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Stephanie Francis Ward: Google+ launched in June, and although it’s still in beta, the site now has more than 25 million users. Many of them are scratching their heads about what to do with it, now that they’re signed up. I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and today on the ABA Journal Podcast, we’re discussing how lawyers can use the new site for learning and networking, among other things. Joining me are Ryan Davis, the social media direction at Blue State Digital; Mark Schondorf, a Chicago sole practitioner, who has a litigation practice; and Derek Witte, a professor at Cooley Law School whose research includes social media issues.
Ryan, in your work you often advise groups to get individual supporting their groups to promote groups on social media. A great example of that would probably be how Blue State Digital handled Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Do you see a way that lawyers could use that approach to discuss an idea online and in doing so generate interest in their practices?
Ryan Davis: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that social media is a wonderful way to share information and to provide thought leadership for any type of field. So the law would definitely fall into that. And I think through the various channels that social media provides whether it be Google+ or Twitter or Facebook, the ability to syndicate and broadcast that content exists as never before.
Stephanie Francis Ward: And how do you see that specifically with Google+, can you give me some examples?
Ryan Davis: Well, it’s important to think about Google+ – it falls into the same sort of network as Facebook or Twitter, so basically with Google+ you can add friends and then broadcast information to friends. Where Google+ differs is that it allows you to choose the “circles” or the groups of friends or coworkers or colleagues or family; whatever you create in those circles, you can broadcast them individually, as opposed to Facebook and Twitter, which are more of a broadcast across all of your different social or work-related channels. Google+ allows you to be very selective in how you broadcast that information.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay. Mark, you’re on Google+, right?
Mark Schondorf: I am on Google+, I just joined.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and tell me, what prompted you to join it and how have you been using it so far?
Mark Schondorf: Well, what prompted me to join is that as a solo practitioner I’m always looking for opportunities to promote myself and for ways to get my name out there, and get what I do out into the public eye; but I haven’t really found a way to use it so far because I found that there aren’t – there are only so many people on it. And I noticed that in particular, what I’m getting is I’m getting a lot of notifications that I’m being added to other people’s circles in a professional capacity. So to me, it seems like the ability to choose what circle you’re going to broadcast to seems a little bit like just an extension of the contact groups that Gmail already had.
So I’m trying to figure out exactly how I could use it in terms of reaching as big of an audience as possible, or – I mean, I feel like it’s still developing, to me.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Ryan, do you have thoughts on that?
Ryan Davis: I think that he is exactly right, that there isn’t a massive difference in posting something in a circle verse emailing it to an email group that you set up that has all your colleagues or goes to a certain group of people. And that’s one of the reasons why I don’t think Google+ will grow as fast as they want to grow, because they’re really not bringing in something entirely new to the space.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Derek, are you on Google+?
Derek Witte: I’m not on Google+, and you might ask why.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Yes.
Derek Witte: I think I was really intrigued when it rolled out, I didn’t jump in mostly for two reasons. I’m leery of social media in general and have been a late adopter, and Google especially, I’ve studied their terms of service and how they have conducted themselves in a lot of lawsuits and government investigations, and I am just very critical of how they use people’s information. So I think that I’m taking a more cautious approach. That being said, enough people in my community are pressing me to stop being a curmudgeon. It may be time.
But the entire social media movement, I think, has really left privacy in the dust. And anytime anyone brings that up, no one really wants to talk about it and that concerns me.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, well I have a question for all of you, I guess, starting with Mark. Do you think, what Derek just said, is that pretty common in the profession? Because lawyers do tend to be risk adverse.
Mark Schondorf: I’ve actually seen that concern in a personal matter. I actually know somebody that stopped using Facebook and switched to Google+ because they actually downloaded – apparently there’s a way to download all your information, or to view all the information that has been collected by Facebook – and they looked at it and they were shocked. And they said, “You know what, I’m not going to put myself out there.” And they are under the impression that Google isn’t as bad, that somehow the information is more private, but I’m sure that Derek can probably tell us exactly what Google is collecting.
As far as the lawyers, I’ve found that lawyers, especially when it comes to solos, they tend to not be so concerned about things like that. I think people are more concerned about, if they’re going to be using these tools, they’re more concerned about using them for marketing and actually generating business. Lawyers are in all kinds of varieties. I kind make the joke that to be a doctor you have to be good in science and in specific fields but anybody can go to law school.
And so you will have people that are very concerned, their personalities make them concerned about their privacy, and then there are other people that are very enterprising and they don’t really see that as that big of an issue. For me, especially in terms of promoting a business or promoting myself as an attorney, I feel like there’s only so much personal information that I’m putting out there because I have a specific business account. So I’m not really concerned about having – I actually want as much information out there as possible. I kind of view the Google and promoting on Google+ as another avenue in terms of getting my name in the ether. The way I see it is, the more connections I have, the more my name is out there on the Internet wherever it is, the more it’ll benefit me. So I’m not so concerned. And I haven’t really had that concern in terms of a professional.
Derek Witte: Well, I think Mark makes an excellent point. Because I’m a professor. I litigated for a little over seven years and now I teach and so, if I’m on it, it’s going to be for more personal reasons and my analysis and approach is different. If I had my own firm or went in that direction, then I want to share everything and that would be the point. And I think also then, everything that you put out there, you’re intentionally saying to yourself, if everyone sees that, not only is that okay, that’s the point. But when you look at G+ and you look at Facebook, that’s not what they want, that’s not what makes them money.
They want the personal stuff, they want to target advertising, they want to be able to sell your preferences about products and services and everything. And so I think that’s actually why in this initial phase of Google+ they’ve actually told businesses to stay away. Because they’re basically sharing the wealth, they ride the coattails of the social media. The really valuable stuff is that personal information about each individual and that’s – so when you ask me, am I on it? That’s what I’m leery of. But when I hear Mark talk, I say yeah, absolutely. If I had a law firm, I would be on every single site using it to its maximum.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Well, Ryan, what are your thoughts on how lawyers should decide what to share and where to share it? Twitter, Google+, and should there be some sort of connection between what they’re sharing, or should they have a plan for what they’re going to share?
Ryan Davis: I’ve advised clients who work in the financial services industry or in the corporate consulting, other industries that require to be careful and considerate about what you’re posting online, I think that if your account is connected to your professional life, you have to be extra aware of that now; that everything you put online is public. So you really should have some sort of content planning. Now when I work with organization we sit down and we say, “What is your offline, what are you offline events, what’s your offline PR schedule?” And then we try to sync that whole offline world onto the Internet. So promoting each of those back and forth and then add additional content to your internet calendar so there’s things like blog posts and sharing thought leadership sort of across all these channels.
And I think it’s really important to sync these channels so to remember that your Facebook audience and your Google+ audience might be slightly different, but it’s important to sync that content, and if you’re sending out a blog, do it across all your channels. But be very aware that this information is public.
Stephanie Francis Ward: How do you share things so that people want to listen? I know that when I signed up in Google+, there are some people in my circle that they routinely were making posts bout what they were having for dinner. And, honestly, I kind of – I didn’t know much about them before, but it made me think it was a little odd after the fact. So how does one decide – because there is a rule of thumb you should perhaps put some personal things about yourself on there – but how much is too much?
Mark Schondorf: When I started a Facebook page for my practice, I was sort of – one of the first things I said was, “Hey, like me so you can – my stuff will show up on your page. I promise not to inundate you with annoying stuff.” Because I’m very conscious that there’s a certain amount of, you don’t want to become the mass mailer of social media or –
Stephanie Francis Ward: Use the megaphone, right.
Mark Schondorf: Right, exactly, because I want to make sure the information I’m putting out there that is showing up on people’s pages either relates to me personally – like, okay, I won this trial or I had this great settlement to get the word out or something that people can use, what to do if you’re in a car accident or something like that – but just to do every little itty bitty thing. I see some attorneys that I know that are like, “I’m at court, it sucks.” Or, things didn’t go my way or whatever it is that I don’t really need to know the nitty gritty of what they’re doing every single day in terms of their professional life.
If your copier’s not working, I don’t think that helps you as a brand or in terms of your business or how people view it.
Derek Witte: Stephanie, you actually sort of point out the flip side in your question, though. Part of the reason that social media is working is because we’re inundated with so much data every day we don’t know how to – the human nature is to just tune it all out. And so, in order to actually pay attention, it’s gotta be someone we care about, who sort of rises about the rabble and, oh, I like this person in my life and I will ignore all of the spam and I will not read all of these mass emails; but I want to hear what Mark is doing, or whatever. So in order to keep that powerful, you do have to share some personal stuff.
So I don’t think just saying – is we tune out the stuff that it all business too or that’s just so clearly a professionally marketed campaign through Facebook or Twitter or whatever. You also need that personal touch and so I think it’s an art and a balance. Maybe if it’s once every few weeks and you say it at the right time, saying how much you enjoyed your favorite bottle of wine on Friday night, people might actually appreciate it. Every meal? I don’t need that.
Stephanie Francis Ward: So, Ryan, what do you think?
Ryan Davis: Yeah, I think there’s definitely some truth to what you guys are saying. It’s really important to have a balance. Nobody wants to follow a Twitter account or somebody on Google+ who’s just posting really heavy-handed law review stuff, you want to have a little personality sort of in the social space. So you’ve got Google+ and Facebook and Twitter that primarily exist for personality, and then you’ve got the organizations and brands and politicians all taking over and broadcasting to get their messages out.
So it’s important to remember that people primarily go to these spaces, they want to follow a brand or following a personality, going to get something a little bit extra, something more than they would get in the standard sort of old media way. They want to know a little bit about you. So I always say it’s a pretty good way to think about it is to divide it up: sort of a third kind of current events, relevant news, a third promotional and then a third sort of personal, letting people into your life. And whether that’s your favorite bottle of wine or you saw a play that you especially enjoyed.
But something that highlights your other interests in a smart way, not just posting a picture of your breakfast at Denney’s.
Stephanie Francis Ward: So we’ve talked a lot about this sharing, right, let’s talk about listening. And I’m wondering if there’s a lot to listening to Google+, particularly with networking and getting clients and maybe lawyers and not realizing. What advise would you give lawyers, do you think on listening on Google+ and finding out things about people that you might want to represent?
Ryan Davis: So Google+ is sort of a list, a less interesting listening platform than something like Twitter is, because it’s so engrained in these circles. But one of the primary strategies I’ve had is to circle people that are in, who are talking about things that I find especially interesting and then putting them into individual circles. So I have my tech circle or my political circle, the people that I’m listening to. And really Google has set up sort of ways to do that. You can find people over search but it’s still not as easy as it should be to group people by sort of topics they’re talking about. And as you find people, to find people outside of the space and bring them in is easier than to bring people, to find people just on Google+.
So there’s people you already have connections with on Facebook, Twitter and in the real world, those are the people you’d go through first.
Mark Schondorf: Here’s what I’m finding on Google+ (this is Mark), is that I’m getting notifications almost every day that someone has added me to a circle of theirs, and what concerns me is this is only occurring on my business account, my business profile and I don’t know who most of these people are, I would say. And I’m actually looking at my stream and it’s like, I don’t really know who this person is. It has to do with, they’re doing a little bit of an article or analysis and there’s also some videos here of a musician. It’s sort of like – it’s really like a mishmash and to me it seems like it’s all noise.
So every time I get a notification that some person I’ve never heard of has somehow gotten me on their contact list and added me to their circle for whatever reason and now I’m getting their information, it makes me almost not want to look at them at all, because I kind of feel like it’s just all going to be spam.
Ryan Davis: And to jump in here for a minute, you don’t have to follow people back – so if someone circles you, as long as you don’t circle them back, you’ll never see any of their updates. And the only time that anyone who circles you can see your updates is if you put it in a public, make it a public update. But say I do an update and I just select my work friends, the only people I work with, only my colleagues will see that update, nobody who just randomly circled me. So that allows you to have some control over the content that you’re distributing and the content that you’re reading back.
Mark Schondorf: Of course.
Stephanie Francis Ward: And, Mark, I’m curious, for these people following you who you don’t know, are they mostly from Illinois?
Mark Schondorf: I don’t really know. Some of them have not been, the initial ones I looked at, they seem to be from all over the place.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m wondering if maybe they could be a client some day.
Mark Schondorf: Well they could be, but – well that’s an interesting question to ask me, because I’m originally from California and I moved to Illinois, so I do have a lot of California contacts just because –
Stephanie Francis Ward: Oh, right, and you’re licensed to practice in California, right?
Mark Schondorf: I absolutely am, and –
Stephanie Francis Ward: Good, so for the right case, yeah.
Mark Schondorf: For the right case it’s worth it. But the first couple people that did this to me, I was like, who is this person? And they were in Kentucky. And I’m like, how does this random person in Kentucky get my email address to put me in their circle? And as far as looking at what I see, of course my stream is very, very limited so I don’t really have much. But there is a way which you can look at your incoming which is – whoever’s added me to their circle, I can see what they’re putting out and so I’m – and that’s – when I say I’m looking at all these things and I don’t know what we’re talking about.
As far as these people can be potential clients, I guess that’s possible. To me, this social networking seems to be a little bit more about the personal touch and about, okay, well I know you through this person, so that’s why I’ll become a client. But if I’m just going to be some random person and I’m just randomly posting, it seems like I don’t really want to invest that kind of energy. For example, a blog, they know that they’re going to get all this information from you. Whereas with a Google+ stream, it just sort of pops out sort of at random and I’d rather be – if someone’s going to look for a certain topic, they find something about, for example divorce, I do family law.
So they find an article that I put on divorce. They’re already receptive to listening to what I have to say, as opposed when they’re on – something pops up in their stream somehow and they know me but they kind of don’t really know me, their blockers are going to be up a little bit, they’re not going to be so receptive to listen to what I have to say. So again, I’m a little bit weary of Google+ in terms of, am I going to focus my energy on that? I feel like in terms of the marketability aspect, I don’t really see what the difference is between Facebook and Google+.
People that know me will listen to what I’m saying, and hopefully they can share that information. But it seems to me like this stuff is a primer for having a layer of contacts that are then going to then when they have a friend that has a question, they’re going to refer me, as opposed to having someone who’s directly going to come to me for business.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and I guess, Ryan, what are your thoughts on to get the most out of Google+, either for networking or perhaps getting business, how much is sharing verses how much is listening?
Ryan Davis: Well, I think that it’s important to remember that all these networks are not – are meant to engage with people and interact and not to just broadcast. So you definitely want to share often. We know we have a lot of data about sharing on Facebook leads to more fans and more engagement. There isn’t that kind of data for Google+ yet, because it’s relatively new, so no one’s really done the study, but there’s no reason to think it’s going to interact, or it’s going to work any different than the other social networks we’ve seen in the past. So it’s definitely important to broadcast good information and then to also reply to other people’s content.
So interact with people who you want to interact with, who you want to bring into your client base. Or if there’s another lawyer that you share a common practice with, to have a public conversation with them about something would bring you more fans or more people following. But also it’s important to remember you’re not creating content specifically for these networks, right, so if you write a blog, to have the ability to syndicate it over Google+ or Facebook or Twitter, that’s a great way to get it read in a way that people don’t really follow blogs in the same way.
Although there’s a lot of professional blogs you read every day, you don’t get them pushed to you in the way that you get your social networks that are coming to you without even trying.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Ryan, I’d like to ask you too about one of the things that’s gotten some buzz on Google+: the hangout function. Can you explain that to us and tell us if you’ve seen professionals use that in a meaningful way?
Ryan Davis: So basically the Google hangout function is an ability to video hangout with people who follow you. And it’s pretty cool, actually. It’s a way to have multiple video conversations and whenever the person is talking, that’s the person it zooms in on so it kind of understands where the conversation is going. It’s pretty interesting. In terms of how I would use it in a professional way, there was a – Newt Gingrich, he’s running for president, he’s used Google hangout just to have a conversation with random constituents. And basically when you do that you just sort of go to your Google+ and you click “host a hangout” and then you wait and people join you and you can have a conversation.
It would be weird, it’s not like Ustream or Livestream where it’s a great way to handle large amounts of people asking questions. So if you were going to do a Q&A about some law-related topic, you’re pretty limited to how many people can participate, I think it’s only 8 in a hangout? So it’s not a situation where you’ll be able to broadcast to a lot of people, but if you’re looking at a small kind of focused discussion surrounding a certain topic it would be helpful. But again, it’s limited to the amount of people that you can broadcast to.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Derek, since we’re talking about sharing, I wanted to ask you with your privacy concerns: Down the road, how do you think Google+ will be used with e-discovery?
Derek Witte: Well, I think it’s not so much how it will be used, but it’s just going to be discoverable information that you’re creating. And in first thinking about this topic I thought, if a law firm or a solo practitioner were using it successfully to reach out to clients or to keep in touch with past clients, there’s always my fear then that when they reach out to you through that system say, hey, I got a problem, or – Mark said he does family law – so someone, you handle their divorce and then a custody issue comes up a couple years later and they reach out to you because they’re in your circle of clients and they say, “Hey, my jerk spouse is trying to take my kid to spring break and we already have plans, can you help me out? He’s such a jerk, blank, blank, blank, blank.” Now all of a sudden, you have a discoverable piece of information.
You can argue that there’s attorney/client privilege there, but that’s a harder and harder argument to make, because there’s just not expectations of privacy on a social networking site like this. And that’s just one example of what everything that’s generated on there is potentially discoverable in foreseeable litigation. And so if you have – and I think probably these guys have each heard of plenty of cases now where Facebook evidence is huge in civil and criminal.
It’s pretty much become part of a template in every discovery quest, give me your Facebook page or at least the portions of it relevant to this lawsuit. And so we’re just generating more and more discoverable information that has to be exchanged in lawsuits, and also can be discovered in investigations and criminal cases. And I have a pet issue to that you can actually civil subpoena to Google or Facebook or Twitter and they have to hand it over unless it’s a communication and no one’s sure what communication is. The Stored Communications Act is outdated, so now we have all these different ways of sharing that aren’t just email or what we’ve traditionally thought as communication.
And these companies don’t even know what to do. Sometimes they share it, sometimes they don’t. Their policy changes every day. And so in a lawsuit it’s just a mess of potential evidence that could be really important to the outcome.
Mark Schondorf: Right, what it does is it creates a record for better or for worse. So if you want to have an idea of well, when did I take this vacation? You know when because there are the photos and you know when you posted it, you have a good idea. And you’re that your back is hurting from this car accident and there you are water skiing, then what are you going to do?
Derek Witte: Exactly.
Stephanie Francis Ward: So, Ryan, what do you think of these concerns?
Ryan Davis: I think they’re definitely real concerns. One thing that we see, we see quite often is people not understanding what’s public and what’s private on their social pages, from congressmen down to teachers. You can’t go there without reading about this – it’s a real concern and people need to understand the world we live in and that’s – when we live publicly, when we live public lives on these social networks that that probably lasts forever, it’s probably not going to be something you can delete and take away when you want to. So that’s something to really keep in mind.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Well, and I’m curious, when you’re advising clients, do you tell them: When you’re writing this, just assume people you may not want to see it could see so be very cautious of what you put out?
Ryan Davis: I always assume that whenever I put something on the Internet it will be seen by the one person I don’t want it to be seen by. That’s gotta be the way you think.
Derek Witte: Well, it concerns me that Facebook and G+ talk about privacy settings and I think it’s a little misleading to most people. So you set your privacy settings to control who can see what. I think what most folks don’t understand, or at least a large percentage of maybe less legally sophisticated people, is that’s just controlling what that social networking site is going to give access, to whom it’s going to give access. It’s really not – doesn’t have anything to do with what they’ll share if the government asks or what they’ll share if they get a discovery quest and a piece of ligation or a civil subpoena.
Recently, when the Department of Justice asked for all of the information from Twitter, Google – and I forget the third person – regarding Julian Assange, yeah, that was not even a subpoena, it was an investigatory demand. They didn’t have to comply, and I think everyone but Twitter just handed it over because it was from the DOJ. And if you look at the terms and conditions, they’ve reserved the right to do that and your privacy settings have no bearing on that. And so I’m troubled by every time the New York Times puts something on that Facebook has tightened their security settings, I’m sorry, their privacy settings, that it’s just, it’s a misleading statement.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I have a question for all of you. Ultimately, how do you think Google+ will be used by lawyers? Ryan, do you want to go ahead and start?
Ryan Davis: I think it’ll be used in a similar way to the way the Facebook brand pages are used for lawyers, and I think probably less of an information-gathering source and broadcast medium than Twitter is. I think it sort of falls in the middle of those two things but I don’t think Google+ is a radical departure from the functionality we’ve seen in these prior two offerings.
Stephanie Francis Ward: And I’m curious, do you ever see Google+ replacing LinkedIn? That LinkedIn seems to be a site that lawyers, who as you well know tend to be risk adverse, are comfortable with?
Ryan Davis: In LinkedIn there are what, 110 million users, so it’s pretty solid. It’s got a solid foundation and I still get requests occasionally for it. I don’t know that Google+ will replace them. They’re at 25 million and the vast majority of those people have not been back since the day they signed up. So there just isn’t that sort of critical mass that there is on LinkedIn at this point.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I see. Mark, how do you think Google+ will be used ultimately?
Mark Schondorf: I think for me, I think that Google+, if I were to invest in the time – and as a solo attorney the problem is that I have so many things that I have to do, that it’s difficult for me to sit down and focus – but if I were to use Google+ for its maximum affect as I see it, I would put all my clients in one circle, put all my opposing attorneys in another circle and put all my lawyer contacts in another circle and use it to maintain relationships with those various groups. So if I wanted to send something just to former clients saying, “here’s some advice, keep this in mind about this issue” just so that I stay relevant in their life then that’s what I would do.
If I had a particularly good success at trial or whatever it is, maybe I would broadcast that to my other attorneys that I know so that they see me in some other professional esteem. It seems like Google+ is on the opposite end of a website in terms of a website is one mass of broadcast and you’re focusing one message to as many people as possible, whereas Google+ and social media in general is more fractured, fracturing of the message. The whole idea is: I can control what I say and who hears it. And so it’s really about managing how people view me as a professional.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, and Derek, how do you think Google+ will be used ultimately?
Derek Witte: Putting aside my cynicism, I am intrigued by it, because I think where Facebook falls down is they haven’t quite figured out how to allow people to have the control to only share with certain groups. So I think the circles will be its success or its failure and if it catches on, I could image using it in a way where you blend the professional and the personal in a way that you can control, so that your message is really getting through. And so that your identity as an individual who likes running and this wine and goes to plays, and your professional identity as a litigator in Chicago or New York, can be blended in a way you can control, where you’re really getting through to people in a way that they’ll really listen.
And I think Mark’s point about the time it takes is the biggest one. I mean, it seems like the tools are there with Google+ to do a really good job of social media marketing, but are you willing to put in the time to make it work? We’ll see.
Mark Schondorf: I have a comment on what Derek just said. I kind of disagree a little bit because I don’t view – I have a professional Google account, and I have a personal Google account, and I really try not to blend the two. I don’t really want my clients to see me, I mean of course I want them to see me as a human being, and when they come into my office they see pictures of my family and I’ll tell me about what I like to do. But I don’t really like to inundate them with some of the wacky things I might put on my personal page, where I found a really funny video of a cat or whatever it is.
I think that, I feel like –
Derek Witte: I think we agree, I mean I’m saying, it would give you the tool to selectively blend it. If you want to share – all of a sudden, here’s something that I could share with two circles when ordinarily would only be my friends, you have one platform to do that and give that a little spice of personality to your clients when 90% of that personal stuff they’re never going to see.
Mark Schondorf: Right.
Derek Witte: Right, if we trust Google to keep it all segregated forever.
Mark Schondorf: Right, right.
Stephanie Francis Ward: All right, well that’s everything I have, and I want to thank you all so much for your time, we really appreciate it.
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