Raymond L. Panneton, an associate with the Talaska Law Firm in Houston
Raymond L. Panneton, an associate with the Talaska Law Firm in Houston (Handout photo)

Social media has become a mainstay in law firm marketing and advertising. Utilizing social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ helps attorneys to connect with target demographics, interact with colleagues and build their brands.

Odds are, lawyers reading this article practice in firms that have some sort of presence on a social media site. But a social media presence is only half the battle. To reap the benefits of social media content, lawyers should avoid these seven common mistakes.

1. Failing to create a social media policy: Outlining a clear social media policy for the firm and its employees is paramount. The policy should address how much access, if any, employees will have to social media throughout the work day.

Some firms choose to use the social media accounts of their associates and senior-level support staff to complement the firms’ online presence. If this is the case, it’s important to establish what employees can do during the work day. Additionally, these policies should clearly define consequences for policy violations.

Aside from employees, a social media policy is necessary for whoever handles social media sites for the firm. The policy should lay out concisely the firm’s social media strategy, assign responsibility for content and generally outline acceptable topics to discuss on the firm’s social media accounts. Be certain to discuss client confidentiality issues and how to avoid problems with both employees and the social media manager.

2. Treating all social media sites identically: Each social site has a different use and target audience. Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to social media presence.

When joining a social media site, take time to explore the site and how other people interact on it. Twitter, for example, is a way for users to maintain a more personal persona that discusses topics outside of a legal practice area or even outside of the law. Facebook, on the other hand, is more useful for posting content, pictures and professional announcements. A 140-character post on Facebook likely looks out of place or fails to gain attention in Facebook’s algorithm.

3. Sending spammy postings: Social media’s main purpose is to connect with an audience. As such, lawyers should avoid too much self-promotion. Linking to a website or blog is a good thing but only in moderation.

For the firm, the purpose of a social media presence should be to showcase knowledge and innovation. Posts should engage the audience and attempt to create dialogue between followers and the firm, and even between followers and other followers. As audience and credibility grow, users are then able to self-promote when it’s appropriate. As a general rule, if it sounds “spammy,” it probably is.

4. Making personal posts on the firm’s accounts: When making posts on behalf of a firm, avoid personal opinions. A firm’s social media presence is an important branding tool; posting personal opinions has the potential to tarnish the firm’s brand.

General topics to avoid are politics, religion and personal thoughts. Most firms have separate social media accounts for their attorneys and staff. If one person manages both accounts, be sure to check which account is doing the posting. Inadvertently making a personal post on a firm account can cause irreversible damage. Work under the assumption that once something is posted, it’s permanent.

5. Focusing on quantity over quality of followers: The purpose of all social media endeavors should be to engage the audience and not just speak at them. When joining a new social media site, it’s tempting to “follow” or “friend” everyone and anyone. But doing so misses the point.

On Twitter, there are a number of people who will automatically “follow back” when followed. This strategy might increase follower numbers, but that audience will be less likely to engage the content.

The purpose is to entertain, educate and engage followers. By posting relevant, informative content, followers will grow more naturally. Followers gained organically are more likely to engage the content and become clients or referral sources. Focus on engagement and the network will grow.

6. Neglecting social media: Maintaining a presence on the site is important. Inconsistent—or a lack of—posting likely reflects negatively on the firm’s brand. As important as Twitter and Facebook have become in users’ daily lives, clients have come to rely on these sites and like to see their attorneys actively posting.

Neglecting social media also could have unintended consequences, such as a failure to timely respond to an inquiry or ignoring a negative comment. A failure to promptly address inquiries and criticism will likely damage the firm’s brand.

7. Giving up: Many go into social media with the notion that they will see an immediate payoff. This simply isn’t true. Building a core group of engaged followers is difficult and takes time. Focus on small, short-term goals to measure success. A payoff will come to those willing to devote time and energy to a social media presence.

As hard as it is to believe, social media can be used for more than posting funny cat pictures or reading stories about a friend’s new baby. Law firms that use social media correctly can engage clients, interact with colleagues and build their brands.

Social media isn’t a fad; it’s a mainstay in society. Potential clients are using social media to search for representation. Lawyers and firms not riding the social media wave will be left behind.

Raymond Panneton is an associate with the Talaska Law Firm in Houston. His email address is ray@ttlf.com