Social media has certainly taken a stronghold in online communications. There are literally hundreds of tools online to connect, converse, tag, share, review, post, recommend, save and message others.

Within each category of social media tools, there are definitely a few that stand out as frontrunners for lawyers and law firms as they relate to networking, search engine optimization and marketing. Part one of this two-part series focuses on “Social Networking” and “Lawyer and Law Firm Reviews and Recommendations.”

Social Networking

A social networking site is one that is designed to allow multiple users to publish content themselves and share it with others. The information may be on any subject and may be intended for consumption by friends, colleagues, target clients and the many other audiences found online. Social networking sites typically allow users to create a “profile” describing themselves, to exchange public or private messages and list other users or groups they are connected to in some way.

But don’t let the word “private” fool you — as far as I’m concerned, there really is no such thing online. So, here are a few networking sites that lawyers should be aware of:

• LinkedIn — LinkedIn is my favorite online tool for professional networking no matter what the profession. For lawyers, it’s an excellent tool for building your personal and firm profiles online. LinkedIn groups allow us to connect to people with similar interests or affinities such as alumni groups, hobbyists, professional associations and more.

One of the ways I use LinkedIn is to research who is affiliated with the various companies that are on my radar as prospective clients or strategic partners. I don’t typically ask to be introduced via LinkedIn, rather, I go for a more direct approach — picking up the telephone and asking. This is an especially great tool to use for law firms that represent businesses.

At the very least, claim your name and firm name on LinkedIn and build robust profiles that include the words “attorney,” “lawyer,” “law firm” and your specific practice areas. That way, when people are searching on LinkedIn and other search engines, at least there’s a better chance for you and your law firm to be found.

• Facebook — At last count, Facebook had more than 650 million active users and was ranked the number two site in the United States behind Google. It is a blend of personal and professional information and can be used for business.

I equate the World Wide Web to a very small village where everyone knows everything about you. And while many attorneys wish to remain relatively private — and there’s nothing wrong with that — in order to remain competitive and relevant in the 21st century, it’s important to engage online to some degree. I know many attorneys who use Facebook just for connecting with friends and family and that’s perfectly fine, too.

• Twitter — Twitter is a micro-blog where you can post “tweets” that are no more than 140 characters in length. It has its own special language and can be used to push out information, pull information and to converse with others.

I don’t think all lawyers or law firms should actively post on Twitter. However, I do think all law firms and lawyers should be monitoring what’s being said on Twitter. Set up searches for your name, your firm’s name, your clients’ names, your practice areas and listen in on the conversation. Monitor what is being said and be prepared to respond when appropriate.

If you do decide to engage in the conversations on Twitter, various forms of content that are relevant and of value to others include sharing breaking news, important news stories, events, ideas, resources, interesting observations, blog posts, articles, trends, research, opinions, case outcomes, legal tips, information and helpful opinions.

• Google Plus — The jury is still out on Google Plus. I have an open profile and, to date, have found it helpful to have for purposes of Google search rankings (SEO) and to listen in on the Internet techies’ conversation about Google Plus. Other than that, I’ve found it to be a productivity drain as I have received too much spam and have been added to too many circles of people with whom I do not wish to connect.

Lawyer and Law Firm Reviews

• Avvo — While there is still much controversy in the legal community regarding lawyer review sites, it appears that Avvo is here to stay; so it’s worth taking the time to either claim or create your own profile. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to upload your headshot, fill out your profile, add some of your resume information, upload a few publications that you have authored and request endorsements from a client or two. Avvo profiles come up very high in search engines, so add a reminder to review and update your profile once every three or four months.

• Yelp — Yelp is another online site that is built for people to provide their opinions about their experience with various businesses. While Avvo was designed as a lawyer review site — and now includes doctors — Yelp was designed as a consumer site so you can review anything from restaurants and theme parks to professional service providers.

If your firm has a presence on the Internet, it is imperative for you to take ownership of the firm’s profile on Yelp. So, head on over to Yelp.com, type in your firm name and claim the goods. It will take no more than 15 minutes to set up the firm profile and presto, you can be found on Yelp, too.

Be sure to include all of your practice areas as well as states and counties within which you practice law in the description of your firm. This will help with the search engine optimization.

• Martindale — Almost every attorney has heard of the brand Martindale-Hubbell. Dating back to 1868, the directory has expanded and now has offerings online. I still remember looking at my grandfather’s and my father’s listings in the printed books and being so proud.

As a 21st century player, Martindale.com added Martindale Connected, which is marketed as a tool that connects lawyers and law firms worldwide with resources, information and prospective clients.

While I don’t communicate that much on Martindale Connected, I do believe that all lawyers should, at the very least, claim their free online profiles on Martindale.com. Then, you may want to consider joining the free network that was created for the legal community and its professionals for the collaborative benefits and search engine optimization networking opportunities.

The examples in this article are only some of the various online resources that are out there for attorneys to utilize. Some are legal-focused and others are not; however, it is important to remember when engaging with any online community to follow the guidelines laid out by your firm’s social media policy. There is no use in denying the fact that clients and prospective clients, as well as jurors and judges, are all using social networking sites.

Always be mindful of your online presence and remember that you represent your law firm in all communications.

“Sorting Out Social Media for Lawyers Part II” will address “Social Content Sharing” and “Location-Based Services.” Look for the article in tomorrow’s Legal. •

Gina F. Rubel is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., a public relations and marketing agency with a niche in legal communications. A former Philadelphia trial attorney and public relations expert, Rubel is the author of “Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers.” She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com.