Vol. 82, No. 3, March 2009
Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter can be considered the three major pillars of online networking, and lawyers are flocking to join these services to expand their online presence.1 These efforts are generally focused on developing relationships that communicate a lawyer’s interests, expertise, unique insights, and contributions to his or her network of personal and professional contacts. In many respects, social media complement traditional marketing efforts by creating multiple points of contact and top-of-mind awareness for clients, prospective clients, and referral sources who seek the advice and counsel of people they know and trust.
A meaningful and successful online presence, one that reaches out to individuals and organizations who are connected to you, involves establishing a presence on the three major platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Each of these social media platforms, while different in certain details, share a similar culture. Profanity is discouraged, collaboration is expected, and common sense concerning transmission of personal information should be exercised.2 Attorneys should keep potential ethical issues in mind when using these services. An attorney must be careful to not make misrepresentations or violate confidentiality rules and to respect the lawyer advertising rules. It is noteworthy that these considerations are no different online than in any other context.
LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com – was created as a platform to enable a person and his or her contacts to learn about each other and to build on the relationships that each person has. At first glance, LinkedIn may seem to be just an interactive, professional-profile Web site that enables connections with other professionals (including attorneys and nonattorneys). However, LinkedIn is not just a profile Web site, because users can create groups that can be joined by any user of LinkedIn. The groups allow discussions on various topics of interest to group members. Whether the topic is tax law, legal blogging, or presidential policy, the groups allow professionals to exchange ideas without a traditional in-person meeting. When you join a group, a logo for the group is added to your user profile. The logo can serve as a quick reference for profile visitors to learn about you and your practice area.
When joining LinkedIn, you set up a professional profile. The information you list in your profile, such as your skills and legal experience, can encourage others to reach out to you. A profile provides another reputable Web site where prospective clients can learn about an attorney. A Google search on an attorney’s name will turn up a LinkedIn profile if the attorney has one. A well-crafted profile presents the attorney’s professional face to the larger online world.
Rob Teuber, Marquette 2000 magna cum laude, is with Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP, Milwaukee. His LinkedIn professional profile can be found at www.linkedin.com/in/robertteuber, and he can be followed on Twitter under the handle @robteuber.
Mark Andres, Marquette 2001, is the owner and principal of Andres Law Firm LLC, Elm Grove. His LinkedIn professional profile can be found at www.linkedin.com/in/markjandres, and he can be followed on Twitter under the handle @markjandres.
After you establish a profile, you can use the Web site’s search feature to find other people you already know. Then you can invite other LinkedIn users to become connected. Each LinkedIn user who accepts the invitation will be able to view the other connected users’ complete profiles. Examining the connections of users can lead to an even broader network.
The professional benefits of LinkedIn relate to how an attorney uses the service. Generally, when a user’s profile is modified, a notification will appear on the LinkedIn home page of each connection. These updates can prompt a congratulatory note, provide an opportunity to make new connections, or reveal an entirely new market in need of services. In addition to spreading awareness of your own services, LinkedIn also is a professional resource. An attorney in need of an expert witness, local counsel in another state, or additional viewpoints on an issue can solicit comments and suggestions from his or her entire LinkedIn network.
Facebook – www.facebook.com – is a more personal way for people to connect to one another. The people that a Facebook user is connected to are called friends. Because of the more personal nature of the Facebook platform, you should invite only people you trust to be your friends on Facebook.
Facebook is widely used to provide a status update as to what the user is currently doing, to outline that person’s interests, and to share photographs. Because of this personal aspect, you can set up your Facebook profile to prohibit it being viewed by anyone you have not previously authorized as a friend.3
Although Facebook is more personal, its professional application should not be ignored. Because an attorney’s schedule often impedes regular contact with each person who is a Facebook friend, the platform provides an opportunity to stay informed about the developments in friends’ lives. You also can keep friends informed about your life. This is where the professional application of Facebook lies. Amid any personal status updates, you can remind friends of your law practice. For example, you could include a status update such as “busy writing an article for Wisconsin Lawyer,” “writing content for book on the economic stimulus package,” or “wondering why many new families don’t have an estate plan.” Such entries will regularly remind other users who you are and what you do. Thus, you can use status updates to keep your name and law practice near the top of your friends’ minds and increase the likelihood they’ll contact you when a legal need arises.
Use of this social media platform continues to grow. In an October 2007 LA Times interview, Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, claimed that the fastest growing segment of Facebook users was comprised of people over age 35.4 Zuckerberg explained that Facebook is not intended to help people make new friends; instead, it serves as a platform for staying connected with existing friends. As such, Facebook can be considered the backyard barbecue equivalent in the online networking world. It is a way for users to keep in touch and stay updated on life events of people with whom they have close and familiar relationships.
As with LinkedIn, getting started on Facebook is straightforward. You establish a profile page and, using the platform’s search function, invite other Facebook users to be friends. Because of Facebook’s personal nature, be cautious and generally only add as friends people you already know.
Twitter – www.twitter.com – is relatively new to the scene. The service uses the concept of the Facebook status update as the basis for an entire social networking platform. But unlike Facebook, which is used to keep connected with people you already know, Twitter is a platform to make connections with people you would not ordinarily meet. Whether an attorney is interested in legal updates, marketing, or professional sports, there are other people using Twitter who share those interests.
Twitter, which also has been described as microblogging, allows for short entries on almost any topic. A Twitter update (called a “Tweet”) allows you 140 characters (not words) to:
- provide an update as to what you are doing,
- provide a link to an interesting article online,
- solicit comments on a thought or project,
- ask questions on any topic, or
- address anything else that can be expressed in 140 characters.
Twitter allows direct (albeit brief) conversations in an electronic forum, rather than a face-to-face discussion. Moreover, Twitter can bring you into contact with a host of people worldwide that you would not have otherwise met.
Using Twitter is straightforward. You set up an account with a user name, password, uploaded photo, and a short biographical line. You can then search the Twitter Web site to find other persons or entities to “follow.” (Twitter users can be individuals speaking for themselves or for entities, such as a news organization or law journal.) On Twitter, when you follow someone, you are able to view the updates posted by the followed person. For example, when someone follows an attorney, that person will see the attorney’s updates. An attorney might choose to follow a mix of other attorneys, business owners, news sources, law journals, or other Twitter users.
The professional benefits of using Twitter include an increased online presence, greater exposure to potential referral sources, and access to up-to-the-minute information. How you use the connections you make on Twitter is up to you.
In comparison to other social media platforms, Twitter is particularly bound to the concept that you must give in order to receive. The effective use of Twitter requires interaction with other users. Accordingly, you should be prepared to respond to the posts of other Twitter users, be willing to answer questions (but cautious about providing legal advice), and consider reposting interesting comments made by other people. If you provide valuable contributions to this forum, other Twitter users will pay more attention to your posts, which creates a greater awareness of your interests, expertise, and services.
Common Attributes of Social Media Platforms
Each social media platform should be used to communicate professional expertise and personal perspectives that may be of value to other people in an attorney’s network. The process of contributing information to your network creates numerous points of contact and top-of-mind awareness for an individual attorney or firm and the availability of legal services. Think of these efforts as a means to communicate with people who may need or value your legal services now and in the future.
If you use social media for marketing purposes, recognize that these services are designed to foster long-term personal and professional relationships. Passive or short-term participation is unlikely to build significant awareness of your legal practice or dramatically increase the number of clients you serve. In this respect, online social networking mirrors traditional marketing efforts that require a sustained commitment to remain in contact with clients, prospective clients, and referral sources. Ultimately, social media provide another way for you to remain in contact with people who may seek your advice and counsel and who you know through personal contact and online communication.