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Vol. 33, No. 4

What’s your social networking IQ?

by Michelle Behnke

I don’t know about you, but as a busy practicing attorney, having one more thing to add to my “to do” list was not anything I was looking for. However, in today’s world, “social networking” sites have become all the rage.

I have to find time to check my Facebook “wall,” accept invitations from LinkedIn, or learn about Twitter. To add to the challenge of time, there is the omnipresent BlackBerry and its vibration with every incoming e-mail. A few years ago, while president of the State Bar of Wisconsin, I used to be somewhat insulted as I watched members of the board of governors manipulating their BlackBerries half under the table and half in plain view. I thought to myself, “How can you be paying attention to these very important issues with that device in your hand?” However, I have come to understand that in today’s world, multitasking and different modes of communication are not only the norm, but generationally something we will all have to get used to.

As we were planning the ABA Bar Leadership Institute for this year, communication styles and methodologies quickly came to the forefront as a leadership issue worth addressing. How do lawyer members in various generations communicate in the style in which they are most comfortable, while at the same time recognizing that change is all around us? How do bar associations distribute information in the myriad of formats while keeping costs down and productivity up? How do you ensure the important message breaks through the “clutter” of the information glut?

While these will be struggles and issues to be faced by associations for a long time, it is my belief that rather than focusing on the mere mode of communication, we must continue to focus on the actual message. Does it really matter if you push out “blast e-mails” if the information contained in those e-mails is not relevant to your members? Will sending out the hard copy of the glossy magazine by mail really provide the relevant information that your members want, if the production time means that the articles are 30, 60, or 90 days in process? Creating groups on Facebook or LinkedIn won’t matter if the information is not current and relevant. While it is easy to focus on or ask questions about what the latest technology requires and where information is being accessed, it is still more important to remember that the quality of the message is paramount.

In this issue of Bar Leader, you will learn about some of the communication issues, styles, and frontiers that associations and their members are tackling. The ABA in general and the Division for Bar Services are no different. At a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services, we considered whether delivering this publication in electronic version only would meet the needs of state and local bar leaders and reduce costs. There is also consideration of starting “groups” on Facebook and LinkedIn. Just like the associations that you lead, making sure that the information is timely, relevant, placed where members will find it, and delivered in a cost-effective manner are things that the ABA must examine each and every day.

I look forward to welcoming you to the BLI and the various programs that we have planned. For me, it is exciting and rewarding to help my colleagues who all agreed to do the same thing: lead their state and local legal associations. I believe that you will find many tips and tools that will be useful during your term of leadership. In addition to general governance programs, you will also see a focus on leading associations during tough economic times. None of us is immune to the economic challenges that have been a growing part of our landscape, and these programs will help us articulate those challenges and do some problem solving to ensure that our associations are operating efficiently, that we are serving our members during their tough economic times, and that we continue to serve the public as well.

Now it is time for me to get back to the BlackBerry and to do a new posting on my Facebook wall, indicating a change of status: Finished my next Bar Leader article—very happy!