Vol. 41, No. 3

NABE Comm speaker, lawyer blogging expert says social media is everyone’s job

by Marilyn Cavicchia

At your bar association, who is in charge of posting on social media? The communications director? A dedicated social media staff person?

How about everybody … including, and even especially, the executive director?

That’s the rather challenging recommendation from Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of LexBlog and frequent contributor at Above the Law.

At most bar associations, it’s likely that the majority of the social media interaction involving the bar itself—as opposed to sections that may have their own accounts—is handled by one specific person. There may also be an account for the bar president, but as for everyone else, there’s no expectation that they be active on social media, or that they ever use their personal accounts to discuss bar-related matters. After all, the bar association should speak with one, clear voice, and blurring the lines between personal and professional would not be a good idea.

Speaking at the 2016 NABE Communications Section Workshop, O’Keefe urged attendees to set all of that aside.

Even in a business or association setting, he said, “social media is person to person”—and everyone needs to participate. Neither the executive director nor anyone else on the staff, he continued, should be allowed to “hide” and tell someone, “’Deliver my message for me, because it’s not part of my job.’”

Why is it important that the ED participate?

“Lawyers get their work by relationships and word of mouth,” O’Keefe said, and these days, social media is unparalleled as a way to accelerate making those connections and building a reputation. Certainly, he noted, it’s no longer enough to expect to build a business just through Chamber of Commerce membership and other traditional means.

Bar associations play a big role in encouraging lawyers to use this powerful tool, he said—and the executive director is the one who sets the tone for the rest of the bar staff.

“Younger people want to be employed and are afraid of what people think of them,” O’Keefe noted; if the ED isn’t on social media, “as a leader, what does that tell employees?”

Starting from the idea that social media is now where a lot of important connections are made, O’Keefe asked the audience to ponder how ridiculous it would be if the ED went to a networking event and, when invited into a conversation, said, “Wait … Let me get the communications director to see if it’s OK.”

What if you’re willing to set aside the idea that “social media is not my job,” but you’re hanging back because you don’t know how to use it? “If you need help,” O’Keefe stressed, “get someone to help you.”

Goals help guide the way

As with any important business endeavor, it’s hard to measure success unless you first set some goals. The goals don’t have to be overly complicated or ambitious, O’Keefe noted; it would be enough to say your goal is “to learn how to use social media effectively.”

But don’t use the number of followers or fans as your goal, O’Keefe advised; as a matter of fact, he never even checks those numbers for his own accounts.

“I don’t care about those,” he explained. “I care about what adds value to my life and what I’m sharing and learning.”

Is it really OK to mix personal and professional?

Though he stopped short of saying there shouldn’t be social media accounts that are branded with the bar’s name, O’Keefe strongly and repeatedly encouraged using personal accounts to share bar-related information. “It will be much more real and authentic if it comes from you personally than from your organization,” he explained.

But won’t your professional contacts have to suffer through a lot of posts that aren’t relevant to them?

First, O’Keefe said, don’t assume that they’re not interested: When he shared photos from a friend’s wedding recently, the resulting likes and comments were from his professional contacts and personal friends alike—and the two started engaging with each other.

Second, O’Keefe said, “Facebook knows who everyone is,” uses algorithms that are more powerful than Google’s, and feeds people the posts that it knows are most relevant to them. This is particularly true on mobile devices, he added, because most people won’t scroll past the few items that Facebook shows them first.

Are you giving love?

Whether you’re posting as yourself or as the bar association, O’Keefe advised, always think in terms of whether you’re “giving love.”

Social media is about listening, not broadcasting, he explained—and it’s definitely not a distribution channel for pushing out messages. Again, O’Keefe said, imagine you’re at a networking event: Would you say, “’I’m going to distribute my thoughts?’”

When he checks his social media accounts and looks to see who liked, shared, favorited, or otherwise reacted to his posts, O’Keefe said, what he’s asking is, “Who loves me?”

There’s personal gain in all that love; the way to become an “influencer,” someone whose posts are much more likely to be seen, is by “shining a light on others,” O’Keefe explained, which will encourage them to like and share your content.

In the context of a lawyer’s blog—another powerful tool, O’Keefe said—this would take the form of a “hero story” in which the lawyer spotlights someone else rather than his or her own work.

Speaking of work, for lawyers, “love” can lead to new clients in any number of ways. For example, O’Keefe said, a good blog and effective social media use can help the lawyer gain connections and visibility, which in turn could lead to a speaking opportunity that could attract new business.

But isn’t this risky?

O’Keefe was once invited to be on an ABA panel discussing social media. When he went to follow his fellow panelists, he was surprised to find that they didn’t have any social media accounts. It soon became clear, he recalled, that the other panelists intended only to discuss the possible dangers and legal implications of social media.

Overemphasizing the risks, and especially saying that they mean lawyers shouldn’t participate at all, is akin to saying that no one should drive because there are thousands of car accidents every day, O’Keefe said. Furthermore, he added, it’s a good way to get “secretly laughed at”—there’s already a critical mass of lawyers using social media, and not to disastrous effect.

Beware using the “old boy crony system” to line up speakers for bar events, O’Keefe cautioned; your events will then become “very lame and very stodgy.”

By contrast, he said, look at the annual Clio Cloud Conference as an example. “Holy cow!” he said. “That’s an event,” with lawyers sharing and connecting “like crazy” and no one telling them they have to list on their Twitter profile what states they’re licensed in, lest they be held liable.

Indeed, he said, these days there’s more risk in not being on social media—because you’ll miss out on important connections and “gradually become irrelevant.” What if, O’Keefe asked, 15 years ago, newspaper companies had said they weren’t going to participate on social media and instead would devote all their focus to print and to their home page? It’s likely, he said, that they’d be in more peril than they are now: Most newspaper stories end up being shared from person to person via social media rather than being accessed directly via the paper’s website.

Lawyers and bar associations may now be in a similar position. “Somehow, our industry feels safe in the status quo,” O’Keefe said—but that may now be the riskiest place of all.

(Note: O’Keefe said he is always “willing and honored to help” with anything related to social media and blogging, and that he will send the PDF of his presentation to anyone who requests it. He can be reached at @KevinOKeefe, @LexBlog, or kevin@lexblog.com.)