The long-standing Surviving Email column has been reframed now to include not just email but also all mainstream ecommunications platforms—and so, call it a sign of the times, I am happy to welcome you to the inaugural column of Surviving Social Media. If you’re unhappy with the decision, please take it up with our esteemed editors on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or mobile smartphone text message. If all that fails, I suppose try email.
In future issues I’ll touch upon myriad questions surrounding social media use by legal professionals but I thought, in the spirit of “What’s New,” that I would start with an overview of the newest of new social platforms: Google+ (http://plus.google.com).
The search giant itself refers to its new baby, at time of writing still ostensibly in private beta, as “the Google+ Project”—and so what it is exactly (other than a “project” to chip away at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter market share) might take some time for all us to figure out. My team at JD Supra has been test driving the service since launch, and like many people we’re struck by its enormous potential but are waiting to see what happens next. Will it see mass adoption? All signs indicate that it probably will. In the meantime, here’s what you should know:
With Plus, Google, Inc. has arrived at a fascinating (perhaps even ingenious) response to the question repeated again and again by legal professionals on the other social networks: How do I keep the personal and the professional separate?
Google’s solution: circles. On Google+ you can—like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—connect to people you know or would like to know better. Here, you do it by putting your contacts into circles. The thinking: you’ll build different circles for different social situations, and in all likelihood those circles will match your real-world spheres of influence. For example, your “social graph” (as these things are called by people with too much time on their hands) might be made up of law school friends, lawyers in your practice group, baseball friends, foodies, business acquaintances, members of your Monday night quilting group, and NASCAR Fans—each person placed in one or more of those circles.
Personal v. Professional: What You Share With Whom
Google+ circles allow you to determine who sees what when you update and share information on your profile. My sample list of circles above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and yet it is easy to imagine sorting professional and personal contacts so that only some read your analysis of the Federal Circuit decision in Myriad, while others will see the photo upload of the fritatta with asparagus and goat cheese you made for Saturday morning brunch. In the past that might have meant: post the analysis on LinkedIn, the fritatta pic on Facebook. Today you can do both on Google+ without fear of “inappropriate” sharing.
Fact is, however you use these social platforms (whatever you decide to share, or however you blend personal and professional), Google+ has come up with a remarkably easy way to connect with people from different parts of your life and choose how and what to share with them. I think this is why my colleague Steve Matthews recently described the platform as “more personal than LinkedIn, more professional than Facebook”—and that’s a smart way to say it.
Circles not only help you to determine who hears what you from you, they also help you to filter your “incoming stream”—what you see from others. Click on “Lawyers” on the left-hand list of “Stream” links on your Google+ page, and you’ll see only updates from folks in that particular circle.
I think this form of filtering probably is an essential step in helping all of us to filter the news and information sent our way by all of our connections. On paper, it only makes sense that we should be able only to see updates by our baseball friends, foodie friends, neighborhood parents, or colleagues. However, I do think that it remains to be seen just how much people actually use this feature. To my mind, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook have trained us to expect a “complete stream” of updates from all connections—and I think, to a degree, it might be too much to expect people to collect their social news clicking from circle to circle to circle. If that’s the case, expect Google+ to become as “noisy” as every other platform when it reaches mass adoption.
Luckily, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. On Google+ , you can choose to see updates from everyone in all circles, or see updates from just one social set.
Your Google Profile
The question of the moment is, of course: does it make sense for me, professionally, to be on Google+? I think the answer is yes, if only for the simple reason that to be on Google+ means to have a Google Profile. And if you have an interest in controlling what people see of you when they research your name online (you should!), it makes sense to build out your Google Profile.
In other words, when people Google your name, they learn something about you. One terrific way to control what people see is to take possession of the various social profiles available to you online. Include on that list: your Google Profile, the basis of your Google+ account.
(This one of the many ways in which the worlds of social media and search marketing intersect—a topic for future columns of mine in these pages.)
Professionalism and Privacy
Google has launched the Plus project with a steadfast desire to make sure everyone uses their real names (steadfast almost to the point of absurdity: there has been wide media coverage of how some users with questionable but real names have been shut out of the service, willy nilly). The search giant also appears keen to set itself apart in the PR war over user privacy on social networks.
All of this to say: when you do create your Google Profile, you’re able to choose, field by field, who sees what. You can, for example, keep everything private to anyone but your circles, or you can let everyone (the general public) know your profession (one profile field) but not your personal interests (another field). And so forth. Custom privacy: a much-welcome addition to the world of social networking.
What Value for Lawyers?
Other than positive visibility in search, why should lawyers jump on Google+? The answer to this question will change with time. Eventually (we all assume) after a tipping point of mass adoption, the platform will be one more valuable way to connect with the people who matter to you: other attorneys, colleagues, past and present clients, media, members of your professional referral network. Until then, I would suggest joining Google+ simply because it is never too early to start building your network.
It goes without saying that Google, Inc. is a powerhouse Internet player with the money it needs to stick it out until it “gets social.” I think, with Google+, the company is well on its way to getting it, and getting it right. By my estimation, at time of writing, there are approximately 14,000 people who identify themselves as attorneys (or “lawyers’) on Google+. By the time you read this, that number will undoubtedly be larger. By the time you read my next Surviving Social Media the number will be greater even still. Apparently Google+ currently serves about 25 million users—and it hasn’t yet been “opened” to everyone. When it does and when, as most expect, it reaches a critical mass, you won’t just see your professional connections there (as on LinkedIn) or personal connections (as on Facebook), you’ll see both. If networking matters to you, Google+ will be one more important place to set up a social presence.