|Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2012|
If you are blogging, tweeting or posting status updates to build your brand and reach new clients, you already know how daunting it can be to keep up with social media.
Understanding ethical boundaries is an important starting point, as are privacy considerations. See Helen Hierschbiel, “Social Media for Lawyers: A Word of Caution,” (Oregon State Bar Bulletin, November 2009) and Sheila Blackford, “Social Media Safety: Avoiding Pitfalls in the Kingdoms of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,” (Oregon State Bar Bulletin, June 2010). But once you know the ethical and privacy concerns, how should you proceed?
Social Media Etiquette
While it may not be obvious at first glance, there is etiquette to using social media. To keep your audience engaged and avoid irritating your “friends” and followers, employ the following tips:
First, give yourself the benefit of a broad-brush overview by taking advantage of the excellent resources available from the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section (ABA LPM). These include the January/February 2012 social media issue of Law Practice, available online at www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2012/january_february.html and Carolyn Elefant and Nicole Black’s book, Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier (ABA LPM, June 2010). (ABA products are available at a discount on the Professional Liability Fund website, www.osbplf.org. Select ABA Products under Loss Prevention on the left-hand side navigation menu.) Alternatively, check out Mashable, which bills itself as “the largest independent online news site dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology,” at www.mashable.com. Mashable has detailed how-to’s and online guides to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn, among others. It’s also a great site to visit if you’re a gadget junkie.
Start slowly and build momentum. While it might be tempting to set up your LinkedIn profile, Facebook page and Twitter account on the same day and start posting and tweeting, your experience with social media will be less overwhelming and ultimately more effective if you approach it a bit more gradually. Begin with one account. Once you have familiarized yourself with the functionality, terminology, acronyms and abbreviations, you can move on to your next social media endeavor.
Engage with others. Connection is what social media is all about – reading, sharing, responding to what others post and asking what they think – not just pushing your own content in a “one-way” conversation. This is an important point to grasp, but many law firms miss it entirely. To an avid user, social media is an intensely personal medium of communication. When you participate, you begin building relationships and become part of an online community. If you aren’t prepared to interact, and if you don’t have the time to personally manage your accounts, then social media may not be for you. For excellent pointers about the “social” aspect of social media, see Cindy King, “17 Twitter Marketing Tips from the Pros,” (Social Media Examiner, Oct. 26, 2011) www.socialmediaexaminer.com/17-twitter-marketing-tips-from-the-pros/?utm_medium=twitter; and Lisa DiMonte and R. Michael Wells, Jr., “Growing Your Online Footprint: An Ethical Approach to Building a Powerful & Influential Online Presence Through Social Media and Blog Writing,” (American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division/ MyLegal.com, Oct. 14, 2011) http:// slidesha.re/vZkUlO (accessible to users of LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com).
Remember to give your audience a breather. Most followers and contacts don’t want to be barraged by 10 updates in a row from the same person. If you haven’t been on Twitter or Google+ for a few weeks, don’t try to make up for it by overposting. Social media users can lose patience quickly. If you engage in a posting frenzy, your content may be viewed as spam. Followers and friends may soon unfollow, unfriend or block your account. Then all your effort will be for naught.
Test all links before including them in a post, especially if you are using a URL redirection service like Tiny URL, goo.gl, or bitly. If you post a link that returns an error message, your followers or contacts will be frustrated. Some may inform you of the nonworking link. Others will ignore it and move on, never seeing your content.
Some users prefer to create both a personal and a business account for the same service. For example, lawyer Susan Smith of the Smith Law Firm might choose to set up two Twitter accounts – one under her personal name and the other under the name of her firm. If Susan uses both accounts to simultaneously post identical content, she may annoy followers and wear out her welcome quickly. In addition, not all content is appropriate for both personal and professional accounts. The best approach is to use your personal account for personal interests and professional account for professional interests.
Should you thank other users who retweet, share, or +1 your posts? Some experts say yes, while others say it isn’t necessary. If you want to thank others who are sharing your content, you can do so publicly (where everyone can see your post) or privately (in a direct message to the specific person you wish to thank). If you post publicly, pace yourself and keep the tip about overposting in mind. On Twitter, you may want to thank others who retweet your content by using #FollowFriday. The #FollowFriday hashtag is used to suggest people to follow. For example: #FollowFriday @OregonStateBar. By using #FollowFriday to recommend someone with whom you interact and who retweets your content, you show appreciation for their support, build a stronger bond of social engagement and provide your followers with the names of other interesting Twitter users. You can read more about #FollowFriday and how it works here: http://mashable.com/followfri/.
Know the difference between public versus private posting! Twitter claims that “if you’ve posted something that you’d rather take back, you can remove it easily.” See https://support.twitter.com/articles/18906-how-to-delete-a-tweet. But we caution against relying on this assertion. Once content is posted publicly on the Internet in any social media site, assume it is cached and available somewhere – even if you removed it from your account. Avoiding regrettable posts is another reason to take your time learning social media. It is also a good reason to approach social media with the mindset that everything you post online is or can become public, even if privately sent. So, if you wouldn’t say something publicly, don’t post it online – anywhere. This may seem like an overly conservative approach, but it will keep you safe.
Last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have colleagues who enjoy social media and have built a substantial following, talk to them and ask how they use it. How do they engage others? How did they build a following? What type of content do they typically post? What is their take on this article’s etiquette tips? Do they have any pointers to share? Having someone show you the ropes will shorten your learning curve substantially.
Essential Tools for Managing Your Social Media Presence
If you have more than one social media account, consider using a social media aggregator. These services bring together in one location the posts, streams and updates from the most popular social networking sites. Currently, all are free. The idea behind an aggregator is to gather all content in one location (as opposed to checking all your social media accounts separately). Of course you can also use them to simultaneously post content across multiple accounts, but remember to weigh this convenience against the potential downside of annoying your audience. Some aggregators are Web-based; others are available as desktop and mobile applications. The most popular aggregators are Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Netvibes, Yoono, Streamy, Flock, FriendFeed and Socialite from Realmac Software. Aggregators also offer other helpful features, like scheduling of posts, direct uploading of images, videos and files, mobile updates, organization of content into columns, automatic shortening of URLs, and alerts for specific types of content.
If you prefer a more “organized” experience on Twitter, consider TweetChat http://tweetchat.com/, which organizes content by hashtag (topic) instead of by conversation (like the aggregators mentioned above). To use TweetChat, enter the hashtag you want to follow or talk about, and then sign in using your Twitter account information. Once you’re logged in, you’ll see only those tweets referencing the hashtag or topic you selected. Use the message box in TweetChat to participate in the conversation. TweetChat is free.
Direct messages in Twitter seem to accumulate endlessly. Deleting them one at a time is tedious. You can delete all direct messages or selective direct messages (messages from a particular user or messages containing a specific phrase or word) using the free online utility, InBoxCleaner, http://inboxcleaner.com/en. Deleting content from Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn must be done directly from within the application.
Back up your social media content using BackUpMyTweets, http://backupmytweets.com (which also captures Twitter updates, mail, blog posts and online photos), or the more comprehensive Backupify, https://www.backupify.com/about (which captures content on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Blogger, and various Google apps). BackUpMyTweets is free and does not offer a secure https connection. Backupify offers weekly backups for up to three personal accounts at no charge and is a secure https site. Pricing plans are available if you have more than three accounts or prefer nightly backups. See https://www.backupify.com/socialmediabackup. For more options, read Gina Trapani, “Free Tools to Back Up Your Online Accounts,” (Lifehacker, Aug. 12, 2009) http://lifehacker.com/5335553/free-tools-to-back-up-your-online-accounts.
Want to keep in touch on social media without being a slave to your computer or mobile device? Consider scheduling your posts. Use a social media aggregator or one of these services described by Lars, “18 Twitter Tools for Scheduling Future Tweets and Improving Your Social Networking,” (Tripwire Magazine, May 6, 2010) www.tripwiremagazine.com/2010/05/18-twitter-tools-for-scheduling-future-tweets-and-improving-your-social-networking.html.
Looking for more tools and ideas? Googling “Facebook for lawyers,” “Google+ for lawyers,” “Twitter for lawyers or “LinkedIn for lawyers” will return pages of tips, ideas and pointers. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The authors are practice management advisers with the Professional Liability Fund. They can be contacted at (503) 639-6911 or (800) 452-6139 (toll-free in Oregon); www.osbplf.org.
© 2012 Beverly Michaelis & Sheila Blackford