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Shape Up! Practice Management Tips for 2010

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A LAWYER'S SOCIAL NETWORKING TOOLBOX: TUNING UP YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are incredibly cost-effective venues for growing relationships and promoting your law practice. But it'll be tough for you to get the payoff from these sites if you don't put the right tools to use.

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are incredibly cost-effective venues for growing relationships and promoting your law practice. But it'll be tough for you to get the payoff from these sites if you don't put the right tools to use.

Imagine you’re doing a home improvement project—let’s say it’s replacing a faucet. You prepare the area and grab your toolbox. But when you open the toolbox, the only thing inside is a hammer. No wrenches, no screwdrivers, no valves, nothing you really need to do the job. While your trusty hammer is great for some things (like, say, hammering), you’re not going to replace a faucet using it alone. For most of us, the next stop is probably Home Depot to pick up the necessary things. After all, it would be crazy to pursue a project without the tools you need, right?

This, however, is the way many lawyers approach social networking to market their practices—without using the proper tools that would make the undertaking easier and more effective and get the job done right. There are lots of tools available to help, including settings built right into the site platform itself and third-party applications that spring up in the ecosystem. Let’s explore some of the best ones for the “big three” social networking sites for lawyers: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Taming Twitter
Twitter

, the omnipresent real-time microblogging service, is riding a wave of popularity buoyed by a host of celebrity Twitterers. Lawyers are not immune to the lure of Twitter, either. Many are finding it has marketing benefits and is a great way to network with other lawyers and potential clients interested in a given practice area.

Twitter itself is a fairly stripped-down application. So to compensate for this bare-bones approach, an enormous number of tools have grown up around Twitter to augment and improve the user’s experience. Here are four ways to augment your use of Twitter, along with tools to get you there.

Organize your streams into groups.

Once you start following more than a few people on Twitter, it can quickly become chaotic. While some people only post once or twice a day, others post 50 times that amount. To view the posts (“tweets”) you really want to see, you need a way to organize your Twitter stream.

Third-party applications that allow users to create groups make quick work of imprinting order on the chaos. These applications let you organize your stream by your relationship to the Twitterer (e.g., family, friends, work colleagues) or by subject (e.g., law practice management, New York Yankees). You can even create a small VIP group for the people whose tweets you never want to miss.

Two great downloadable applications that support group functionality are Tweetdeck and Seesmic. They are both Adobe Air applications, so Air must be installed first. If you're big on managing multiple applications in the cloud, Hootsuite 2.0 may be your tool of choice. Try each one to see what you like. They are all free, including Air.

Go multimedia.

As designed, Twitter is a great way to post short text messages, including hyperlinks. But it only gives you 140 characters to work with in one tweet, while a picture, as the old saying goes, is worth 1,000 words. Happily, just as tiny embedded cameras forever changed the way we use cell phones, so too does the ability to send photos and videos change the way you can use Twitter.

TwitPic

, which is free and easy to use, is our choice for photo sharing on Twitter. Sign up for a TwitPic account and you'll receive a personal e-mail address. Then when you snap a photo, you simply e-mail it to that address and TwitPic does the rest.

Similarly, there are several thirdparty applications competing in the space to allow you to send videos to Twitter. While none has yet emerged as a clear leader, TwitVid is a good choice for its ease of use and free price tag.

Use Twitter to publicize your blog.

Many lawyers have begun writing blogs to share ideas and develop business and, as it just so happens, Twitter can be an excellent avenue for publicizing your blog. Posting a short, simple tweet that says “New blog post at [insert blog name here]” followed by a link to the blog post is all that’s required. The authors are both bloggers who track our respective blog stats somewhat obsessively, and Twitter is often one of the biggest sources of traffic to our blogs.

There are several third-party applications that automate the process offeeding these short updates, including the blog URL, to Twitter. Good choices are Twitterfeed and Tweetlater. Both are free and easy to set up. Tweetlater has additional functionality, but Twitterfeed has (in our highly unscientific testing) been more reliable and faster.

Carry it in your pocket.

For many busy professionals, the number one objection to Twitter is “I just don't have time for it!” This, though, is a red herring. There are many hyperbusy and productive people who use Twitter. The key is realizing that Twitter isn't something you make time for—it’s something that you fit into time slots that become available.

To capitalize on the small windows of time that become available in life (waiting at the grocery checkout, sitting at an airport gate, driving down the highway at 75 mph—kidding!), you must have Twitter available in your pocket. Which means the solution is to get a tool that lets you access it from your smartphone.

The options depend on your model of phone. For the Palm Pre, Spaz is our favorite (although we recognize that the weird URL alone is enough to keep most lawyers away). For the BlackBerry, we like Twitterberry; but the simplest option is Blackbird, a no-frills, stripped-down application. Also, SocialScope and BBTweet are new options that are quickly gaining fans. They are all free.

Lastly, for the iPhone options abound. A favorite is Tweetdeck, but Seesmic and Twitterific are also popular and will do the job, too.

Figuring Out Facebook

Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a more complex social media site. Used wisely, it provides a means to extend your brand and demonstrate your ability to produce a deliverable service through relationship building. Achieving that aim, however, requires using the correct tools on the site to focus the right content on the right people. Here are some tips and tricks to get the most out of Facebook.

Control where the information flows.

Unlike Twitter, Facebook will open up your life (and your family and your old college friends) to the world unless you seize control. Consequently, you need to distinguish between people that get to share your life and those that don't. You do this by creating a “list” under the News Feed column on the left-hand side of your Facebook home page.

For example, you can create one list for “Friends and Family” and a separate one for “Professional” contacts. Once you've created a list, you can then restrict the list members' access to certain types of information. Test your restrictions by going to the top of the Privacy Profile page, where you can use the “See how a friend sees your profile” button. Very enlightening.

Monitor your Wall.

Every Facebook user’s profile page has a space called a Wall, where friends can post messages for others to see. Set your account so you know what is being posted there in case your friends and family lack, uhm, discretion. Go to Settings, Account Settings and then Notifications, where you tell Facebook to notify you (by e-mail or SMS) about what, when and where things are added to your Wall. Also, make sure that you know when you have been tagged in a photo, just in case you don’t like the view.

Remember Google in your privacy shield.

Of course, if you want publicity, then you want Google to have access to your Facebook page. However, if (again) you are worried about old friends and family who occasionally embarrass you, you must know how to lay down the privacy shield. So go to Settings, Privacy, then Search. At the Search menu, you can set your Facebook search visibility, which determines what content may be searched internally and, separately, you can choose whether to allow search engines to see your Wall.

Feed your blog post to your profile.

Facebook also allows you to extend the reach of your blog (and impress your Facebook friends) by feeding your blog posts to your profile page. To do this, click on the Import icon on your page and insert the URL for your blog's RSS feed. You can do the same thing for your Twitter posts. You can also promote your blog and read other user’s blogs via Facebook's NetworkedBlogs feature, described as “a community of bloggers and blog lovers.”

Try a more business-centric focus if you like.

If you believe your Facebook presence should be more about your law practice as an entity than about you personally, you should use the Business Page feature. A Business Page is separate from your personal page and acts much like an interactive brochure on Facebook. It was designed to give a business the type of functionality that allows it to more effectively market its services, but still interact with what are called its “'fans” through various applications. This includes the ability to add blog posts through the RSS feed.

An alternative to a Facebook Business Page is the Facebook Groups option. Facebook Groups allow for using fewer applications and group members’ actions are not distributed on their news feeds. Under Groups as well as Pages, you can advertise “related events,” which is a nice way to promote upcoming programs that you’re involved with. However, Groups are not indexed by search engines so they have a limited ability to increase your market penetration.

Living with LinkedIn

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is an increasingly vibrant networking community that is targeted specifically to professional users. It offers excellent integrated applications for building your brand name and promoting your expertise, including the ability to create your own communities within the community. Here are the keys to using it successfully.

Develop a great profile.

Start off right by creating a powerful and well-written profile that emphasizes your strengths and minimizes your weaknesses. You need to let the world know about your expertise and why other professionals want to network with you. Be bold but truthful. Also, since LinkedIn is all about being a professional, be sure to use a professional photo in your profile to show that you take yourself seriously. Although they may forget just what's in your resume, people don’t forget a face.

Spread your message using the integrated applications.

Build on your profile by using LinkedIn’s internal applications to let people know who you are and what you are doing. The applications give you a number of opportunities to demonstrate your interests and your expertise. Try the following:

▪ Be known as the worldly well-read professional. Stay on top of your game by using the site’s Reading List application to tell your LinkedIn connections what books you recommend, and thereby demonstrate your intellectual interests.

▪ Use LinkedIn as a distribution channel for your blog by using the Blog Link feature to stream your posts within the site. Blog Link also will pull in your professional contacts' blog posts for you, so you can help them burnish their reputations and earn yourself brownie points, as well as show that you are following thought leaders in your industry.

▪ Tap into Twitter using Company Buzz. Once you've signed up for this application, it will conduct Twitter searches on topics designated by you. Track what is being said about you, your firm, your clients or other hot topics.

▪ Publicize upcoming speaking engagements or firm seminars by using the Events feature. Just enter the event details into the application and have it distributed to your LinkedIn connections, who can in turn invite others. The application can track attendees and allows for focused follow-up, too. This is a powerful tool for promoting your programs.

Get and give recommendations on the site.

One of LinkedIn’s nicest features for business development purposes is the way it facilities getting recommendations from your connections, which then appear in a special section of your profile page. You want to actively develop your recommendations section so that your profile will be found more easily by people using LinkedIn’s Service Providers search function.

And of course, as with most things in life, what goes around, comes around—which applies to recommendations. Give great recommendations to your LinkedIn connections and you will find that they return the favor.

Actively participate in groups.

Possibly the most dynamic area of LinkedIn is its Group section, where you can set up a topic-specific community within LinkedIn to discuss, advise on and communicate about issues of common concern. You can also join an existing group and become an active participant to demonstrate your expertise. There are tons of existing groups to interest lawyers of all stripes, such as the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the Legal Innovation and the SoloSez Friends Legal Marketing for Solo Attorneys groups, as quick examples.

Using Your Time Slots to the Best Advantage

Last but not least, remember that social networking never stops. So, to stay in the game from wherever you are, you should go mobile with Facebook and LinkedIn. Based for your phone model, just go to the Apple iPhone Store, BlackBerry App World or Palm Store USA for your Facebook and LinkedIn applications, which are all written by either Facebook or LinkedIn or the smartphone maker. The iPhone apps get the better reviews, but they all get the job done.

There you have it—a whole list of great tactics for improving your social networking projects to get the most out of your online business development efforts. As they say, if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Use the tips and tools covered here and you’ll see a whole lot more in the social networking world.

About the Authors

Rodney Dowell

is the Director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. He coauthors the blog Mass. LOMAP Law Practice Advisor and is a member of Law Practice magazine's Editorial Board.

Erik Mazzone

is the Director of the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association and authors the blog Law Practice Matters. He is a member of the ABA LPM Section's Law Practice Today Webzine Board.

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