Vol. 41, No. 2

Here’s how it’s done: NABE Comm panel shares bar-focused social media tips

by Marilyn Cavicchia

The October 2016 NABE Communications Section Workshop gave attendees a chance to learn from some of the most effective social media users in the bar association arena: Danny Aller, public information specialist/social media coordinator at The Florida Bar; Karen Korr, director of outreach strategy and COO at the San Diego County Bar Association; Brandon Vogel, social media and web content manager at the New York State Bar Association; and moderator Brad Carr, social media editor for the National Association of Bar Executives.

Together, the panelists gave a glimpse of what great bar association social media use looks like today, and how it has evolved from its much more buttoned-up beginnings several years ago.

NYSBA: Loosening the reins leads to more interaction

The New York State Bar Association was among the first bars to use Twitter, starting in 2009, Vogel said, but its tweets were “sporadic” and very tightly regulated, with the expectation that Twitter only be used to push out announcements. The posting duties were scattered among various staff members, none of whom were allowed to retweet or follow other accounts, and “anything deviating from the script had to be cleared by IT.”

The result of all that control? “Low engagement,” Vogel said. He took on the social media role in 2014 and, per a bar policy dating back to 2012, is “authorized to tweet anything.”

NYSBA’s motto regarding social media is “Always smart, never snarky,” Vogel added, and its aim is to “inform, educate, and engage—don’t inundate.” In general, he said, he posts about four tweets each morning and then posts a couple more times throughout the day, also responding and interacting as needed.

Events are one place where Twitter really shines, Vogel said; he often live tweets from CLE programs that are of general interest. The bar also has a Twitter account just for CLE; it often tweets book discounts or giveaways, and it provides a place to ask questions that were not addressed during the program.

One winter, Vogel said, a blizzard in New York City meant the events on the first day of the annual meeting had to be canceled. As a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the change in plans, Vogel tweeted a series of photos of desolate urban winter landscape with captions indicating that this was the setting for a particular event. These funny photos ended up being more popular than the album from the actual event, he recalled.

Instagram is gaining some traction, too, Vogel said, noting that even though NYSBA’s audience there is only about 10 percent the size of its Twitter audience, some of the bar’s most liked posts are on Instagram.

The bar’s Facebook page also sees a lot of activity. “I’m not upset by an angry face on Facebook,” Vogel said. “I’m upset when there’s no reaction at all.”

One great way to boost engagement and interaction in your bar’s social media accounts is to tap into the network of other bar communicators who are trying to do the same thing, Vogel suggested. NYSBA, The Florida Bar, the Connecticut Bar Association, and the main ABA Twitter account formed an informal partnership and have since been joined by the North Carolina Bar Association and others; its purpose is to like and share each other’s content.

As for other bar social media accounts he particularly admires, Vogel said the Bar Association of San Francisco uses video very effectively, and the Indianapolis Bar Association does a great job of showing appreciation for its members.

The Florida Bar: Social media is a full-time job

If you’ve been thinking that using social media effectively means you have to use a tool like Hootsuite to schedule tweets, Danny Aller would like you to think again. In fact, he said, the idea of “set it and forget it” just doesn’t work.

“You have to be engaged,” he explained, which means you must see and respond to tweets, retweets, and other interactions as they occur. In fact, Aller is often on work-related Twitter late at night, which is when he gets some of his best ideas, including the #LawyersAreTheCoolest hashtag that went viral.

Similar to NYSBA, when The Florida Bar started its Twitter account in 2013, its intention was to use it to push out “news releases and tech tips,” Aller said, but then the Board of Governors decided the bar should go “all in.” Aller was hired in 2014; he credits the BOG for the forward-thinking decision to create a social media staff position.

“If you want to do [social media] well, you need someone full time,” he stressed, predicting that in the next few years, up to 90 percent of organizations and businesses—many of them bar associations—will have such a position.

Engagement leads to being noticed: Within two years after he arrived, Aller said, the bar’s followers went from 600 to 6,000—and now that number is over 8,000.

Aller does see one use for scheduled tweets, which is to avoid letting your account go totally inactive over the weekend, when a lot of lawyers are using Twitter. Vogel agreed with Aller’s assessment of scheduled tweets, noting that they did come in handy when his son was born at a time when he would ordinarily be tweeting.

If a particular tweet makes an especially strong statement about the bar or attracts a lot of interest, Aller recommended, make it the “pinned post” that will be the first thing users see when they click on your feed—and then don’t forget to change it to something else down the road.

One simple yet effective tweet?: A screen shot of bar exam results, which those who are listed will be eager to share and comment on.

The Florida Bar’s Twitter account is well known for its sense of humor and use of GIFs (short, often funny moving images). It’s important to use “good news judgment” on Twitter, Aller noted, but it’s also important “to actually be social” and human.

“We’re at our best when we’re happy,” he said, adding, “You can’t spell Twitter without W-I-T.”

Aller has heard some occasional gripes about whether the bar posts too much fun stuff, or too much stuff in general. But he has another prediction regarding social media use in the coming years: “Everyone saying we ‘overpost’ will be eating their words.”

The San Diego County Bar Association: Local, and live

Speaking of news judgment, at the San Diego County Bar Association, that means focusing on ways the bar can “add value” to a discussion rather than repeating what a lot of other outlets have already posted, Korr said. Often, she noted, this value is in taking a national story and finding a local point of connection, or starting with a local story and seeing how it’s relevant to the legal community.

For example, she said, the bar wouldn’t tweet about a fire downtown—unless, say, it had displaced four local law firms.

Korr likes to deliver content that is not only local, but also live, via tools such as Periscope and Facebook Live. The “pros” to either of those, she said, are that they’re unfiltered, free, quick and easy to use, and can help you gain a wider audience—and the “cons” are exactly the same. The free part, she explained, is problematic because “you get what you pay for,” which does not include any ability to edit.

Still, she said, footage shared this way can have surprising reach and longevity, even after the “live” aspect has faded. For example, a live feed from a team-building lunch-and-learn session has had 52 follows and more than 200 views—meaning that some people have circled back to watch it more than once.

A recent solo day drew 70 attendees, and another 50 watched live feeds from two of the events. There were six sessions in total, Korr said, so sharing two of them didn’t amount to giving away the whole event for free.

Even with the freewheeling nature of live footage, Korr said, social media isn’t “the Wild West”—particularly with some parameters in place. Her bar offers 15 examples of how to tweet effectively, and adheres to the following guidelines: “Be human. Be concise. Be visual.”

Additional advice

Here are a few more tips the panelists shared on a variety of social media topics:

  • Though #LawyersAreTheCoolest and a few other hashtags have been very successful, Aller cautioned that less is more; hashtags should be used only when they add something, and there shouldn’t be a lot of them within one tweet.
  • Strive to be like Justin Timberlake (smooth and genteel), not Justin Bieber (juvenile and often inappropriate) on social media, Vogel advised.
  • A tweet that a new issue of the bar journal is available? That’s “a resounding thud,” Vogel said—but tweeting specific articles from the new issue can generate a lot of interaction.
  • Both The Florida Bar and the New York State Bar Association have pursued and attained the blue “verified” checkmark on Twitter, which helps convey authority and authenticity.
  • Sections and other entities that wish to maintain their own social media accounts should be encouraged to think about whether they can really commit to monitoring it daily and keeping it active, Vogel said.
  • Setting up lists on Facebook and Twitter is a great way to manage and keep up with all the accounts you follow for different reasons, Aller said.
  • On Facebook, more posts are not necessarily better; Vogel posts just once daily because more than that can skew its algorithms.
  • Have you ever seen a long series of tweets from a single person, one right after another? That’s called a “tweetstorm.” How you do that, Vogel said, is to start with one tweet, hit “reply,” delete @yourname, and then write your next tweet.
  • Korr doesn’t use Hootsuite either, and says 90 percent of her social media use is on her phone, where it’s easy to switch among all her accounts and post what she wants, where and when.