Social Networking for Lawyers
The Lawyer’s Guide to Making Friends

By Susi Schuele

Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In. They are not just for college kids anymore. There are many valid reasons for lawyers to use social networking tools, but the main rationale is to establish relationships. While the business benefits of social networking are becoming more and more obvious, it is really the cocktail party atmosphere in which you are engaging that provides new friends who are more than willing to share information, tools, resources, opinions, knowledge, and support. Social networks are places to demonstrate your expertise, engage with your community, and present yourself as a leader. All of these things combined will give you ROI—not only “Return on Investment,” but also “Return on Influence,” which is even more powerful. Best of all, there is no cost. Most social networks are free to set up and use.

Set Up an Interesting Profile

Setting up a profile on a social network is as important as creating a professional-looking business card or website. Be clear in your description of what you do and take advantage of any applications that may be offered to make your profile stand out. An example of such an application is Facebook’s Profile HTML tool, which lets you bring graphics or an opt-in box to your profile. Here are some other tips to make your profile stand out:

  • Define your specific skills and expertise that set you apart from the rest.

  • Add a professional photo.

  • Provide your “30 second elevator speech” in your introduction. Tailor this to the specific social network.

  • Be interesting and memorable. Share your passions, interests, and unique traits or accomplishments. Be friends. Post pictures.

  • Tag your profile with key words relevant to your business.

  • Include key links to your blog, website, and possibly other social networks.

  • Make sure your profile is readable and easy to follow. Keep paragraphs short and concise.

Be Social at the Networking Party

There are many different social networking sites. Facebook ( www.facebook.com), LinkedIn ( www.linkedin.com), Twitter ( www.twitter.com), and YouTube ( www.youtube.com) are the big players, but there are also more specific, “niche” sites geared to lawyers, such as www.lawyrs.net. You should view this collection of sites as a whole.

Every time you’re on one of these sites, act as if you’ve just stepped into a party. Now, if you’re at a real party, do you talk only about what you do for a living? Do you just walk up to people and say, “Hi, my name is Tom and I practice law. Do you need a lawyer for anything?” People would avoid you like the plague. Instead, you talk about their lives and about what’s going on in your life; you talk about your kids; you talk about your family, current events, sports. And maybe, someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I hear you are an attorney. Can you help me with this or that?” And you help them, or you tell them stories, or you try to entertain them a little bit.

At a social networking site, you do everything you would do at a party. Basically, you make friends. (For more tips, see the sidebar “Ten Ground Rules for Social Networking” below.)

Blogging: Another Way to Network

Another part of social networking or social media marketing is the blog. A blog (a contraction of the term “web log”) is a website usually maintained with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as pictures, graphics, or video.

As an analogy, think of your blog as your house. It’s your home and it’s where you live. It’s where you have most of your thoughts, most of the things that interest you, things you want to store and save, memories of fun places you’ve been. What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into someone’s house? Pictures. They’re everywhere. People have their family photos all over the house. They also decorate the house with collections representing their passions. You walk into a house and you immediately know what the owner loves. It’s an instant conversation starter.

When you maintain a blog, it lets you pull aside the interesting people at the party and say, “Hey, why don’t you drop by my house sometime so we can get to know each other better?” Now, maybe when they come to your “house,” they’ll find you very interesting as a person, but they won’t be interested in what you do. They like you, but they just don’t need your services. And that’s okay because, eventually, here’s what happens: They will meet someone who says to them, “I really need an expert in bankruptcy and I was going to call that guy I saw on TV.” So now, that person you met at the party will say, “Hold on. Before you go out looking, I met this really great guy at a party. I went to his house and he told me that he practices bankruptcy law and has for 20 years.”

The Numbers Game

So you see, it works online in relatively the same way as it does face-to-face. But there’s one important difference: The people you meet at a real party might know 50 people, 20 people, ten people that they talk to on a regular basis. The people you meet at Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking sites know hundreds of people, thousands of people, tens of thousands of people. Facebook, as of this writing, has more than 175 million active users and gains approximately 450,000 new users per day. Twitter, as of March 2008, had more than 1 million total users, including 200,000 users per week sending 3 million Twitter messages per day. LinkedIn saw record traffic in September 2008, with 11.9 million unique visitors, up more than 10 percent from August, and a gain of 193 percent since 2007. So even if the people you reach directly don’t find your message useful, they can pass it on to an unbelievable number of other users—and some of them will surely be much more receptive.

Tools to Manage It All

If this seems a bit daunting, fear not. You’ll get into the rhythm of the social networking mantra in due time. It’s not something that requires all-night research like you might do when preparing for trial. It’s a social, “learn-as-you-go” kind of thing. But it does help to have a few tools under your belt. Here are some tools to help you research, track, and analyze:

  • FriendFeed ( www.friendfeed.com) allows you to manage and track all of your social network accounts (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and 40 others) from a single site. This tool is also a great way to track others’ social network activity in one location.

  • Twhirl ( www.twhirl.com) is a neat little Twitter desktop application that runs in the corner. It will notify you when you have new tweets, allow you to send a DM (direct message) or respond to someone else’s tweet (@replies), or re-tweet (RT) a message you found particularly good. There is also TweetDeck ( www.tweetdeck.com) for the more technically adventurous.

  • Twellow ( www.twellow.com) helps you find Twitter users in your particular area of interest.

  • Digsby ( www.digsby.com) is another application that keeps your big social networking accounts together on your desktop for an at-a-glance view. You can also have your webmail in this application (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.).

Conclusion

Make friends. Help them. Be kind, complimentary, considerate, and supportive. Invite them to your house. Give them plenty of free stuff. Pretty much, do all the things you’d do at a party. At your barbecue, you’d give your guests a burger, chips, dip, a beer . . . that’s called “content.” In your blog or social networks, content could be tips, links, and maybe just a touch of advice or a resource your guests could check out (“I recently found this great tool to do X”). And there should be stuff about you, not necessarily about your business. Just cool stuff. If you find a great inspirational article, quote, or video, put the link out there to help people find it. They’ll like you for it.

At the end of the day, after they learn all about what you do, they may say, “Well . . . I don’t know, I’m not really in the market for your service.” You can say, “No problem. I’ll tell you what. I’ll put you on my list and send you my newsletter, and you’ll get it every so often to keep you up to date on what I’m doing. Maybe one day, there will be something you need or there will be something I can help you with.” And perhaps they’ll invite you to their “house” or their “party.”

Author Jeff Herring has written that “a massive web presence isn’t built in a day. [It] is built a little bit every day.” Doesn’t that hold true for relationships as well?

Ten Ground Rules for Social Networking

  1. Social networking requires “active engagement.” The rewards are many, but it is not a “set it and forget it” operation. It requires vigilance.
  2. Be a community builder. Honestly get to know people and let them see a bit of your personal side. Be re-lationship-oriented.
  3. Experiment with a number of social networks, but only focus your time on three or four. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  4. Consistently add value to your groups. Share expertise, add great content, write recommendations.
  5. Be selective and strategic about inviting “friends.” Facebook has a limit of 5,000 friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit that limit. (And there are always Facebook Pages—a topic for another time.)
  6. Avoid any aggressive marketing tactics. Would you do that at a party?
  7. Build memorable profiles. When you set up a social networking account, fill it all the way in. Don’t skimp on the information.
  8. Establish a routine. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day to “tweet,” blog, or post as a regular part of your schedule.
  9. Be professional and personable. A good rule of thumb is to post in thirds: one-third personal, one-third informational, one-third about your business.
  10. Do not forget why you are social networking in the first place: relationships.

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Susi Schuele (formerly Santa Maria), owner of My Virtual Project ( www.myvirtualproject.com), has been a legal technology consultant for more than ten years. She now provides virtual assistance for small businesses and specializes in social media marketing. She may be reached at info@myvirtualproject.com or 262/510-1236.

Copyright 2009

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