Law Practice Today | February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW
February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW 2013
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Thirteen Facebook Tips for Lawyers in 2013

By Dennis Kennedy

I have never seen a technology development that seems to scare lawyers more than Facebook. When I talk to lawyers about Facebook, I see folded arms, crossed legs, tightened jaws and heads unconsciously wagging “no.” I don’t profess to be a body language expert, but some signs are easy to read.

Facebook now has over one billion members. Many of them use Facebook daily for at least an hour.  Despite that, the comments on an article I wrote in 2012 on reasons lawyers might use Facebook ran the range from saying that the commenter was never going to use Facebook to saying that no one else should either. In fact, one commenter actually went so far as to say that “Yes—there are one billion stupid people.” Yes, I do assume that commenter was a lawyer.

I readily admit that I’m baffled by the reaction of lawyers to Facebook.

The activities and postings of people on Facebook clearly have an impact on many areas of law—family law, estate planning, litigation, discovery and much more. How does a lawyer who avoids Facebook like the plague advise clients or adequately represent them when Facebook-related issues arise or when the lawyer has no idea that issues even exist?

Millions of Facebook members actually have found great value in it—reconnecting and communicating with friends and family, and finding new friends. Businesses, small and large, and professionals have benefited in a variety of ways from a Facebook presence. I often say that my participation in the Facebook group for my high school class alone has given me more than enough “return on investment” for the time I’ve spent on Facebook.

Part of the reason lawyers are flummoxed by Facebook is that it tends to be talked of as the new must-have legal marketing tool that will take the place of the last must-have marketing tool. Lawyers are and should be justifiably wary of that characterization. It’s easy for lawyers to identify the many ways Facebook would not work as a marketing tool for them, or at least as one that would take the place of what they are using now. (Find out more about using Facebook in Dennis's book: Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers.)

Even among the social media tools, Facebook seems a little too “personal” for most lawyers. LinkedIn seems more professional, more logical, more goal-oriented and more comfortable for lawyers than Facebook.

However, one billion is a very large number. People using Facebook are everywhere. Checking Facebook in restaurants, standing in lines, in waiting rooms, watching TV, at sporting events, you name it. How many times have you seen someone on a smartphone, tablet or laptop in a public place with Facebook on the screen? Even if you don’t use Facebook, you probably still recognize the interface from seeing it in so many places.

The typical lawyer might have children and parents who use Facebook, and possibly even grandparents or grandchildren who do so as well. For some people, Facebook is the best or almost only way to reach them when you really need to get a response.

Among all the fears of lawyers about Facebook (each legitimate in its own way, at least to some extent)—privacy disaster area, permanent record for examples of poor judgment, security danger zone, land of embarrassing photos—nothing quite reaches the level of concern as the “time sink” fear. Isn’t Facebook just another destroyer of potential billable hours? Where can a lawyer find the time? Interestingly, when you think of the ways and places people commonly use Facebook, you notice that Facebook often involves the time lawyers spend not working –TV watching time being a prime example. Would lawyers ever use things like golf courses, nice restaurants, sporting events and the like if they calculated the negative impact on their billable hours?

I’m having a bit of fun here, but I do want you to encourage you to think a little bit differently about all of this than you might have in the past. When people ask me where I find the time to use Facebook, I usually say that it comes right out of time I’d otherwise spend watching TV, although these days I can multi-task and use Facebook during my favorite shows. You can definitely have a happy Facebook experience without any impingement on your work time.

Let’s assume that if you’ve read this far, you are either a current Facebook user looking to improve, or maybe a Facebook skeptic who has gotten a bit less skeptical.

I like to think about Facebook in terms of the “Job to be Done” approach developed by Clayton Christensen (author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and other business books), Horace Dediyu and others. In very simple terms, this approach asks, “What job are you hiring Facebook to do?” The more clarity you can bring to your answer to this question, the better, I’d argue, your Facebook experience will be.

If you want to use Facebook as a simple way to keep in touch with friends and family, share pictures and provide updates to your friends, you’ll find that it does a great job of doing exactly that, and your experience is likely to be a good one. If, instead, you want to hire Facebook to be the replacement for your yellow page ad or other mass marketing technique, your approach will be quite different and you’ll need to evaluate Facebook in terms of whether it can accomplish the same things. I’d guess that it won’t, but if that is your purpose, you might identify ways to use it that others have not thought of. My main observation about Facebook as a marketing tool is that you will probably get better business results from Facebook by concentrating on potential referrers rather than potential clients. Think of Facebook as a form of indirect marketing.

Facebook can be a little difficult to learn, and aspects of it—sometimes significant ones—can change from time to time. Last year’s introduction the “Timeline,” for example, was a dramatic change to the Facebook interface. For lawyers, I’ve found that the key is making Facebook concepts easy for lawyers and comparing Facebook to LinkedIn, a much more familiar social media tool for lawyers.

It’s best to think of Facebook in terms of three essential building blocks—the Timeline (formerly known as the profile), Friends (and friending), and participation (what you can do with Facebook). In comparison, LinkedIn has three similar building blocks—the Profile, Connections, and participation. The LinkedIn Profile is like an extended resume or professional biography. The Facebook Timeline plays a similar role in identifying you to the world, but it is far more personal and visual (lots of pictures). LinkedIn Connections tend to reflect your business and professional relationships. Facebook Friends tend to be family and friends—the people you know personally and their friends and family. Participation in LinkedIn tends to have a professional and thoughtful tone. Facebook participation tends to be personal, unedited and immediate.

It’s no wonder that many lawyers have taken the general approach of “LinkedIn as my professional presence and Facebook for my personal presence.” And that’s not a bad way to start, although, as in the real world, you’ll soon find that the line between the two can get a little blurry.

It’s time to up your game on Facebook. Here are 13 tips to consider for 2013.

  1. Become very familiar with your jurisdiction’s ethical rules affecting Facebook participation.  Plenty of lawyers have already embarrassed themselves on Facebook, and a good number of ethical opinions are already out there. Don’t become an example used by presenters on social media ethics. Look for guidance specifically on Facebook use, add any necessary legal disclaimers, and familiarize yourself with rules on advertising, solicitation and confidentiality—three big areas where lawyers have gone wrong.  And don’t forget good judgment and common sense. If you can’t do something in the real world, it’s safe to assume that you can’t do it on Facebook.
  2. Visit your privacy and account settings on a regular basis. Facebook continues to improve in giving you ways to manage your privacy. Just remember that Facebook always seems to assume that you want to share more rather than less. The good news is that the privacy and account settings have been collected in one place (on the right side of the top blue navigation bar on your Facebook pages in a dropdown men). The bad news is that privacy settings remain a bit of a moving target. Spending 15—20 minutes working through your privacy and account settings can make a world of difference for you (and help you help your clients when they come to you with questions). Revisiting your settings once a quarter and anytime Facebook announces changes or adds major features should be on your calendar.
  3. Establish some privacy rules of thumb.  We each have our own level of tolerance and willingness to share with the world. It’s a great idea to set some general guidelines. For example, make your default approach to share only with friends (rather than with “friends of friends” or the public). Require your approval before other people can post to your Timeline or tag you or a picture of you. Never allow apps to post to Facebook for you. As Facebook introduces new search tools like Graph Search, more of your Facebook information will become searchable, and having a general approach will help you manage that.
  4. Separate personal and professional. Facebook now requires a separate Page for a business. You are not supposed to create a personal Facebook identity for a business. Pages let you create a business presence (with business-favorable features) for your firm, for example, while having a separate personal presence. While many lawyers like to use LinkedIn for the professional presence, it’s worth exploring the evolving way Facebook lets you use Pages for business purposes. Learning about Pages might help you see ways that Facebook might benefit that you  (or your firm) hadn’t thought of because you have focused only on the personal presence features of Facebook.
  5. Have a plan for adding Friends.   Facebook relies on symmetrical connections. I become your Facebook Friend only if we agree to do so. There is an invitation to become Friends and an acceptance, or else nothing happens. You have no obligation to accept Friend invitations. Once you become Friends, much as in the real world, you have greater access and know more about the other person.  I recommend that people have general philosophy about friending - quality vs. quantity, local vs. global, close friends and family only vs. a more open approach to casual acquaintances, inside your current organization vs. outside). For example, make a careful decision about what you want to do about friending with colleagues at your present employer, considering the access they might have to information about you and your Friends. While you can “unfriend,” it’s better to make good choices of friends from the beginning rather than to weed people out later.
  6. Always review the Friends, especially the Friends in common, of anyone who sends you an invitation before accepting that invitation.  You will receive Friend invitations from people you don’t know. Sometimes they know of you through professional or personal connections, especially if you are a public speaker, author, or other public figure. Sometimes they are looking for someone with the same name and got the wrong person. As I mentioned, you don’t have to accept these invitations and you don’t even have to deal with them right away. In many cases, you can check the Timeline of the person who invited you and see who they are. It’s a great idea to check who they are Friends with, especially the Friends you have in common.  If they are Friends of people you trust, you might be more willing to take a chance on accepting the invitation. Think of it as a form of Facebook due diligence.
  7. Take your online relationships offline. Despite what some people seem to think, Facebook supplements the real world rather than replaces it. Use Facebook to identify people with whom you can have lunch or attend a seminar or event, either locally or when you travel. When you notice that someone changes jobs, gets an award or has a major life event, communicate with them by Facebook and set up a breakfast or lunch. When you meet someone in person, you can talk about their recent vacation, children’s pictures, restaurant meals or useful observations or links they shared on Facebook. 
  8. Use Updates to send news and relevant links of value to your network.  I have quite a few Facebook Friends who consistently post updates with links to interesting articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts.  In a way, they help me filter the Internet and bring helpful information to me. I think highly of them and appreciate what they do, even though I suspect that some of their personal friends and family might find their updates a little too “impersonal.” By providing useful information and links, your Friends can develop a sense for you as an authority, understand the type of work you do, and generally have an awareness that you are around. Some marketers refer to the latter things as having a “top of mind” presence.  Even your best friends might not be aware of exactly what work you do. Reminding them by providing concise and useful information on a regular basis might well lead to referrals and opportunities.
  9. Use self-promotion sparingly, self-deprecatingly and subtly on Facebook. Facebook users, as a general rule, don’t like to be “sold to” in the updates and information you post that shows up in their Facebook newsfeed. Remember Facebook has ads for selling. A good rule is to observe the approach that your Friends take and take a similar approach. Providing a useful tip or comment on a new law or case shows that you are a lawyer in a way people are more receptive to than if you talk about your practice areas or trial wins.
  10. Participate thoughtfully in relevant Groups. Facebook Groups offer you a great way to participate in communities of common interests. You can join existing Groups or create your own Groups. Groups might be a way to meet others in your field, follow and interact with leading authorities in the field, or start or participate in discussion of important issues. If you aren’t able to attend conferences or other events, a Group might be a not-too-bad substitute. Groups are an easy way to enhance the “participation” component of your Facebook presence.
  11. While you can start with a good personal photograph, invest in professional photographs to use on Facebook, especially your Timeline. Facebook is a visual and photographic medium. Facebook makes it easy to post photos, including collections of photos (such as from a vacation), and videos. The Timeline all but requires two great photos. Some lawyers struggle with the idea of using photos of themselves. I’ve known lawyers who seem to believe that being photographed will steal their souls or cause some similar dire consequence. Attorney pictures on websites? Well, the less said the better. You might start with some good, current photos, especially one with you smiling, taken by a spouse, friend or family member, but it really does make sense to invest in some professional photos to give you a professional appearance.
  12. Use Friend Lists thoughtfully. Imagine that you have already added lots of Friends. Suddenly, you realize that your updates and posts are visible to all those Friends, including co-workers, family and others that you might not want to see them. This is sometimes known as the “friending your boss” problem. Wouldn’t it be great if you could organize your Friends by categories and control who sees what? Let me introduce you to Friend Lists. That’s exactly what they do. Facebook can create some automated Friend Lists for you and you can manually create your own. The names you give the Friend Lists are known only by you, but I’d still be careful about using derogatory names—just in case. One of the Friend Lists is “Acquaintances”—a useful category for excluding those who don’t need to see family pictures, political postings or other personal updates. If you learn nothing else from this article than Friend Lists, the time you spent reading this article will be well worth it.
  13. Try the Facebook Mobile App. The Facebook mobile for all the major smartphones and tablet devices is excellent. And free. Download it, install it, and use it. Everyone else is using it, wherever you go. Don’t use it while driving, of course, but you can use it for those nonbillable times when you are waiting in line, watching childen’s soccer games, or otherwise looking for a way to distract yourself and see what’s going on with your Friends.

Conclusion and Three Action Steps: Lawyers probably over-focus on the ways Facebook might be used as a marketing tool. What job do you really want to hire Facebook to do for you? There are many reasons lawyers probably should be using Facebook, but I’m not sure that convince many reluctant lawyers with those reasons. Instead, consider my view that there may be no better resource than Facebook to help you reconnect with people who were important in your life with whom you have lost contact.

Let me leave you with three simple and easy action steps you can take this week, using no more than an hour, along with my general recommendation that you take some time to go through your privacy and account settings right away.

  1. Look at your Timeline with someone else, compare their Timeline and those of a few other Friends, and find three ways to improve your Timeline that you will make in the next week.
  2. Find and invite five good people to be your Friend.
  3. Participate by posting three useful updates over the course of a week and evaluate the responses you get.

Facebook works best when you keep the real world analogies in mind and are willing to let the real world and your Facebook world slosh together a little bit.

Be not afraid. Lawyers can participate in Facebook, just as a billion other people already do.   

Law Practice Today on Facebook

About the Author

Dennis Kennedy is a legal technology author and information technology lawyer.

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