Social Networking to Increase Membership Communication
Francine Bailey is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and an associate in the Chicago, Illinois, Law Office of Bruno G. Para.
Given the constant presence of the Internet community, it was only a matter of time before groups—professional and otherwise—started looking to the web as a tool for connecting their members. This begs the question: can social networking sites help connect members of a young lawyers association; and are these sites really beneficial tools, or should the social networking phenomenon be left for your social life?
Connecting Through Facebook
Any conversation about social networking websites begins with Facebook.com and MySpace.com. Originally thought to be virtual hangouts for the college-aged user, it has become commonplace to use these sites for promotion and marketing. MySpace pages for products and movies geared to the younger generation are becoming more and more common. As for Facebook, many groups are using it for communication.
Recently, The Affiliate had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Paige Sindt, the class agent for her graduating class at Cornell College. She uses Facebook to contact alumni and remind them of their upcoming class reunions. When asked why she chose Facebook, Sindt stated: “Facebook serves as an excellent social and professional networking tool. Beyond the day-to-day aspects of keeping in touch with your old friends, roommates, and classmates and their families and jobs, Facebook also serves a purpose in building and maintaining communities.”
Sindt did her homework before choosing Facebook, stating, “Facebook tallies around 250 million hits daily and ranks ninth in overall traffic on the Internet, combines the personal with the professional, and offers additional appealing features (such as creating smaller groups within an existing community).”
Facebook remains geared toward social purposes, with various applications aimed at showcasing photos, quips, and thoughts with personal friends. This doesn’t make Facebook an unattractive tool for a young lawyers association, however. Facebook lends itself well to marketing and announcements geared toward a particular group. It is also well-suited for finding and re-connecting people who have lost contact. Thanks to this feature, it is likely that your bar association could help its members maintain a referral network.
Facebook for Professionals?
Last year, the ABA Section of Science and Technology conducted a survey of its young lawyer members that asked about social networking. Of those responding 61 percent indicated they were interested in an ABA-sponsored social networking site similar in nature to LinkedIn. So, perhaps a niche market is there after all.
The Affiliate spoke with Robert Ambrogi, who has written several articles on media and the law. Ambrogi believes that social networking websites may be great tools for a bar association to use, commenting, “There should be enough of a community of interest that it should work well.” In fact, in his experience, social networking sites work best when there is a community of interest. The idea of promoting affiliate activities through a social networking site makes sense. Once a group is set up and people join, the association’s message can be pushed out to the entire group. Ambrogi is not the only person to have this sense. Martindale.com intends to launch a networking website in the near future, and some bar associations around the country have already launched association-specific beta sites.
Complementing or Replacing Listservs?
Currently, many bar associations use listserv technology to boost membership communications. Listservs are generally regarded as helpful tools for allowing members to communicate with each other. But the technology is not without its drawbacks. Because listservs are dependent on e-mail, messages are often relegated to an e-mail folder that is rarely checked or to a spam folder. Also, because everyone can post a thread to a listserv, the ability to control the number and content of messages is limited. Listservs certainly have a place in a bar association’s toolbox; however, they are not well suited to networking because they are dependent on member activity. The addition of RSS Feeds, which allow groups to add a listserv like function to its page, to social networking sites may eliminate the need for listservs altogether—for example, the “wall” feature in Facebook or the message board feature in LinkedIn.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn have the potential to assist your bar association to increase membership communication. Although Facebook remains a largely social site, it may be beneficial for increasing networking possibilities. The potential for networking combined with a social purpose is a logical step. A bar association should have enough of a community of interest within its membership to keep a social networking site active. A social networking site might be just what you need to effectively combine several ways of connecting and communicating with members into one place.