Finding Friends (and clients) on Facebook

Volume 38 Number 1

By

About the Author

Michele RJ. Allinotte is the owner of Allinotte Law Office in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada and practices in the areas of business law, real estate and estate planning. Michele has written for a number of publications, is a regular blogger at her own website, yourCornwallLawyer.com, and has been a speaker on the topics of social media, marketing and technology in law practice.

I am an active social media user, both personally and professionally. I am a lawyer, but I am a person too. Social media is fun. Facebook makes it easy to share my ideas, photos, videos, likes and dislikes with the world at large (or just with my close friends or family). I find Facebook is a great way to engage a large audience, both locally and internationally. More and more, it is also a way to get and share legal information from news sources, professional sources and colleagues. I have been using Facebook for business purposes pretty consistently for over two years, and it regularly brings in new leads and new clients.

I typically share information and links, across all my social media platforms, on my daily activities and topics related to my areas of practice. I also share general articles concerning topics such as time management, setting goals or tips on life insurance and I comment on the information and news posted by others.

I have a personal Facebook profile, and I created a separate Facebook page called “Your Cornwall Lawyer,” which I essentially use as my law firm’s Facebook page. This helps me keep my personal and professional worlds separate. I have taken a “friend everyone” approach on my personal profile, although I have many individuals on a limited profile view so I don’t share some personal information or personal photos with them if they are a connection on my personal profile. You must review the privacy and security settings of every social media tool you use to make sure you understand exactly what information can be seen by people you connect with (there are often different security levels) and anyone else that views your profiles and posted content.

Aside from actually helping me obtain new clients, Facebook has also allowed me to better educate potential clients and referral sources.  I often have clients contact me after reading an article I have posted on Facebook. They tell me they have been reading my articles for a while, and now they are ready to make an appointment. I find that clients who follow me on Facebook feel they already know me, so it is much easier to make a connection with them at the initial phone call or meeting compared to someone who cold calls me out of the phone book.

Facebook is also helping me maintain ongoing connections with existing clients and referral sources by letting me see what is happening in their personal lives. For example, I knew from Facebook that several clients for whom I had prepared wills and powers of attorney were expecting a third or fourth child. That prompted me to write an article discussing whether or not parents should change their will if they are having more children.

My “friend everyone” approach on Facebook has acted as an icebreaker. There are many people in my community whom I haven’t met in real life or spoken to in some time, but who are my friends on Facebook. When I see them in person, the Facebook connection creates an instant topic of conversation and we pick up in real life where we left off online. “I saw that on Facebook…” has become part of my regular vocabulary!

Creating a Facebook page

Having a Facebook page is an essential part of any effective social media strategy. If you are going to use Facebook for business, a Facebook page is a must. However, before you create a page, you will need to have a personal account. You can choose to have your information visible to only you, or to your “friends”—someone you have agreed to connect with—or to anyone. Whether you decide to use your personal profile for business or marketing purposes is up to you. But you can’t start with just a firm Facebook page and hope to get any traction without first making connections with individuals.

If you haven’t used Facebook at all, you will need to start adding friends once you create your account. You can search by name, region, employer, etc. Once you have some friends or connections, Facebook can tell you other people it thinks you might know by clicking on the “People you may know” link.

Also, when you connect with a user, their entire network will see that they are now connected with you. This acts as a prompt for others to connect with you if they know you. You will want to connect with everyone on Facebook whom you consider your “audience”—clients, referral sources, friends, people in organizations you are involved with and so on. You can use the “Search” feature to find people in your community, your former schools or companies that you worked for.

To have an effective Facebook page, you must frequently update it with information people will find is of interest or is valuable to them. When people find helpful information on your page, they can “like” it by clicking a “Like” button. This gives you more visibility because their likes of your page will show up on their respective pages.

If your firm has videos of speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews or documents, Facebook provides an easy way for you to upload various types of media to your page so your followers can easily access them. When Facebook users interact with your site, this interaction gets “published” in their Facebook stream and people will become more aware of your firm and its activities.

Do’s and Don’ts

The key to establishing and maintaining a social media presence is providing valuable information to people. They are not going to follow you, friend you, or connect with you if your posts contain useless or irrelevant information, or if your activity is non-existent. You are not going to get very far if your only social media marketing strategy is saying “Hey, need a lawyer? Pick me.”

I take a few minutes every day, or a few times a day, to check the various social media outlets I use to see what the people in my networks are saying, what their comments are regarding something that I posted or that someone else posted. I make these connections with people every day, which is something I cannot do with traditional face-to-face networking.

I use my social media sites to spread information about upcoming events that relate to my practice and also about upcoming local charity and community events. I am involved in several community organizations, and I support many others. I’m glad to use my social media contacts to spread the word about worthwhile causes and events. This allows me to have an online personality outside of my lawyer persona. At the same time, I am careful not to share more personal information than necessary.

In addition, I often share information about local businesses that I have frequented when I have received exceptional service, or to comment on a milestone of a colleague or business. The goodwill these actions create is immeasurable.

I generally believe in the soft sell on Facebook. I’m not pushy or “sales-y.” I never use an individual or group’s Wall to sell myself.

Tools to Manage and Monitor

Facebook and the other social media platforms can be a huge time waster if you don’t have a plan or use them in a focused way. Aside from deciding what your goals are in using Facebook, there are some tools available to help you do more with less time.

I have fully integrated my social media accounts using Ping (ping.fm). When I post an update on Ping, it appears on my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages (or only some of them if I choose). HootSuite (hootsuite.com) and TweetDeck (tweetdeck.com) are other popular tools that do the same thing. I also highly recommend Social  Oomph (socialoomph.com). You can create a free account which will allows you to schedule tweets and track certain keywords that are used in Twitter. For me, the real value comes with the Professional account, which is about $20.00 per month. When used with Ping.fm, it allows me to update all of my social media accounts at once and to schedule my updates to be posted at specified time.

On their own, most social media applications also have options that allow you to integrate with other social media accounts. In Facebook, look under the “Application” settings. You need to give the other application (Twitter, for example) permission to access your Facebook account. After doing this, the two accounts are linked, so when you post in one, it will post in the other. Some may not want to cross-post everything to all social media pages, especially if you are trying to maintain separate personal and professional online presences, or if the content you are posting is not relevant to everyone. Spend some time figuring out what method works best for you.

Compliance with Ethics

Social media has made our personal and professional lives much more public and transparent than they once were. As a lawyer, you must consider the ethical implications behind every piece of information you send out to your followers. Good judgment and common sense are essential. Once something is published on the Web, it is virtually impossible to retract.

Keep in mind two principles that should be very basic ethical obligations of all lawyers. First, do not put yourself in a situation of conflict. Second, don’t share confidential client information. Sending a friend request to an opposing party is a colossally bad idea. It is as much as an ethical infraction as if you had picked up the phone to call that person.

Because I do not do any court work, I have found it easier to allow clients to connect with me personally on Facebook (and other outlets) than many litigation lawyers might. There are not many conflicts in real estate and estate planning. No matter what your practice area, however, you do need to be concerned about the possibility of a conflict. I do keep my clients in mind when making connections, I have refused some connections due to work reasons, and I have severed existing connections due to possible conflicts. A friend and colleague of mine who practices family law has had to take a “no friending of clients” approach after her client became her friend on Facebook, saw that she was also friends with her assistant, and saw that her assistant was Facebook friends with his former spouse. Her client freaked out. In this situation, there was no actual conflict and no ethical violation, but it caused such a stir that the lawyer changed her approach to clients on Facebook.

When considering what client information is confidential, consider whether a specific client can be identified by information you are posting. As a good litmus test, ask yourself if the client would know you are talking about them when they read it. If the answer is yes, you either need to get their consent or you need to change the content of the post so that they cannot identify themselves. Better yet, if you are hesitating, just don’t use it.

Know your state or provincial ethics rules, and read them in the context of your social media use. In my jurisdiction, for example, a lawyer can’t suggest they are a specialist in an area of law unless they have been certified a specialist in that field by our governing body. Because of that rule, I never use the words “specialist” or “expert,” and if something is written about me using either of those words, I ask for it to be changed. Knowing your rules will help prevent any slip-ups in social media.

The ethics rules of many states and provinces are behind in addressing the use of social medial in the practice of law. The ABA Commission of Ethics 20/20 has made a number of proposals with respect to amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct addressing the use of new technologies. In Canada, the Canadian Bar Association published guidelines on which also address the use of social media. I found the CBA guidelines very helpful in reviewing my social media usage and my profiles, and I made changes based on my review of these guidelines. They can be found here: cba.org/CBA/activities/pdf/guidelines-eng.pdf.

See the social side of LPM by visiting and “liking” our ABA LPM Section Facebook page.  Browse our photo albums to see our many events—if you come to a future meeting, you may be featured in one of our albums!

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