomas says the internet and internet companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like are making cultural changes that law firms and lawyers simply cannot afford to ignore.  Yet, as Amy Campbell notes, lawyers are inherently risk averse.  But we shouldn’t be!  Amy says social media outlets can help to break down barriers more quickly.  “People get a sense of who you are based on your social media activity such as LinkedIn status updates, your blog posts, your tweets, and you raise your visibility and come across as more accessible than just a name in a directory.”  Common interests form the basis for deeper relationships“some people form real personal and profession bonds online before they ever meet in person.”  Carol Thomas says law firms and lawyers cannot afford not to understand social media outlets because they are what our clients are using to communicate with their customers.  “If you can’t communicate with your clients intelligently about these medium, then you cannot understand their business models anymore.” Jones Walker has also used social media to enhance client relationships.  A local business that they had been courting as a client ran coupons for free pizza on Twitter one day.  The firm tweeted about the business and several weeks later the business came back to them for legal work.  They remembered that Jones Walker had tweeted about them and said it showed they understood their business.  

What about the Pitfalls?

Amy and Carol agreed that the biggest pitfall of social networking is the failure to use it appropriately.  “The drunken party pictures are a problem, particularly for younger professionals.”  In many ways younger people are at an advantage with the use of social media, but they need to learn to use it now as a professional tool, not purely a social one. Amy says, for instance, she chooses to focus purely on work related themes on her LinkedIn account, but tends to be a little more silly and nostalgic with her friends and family on Facebook. “I try to separate the audiences, but there is always some overlap.” Carol Thomas disagrees a bit, cautioning that you cannot really have separate work and personal lives as a lawyer.  “You cannot stop being a lawyer just because you leave work.” Monitor your internet presence and make sure it is always appropriate.  (On this score, it’s a good idea to Google yourself every once in awhile.  You’ll see what parts of your various profiles are visible to the public and where you’re coming up in search rankings based on your name.)   

What are the Best Uses of Your Internet Presence?

Both Amy and Carol agree, an internet presence gives you the opportunity to be a thought leader and develop some expertise in a given area.  Amy suggests starting a blog.  “It’s a great way to find your voice as a professional and to learn to write about topics of interest to you.” “For the more established lawyer,” she notes, “a blog offers the opportunity to showcase her knowledge and become a recognized expert in the field. This is a place where the old marketing adage, ‘Don’t tell me, show me.’ is really true.  Don’t tell people you’re an expert on something, leave a trail proving it.”  Amy cautions young lawyers to tread more carefully.  “Once you’ve posted it, you’ve left a trail of evidence. Additionally, Twitter is a great way to keep up with people who are important to you.  Amy says she uses Twitter as a substitute news source now.  She follows people who she admires and believes have a certain level of expertise and through them learns about issues of importance to her.  You can be certain law firm clients are doing the same. 

Carol adds that the best platform for a given lawyer will depend on their practice and expertise, “You have to go where your clients are.  If you want to be in touch with the GC’s of Fortune 500 Companies, you need to be on Legal On Ramp.  GC’s don’t want to be inundated.  Legal On Ramp gives them the opportunity to reach out to known experts and professionals to get the advice they need.” On the other hand, if you’re looking to connect with young entrepreneurs, you need Facebook.  Carol worked with a sports agent who wanted to build his younger client base.  She helped him build a Facebook page and within six months he had a serious following not only from players, but also coaches.  On the other hand, if you’re an IP attorney, Carol says “You should consider Second Life.” “Second Lifers” (as they are called) are creating all sorts of intellectual property and people need attorneys to protect it. Jones Walker has a virtual office on Second Life and through it, they are reaching global clients that they would not have otherwise.  

Summing It Up:

In short, social media tools can be an incredible boon to any attorney’s practice.  You certainly have to identify the right medium for yourself and build your presence in the way that makes the most sense for you but it is not an option to bury your head in the sand and ignore the internet or the changes that social media tools are making to our culture.  So, how do you put it all together?   

Carol Todd Thomas offers five issues you need to understand when building your online presence:

 
  1. Long tail – The demand side of the economy is driving the internet space right now.  You have to think about where the client demand is that you seek to take advantage of interacting online.  Then you need to create a presence there. 
  2. Convergence –  Everyone and everything is converging in this space.  (e.g. Twitter feeds upload automatically to Facebook, individuals can take articles and post them automatically to their Facebook or LinkedIn Profiles with commentary)  You have to think about the convergence of your practice.  What are your clients using and are you using it as well? 
  3. Transparency –  The internet is meant to be transparent, open to the public, and available.  You have to be willing to be that way too.  You cannot put up a blog posting and then ignore the comments or questions beneath it.  You cannot let your social media presence languish.  You have to make a commitment to your presence and then continually follow up on it. 
  4. Aggregation - You want to become a one-stop-shop with tons of expertise.  In addition to providing your own value, think about aggregating information that is important to people.  Jones Walker‘s most popular webpage is the Fiscal Recovery Resource Center which they set up in the wake of the economic downturn.  The site tracks financial reform issues and is constantly updated.
 

So, consider what your next internet networking step may be.  If you haven’t created a presence yet, perhaps you start on LinkedIn or Facebook?  If you enjoy writing, try writing an article and consider whether it might be worthwhile to turn that into the basis for a blog.  If you’re already online, consider whether your presence is appropriate or needs an update.  If you have questions, please post them below.  I’ve secured promises from both Amy and Carol that I can ask them to offer even more expert advice!   

Next Month: I’m starting the first in what will be a several month series on networking in different areas of the law through a conversation with some successful Government Lawyers about what steps they took to get where they are and whether they have any special tips for successful government networking and self-promotion!

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