March 01, 2019 March/April 2019

Effectively Using Social Media with Hashtags

It may seem like a foreign land, but you'll soon get used to it.

Ian Hu

You promised yourself you’d do this. It’s been a long time coming, but you’re going to enter the social media fray. You’ve seen your daughter’s/son’s/cousin’s/auntie’s/friend’s/enemy’s/friend-as-enemy’s tweet go viral, and you want to join the fray. After all, your firm is about to enter into a huge endeavor that’s “top of mind” right now, and you want to capitalize on all these movements you’ve been hearing about. Time to get in on the fun. Done right, who knows? You might even get a client.

Ride the Hashtag

Social media moments can come and go as fast as the 24-hour news cycle. Others have staying power. (Remember #TheDress? #IceBucketChallenge?) Using social media and attaching a hashtag to your message is a good way to ride the wave. A hashtag labels your social media message with a (hopefully hot) topic. A hashtag is simply the name of a topic, with no spaces in between words if the topic is more than one word, preceded by a pound (#) symbol. A Twitter message might go viral on International Coffee Day if you post “When your coffee can’t even believe how early you’ve woken up! #InternationalCoffeeDay,” attaching a picture of a surprised face made out of bubbles in a coffee cup (183 retweets, 668 likes as of this writing). Yes, a picture really is a worth a thousand words, and the right picture is a thousand retweets. (Forgive me—I’m an attorney, not a poet.)

Suppose you’ve got a great giveaway in mind. For every retweet you’ll give away six minutes of your time to helping those in need. Andrew Malcolm tweeted a similar idea: “For every retweet this gets, Pedigree will donate one bowl of dog food to dogs in need! #tweetforbowls.” With about 168,000 likes and more than 828,000 retweets, I’d say Malcolm received a little bit of visibility with that one. Beware the viral tweet, though. I take no responsibility for your impending bankruptcy when your free-legal-work-for-every-retweet goes viral!

But what if you came late to the party? Never fear, my fellow attorneys. As much as a hashtag can help you start a wave, it also can help you ride it. Regularly trending on recent years’ Twitter feed, the #MeToo hashtag can garner multiple retweets, likes and conversations. Keep in mind, though, that sensitive topics like this, posted on so public a medium, can crystallize perception of you on one side of the debate, causing potentially unwanted controversy and lost clients—and, perhaps, new clients too. Wading into wonky waters should be commenced with calm deliberation.

What’s Trending?

If, like me, when you look down at your shoes, which you love fondly, following the tried-and-true style of your university days albeit decades older, you may realize you are not the trendiest person. How are you going to post about trendy topics when you are not trendy yourself? No problem. On most Twitter pages (e.g., Home, Moments, Notifications, Profile), you can see a “Trends for you” panel that lists currently trending topics. You also can change the list and look at trends by city. Figure out if you have anything to say within your law firm’s marketing message on any of these trends, and then post away using the hashtag. Regularly trending in recent memory, the “single greatest agreement of all time” is trending as #USMCA. Keep in mind that trends come and go quickly and may fade away within a few days, if not hours. Don’t join the trend too late—it’s most unfashionable.

Outside of Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram also are popular. LinkedIn, billed as the social network for professionals, contains a constantly updated newsfeed, much like Twitter and Facebook. You can add your own posts to the newsfeed. Hashtags may be harder to find but also are helpful. Trending hashtags are found from the home page panel under “your communities,” where you can see the category “hashtags” and a “Discover more” link. Click on “Discover more,” which reveals a series of hashtags and the number of followers for each. As of this writing, #jobinterviews has 12 million followers, which is not surprising given the medium.

Attorneys may be more interested in other hashtags: #happiness (almost 1.3 million), #emotionalintelligence (1.8 million), #legalissues (5.3 million), #Law (5.4 million) and #lawandlegislation (5.5 million), among many others. Find the hashtag you want to follow and click on “+Follow.” You can now follow all LinkedIn posts involving the hashtag from your home page, and similarly make posts of your own that include the hashtag. LinkedIn also suggests hashtags for you when you make a posting; just look inside the window of your post.

Instagram, the social network made up of photographs with comments, is filled with hashtag use. Simply post a photograph, add a pithy comment and include some hashtags. For a good laugh, search for #attorneyproblems in the app. Make sure your account is set to public if you want to capture as many eyes as possible; otherwise, only those within your network are going to see your posts. You can check by going to Settings and “privacy and security.” For a public account, ensure “Private account” is unchecked.

Now that you’ve identified the trends, you’ll be wearing skinny pants, practicing mindfulness, doing yoga and starting a side gig in no time!

A Marketing Creed

How do you ensure that you, your colleagues and your staff stay “on message” in social media? The answer is a marketing creed. Put a policy in place that delineates what your law firm stands for, from basic values to more specific issues. Everything that stands outside of that messaging should never be posted on your social media.

I have rarely seen solos and small firms that have instituted such a creed, but the benefits are worth the effort. It’s a good time to look inward and consider what separates you from other attorneys while simultaneously crafting a message for social media. Even the solo attorney can stray, and following a marketing creed keeps you on message.

Going Viral Once Was Enough

In the early days of the World Wide Web, there lived an online community named GeoCities. I, a bumbler with little computer skills to speak of, created a website on GeoCities featuring some artsy photographs and a clumsy attempt at deep thoughts. To my surprise, my website was featured on the front page of the site, and within a few days had a million hits. What lessons did I learn? Going viral takes luck, approachability and a hook. And yet nothing much may come of it. I received a handful of emails from people seeking to connect and discuss the content. And that was it.

On the other hand, while I have never gone viral on my current Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, they have yielded numerous requests for presentations, collaborations and articles and expanded my network beyond anything I could have imagined. I regularly meet people for the first time who say they feel like they know me by my tweets!

In other words, consistent messaging and social media use are likely more beneficial than gunning for that one viral tweet.

Ian Hu

Ian Hu handles claims prevention and practicePRO at LAWPRO, the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company, in Toronto. He stresses the principles of good law practice management and claims prevention whenever he has spoken at over 100 events, from keynotes to panels, to law firms, schools, societies and bar associations. Ian invites you to chat on LinkedIn, tweet him @IanHuLawpro or comment on his blogs at SlawTips.ca and Avoidaclaim.com. ian.hu@lawpro.ca

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