Business development is relationship building. It is a long haul, and often the seeds of a relationship are planted several years before a business engagement actually bears fruit. Social media, likewise, is all about relationship building. Mastering social media can kick your networking game up a notch. Effective social media use can give you more bang for your buck than any networking happy hour, and can be done from the comfort of your couch. Put these power practices into play to get the most out of your social media presence:
• Master the nuts and bolts. Tinker with a few different platforms — whether LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, etc. — to figure out which ones are the best fit for you. Apps such as TweetDeck or HootSuite can help you manage multiple social media accounts with ease. Whatever platform you decide to use, make sure you have a solid understanding of the logistics of the platform. Attend a local PodCamp or social media meetup. In addition to putting faces to Internet handles/names, you can get invaluable tips about using your platform of choice.
• Every word is a public word. Your online presence should be consistent with your outward, public presence. Privacy settings on social media platforms are confusing and subject to change without warning. You must take ownership of every word you write. Write like your client, your boss and your grandmother are all reading. They probably are. This is not to say that you should completely avoid every controversial topic. Instead, write consciously and deliberately. Consider the impact your words will have on your intended audience. If you blog, let your posts “rest” for a few hours, and review with fresh eyes before posting. This will give you the opportunity to think your content through and give you a valuable opportunity to proofread.
• Quality counts. Readers will judge you by the quality of your prose. Content should be edited for spelling, grammar and tone. Be concise. Even though this is “just the Internet,” you should be serious about your writing. Invite a friend to occasionally take a red pen to your posts, and consider how you can improve your style. An excellent writing exercise is to take a piece you have written and love and whittle its word count in half. This will teach you the inherent architecture of your style and your patterns.
• Choose your friends carefully. Careful deliberation should also extend to the connections you make online. Several legal ethics opinions and articles have been published in the last five years addressing the intersection of the Rules of Professional Conduct and online connections. In addition to your ethical obligations, you must also consider personal professionalism. Do you work with clients who would be horrified to discover that opposing counsel is your Facebook friend, even if you went to law school together? Or do you practice in a collaborative atmosphere where such a relationship would be encouraged? You should be prepared to explain and stand behind those connections if called upon to do so.
• Be familiar with your employer’s social media policies and expectations. The last thing you want for your career is for your employer to discover, and dislike, what you have posted online. Business development will not help you much if you are out of a job. It is the most basic rule of attorney ethics, but it bears repeating: never, ever, ever post confidential client information. It is useful to address legal news or issues as a component of your content, but you should not comment on legal matters in which you are involved as counsel.
• Content, content, content. Your social media presence is about you. Being a lawyer is part of your life. Your social media presence should reflect this balance. Law blogs are informative but immensely difficult to write effectively or efficiently. Significant research and constant updating are required both to capture reader attention and to keep content consistent with the current state of the law. This is a massive time investment, and young lawyers do not have time to spare. Only one law blog comes to mind as having a glimmer of something unique that would make a reader want to strike up a friendly conversation with the author. (That’s What She Said, blogs.hrhero.com/thatswhatshesaid/, an employment law blog based on The Office TV series.) It is not likely worth your effort to write a blog devoted solely to your practice. Your social media presence should contain a mix of your legal expertise and your interests, so that your reader can get to know you on both a personal and professional level.
• Keep it fresh. The volume of information coming through social media is overwhelming. Any message you publish will be drowned out from the conversation in a matter of hours. Content must be fresh and frequent. A blog or Facebook should be updated several times a week. LinkedIn does not demand as frequent attention — an update every week or two is sufficient. Twitter moves at the speed of light, and if possible should be updated multiple times a day to keep readers engaged. At a minimum, having your new blog posts appear as links in your Twitter feed can attract reader attention. Syncing Twitter and Facebook status updates, however, comes across as repetitive and boring.
• Engage. The best way to get more readers is to read more. Read blogs and leave comments. Subscribe to Twitter feeds and retweet. Leave kind acknowledgements in response to Facebook or LinkedIn updates about major life changes or career accomplishments. It is far easier to introduce yourself online than in real life, so social media engagement is perfect for introverts. You do not need any particular reason to start following a Twitter feed or adding a new blog to your feed reader. Just start reading, and strike up the conversation.
Use your social media presence to promote others and to align yourself with those you admire. Direct your readers to thought-provoking articles you have read and include a few of your own thoughts. Feature posts by guest bloggers. A good starting balance is for your blog to consist of 80 percent of your own original content and 20 percent of your posts should be discussing or promoting content written by others. Engagement is the foundation of any relationship, online or off.
• Take it beyond the screen. Once you have started engaging with others through social media, take advantage of opportunities to meet those folks out in the real world. Do not throw up a wall between online interactions and the outside world. Even if you are shy, it is shockingly easy to continue an online conversation offline. When you meet someone new at a networking event, you probably know nothing about that person and have to fire away with questions before finding common ground. Networking first through social media, however, enables you to get to know a person’s background and interests even before that first handshake. It is much easier to get a hearty conversation going.
• A picture and a thousand words. Have a good avatar/profile picture that looks like you. For your social media connections to be an effective networking tool, you must be identifiable to your readers.
If you are blogging, you should include a picture in at least 80 to 90 percent of your posts. Be mindful of copyright issues. The easiest way to avoid copyright trouble is to post only photos you have taken.
• Consider analytics. Blog analytics services, whether through Google Analytics, your blog server (WordPress, Blogger, etc.), or another service can give you information about your readers’ attention and responses to your posts. Analytics information is invaluable for tailoring your blog toward maximizing readership. Klout is also a useful service for measuring the impact of your content.
By implementing these power practices, you can develop a polished, professional online persona without sacrificing your unique personality. •
Elizabeth F. Collura is an associate in the commercial and corporate litigation practice group
of Thorp Reed & Armstrong in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.