May 20, 2014 Articles

Social Media: Risks and Rewards

By Diane Darling

As a frequent traveler, I signed up for the TSA “pre-check” interview as soon as it was possible. I filled in forms, but the first available appointment was more than three months away. When the day finally arrived, I went to the airport and walked into a room full of well-armed men.

Paperwork was exchanged; photo and fingerprints were taken. Next, I was asked a few random questions about how often I travel and where. In less than 10 minutes, the meeting was over. “Is that all you need?” I commented innocently. “Yes,” the agent replied. “I’ve done research about you.”

Today, each of us has an online digital identity. If you don’t have a profile on a social media site that you manage, what are people finding out about you? And who is in charge of that message? On LinkedIn or other sites you choose, you can post the most relevant and up-to-date information, whether or not it would come up in a Google search. Without a profile, you have left it up to the search engines to create your digital identity.

If all this online stuff scares you, just remember: Before Google there was gossip. People have always talked about each other. Now you can better participate in the conversation. It’s easy to feel information on the web is out of control, so control what you can. Your marketing department can help, but you need to be the driver, not the passenger, on this.

Your biography on your law firm’s website is not a substitute for a social media presence. Many professionals have Twitter accounts where they actively tweet, or retweet the posts of others. They are on Facebook, lawyer sites such as Avvo, or other social media platforms tailored to particular industries, practices, or interests. They post to listservs, blogs, or websites of regional or local interest.

LinkedIn, with more than 300 million people, is the go-to place for lawyers and other professionals to have an online presence. (When I joined in 2003, I was member #15,418.) If you Google your name and have a LinkedIn profile, it is typically one of the first links to show up. Anyone who is thinking of hiring you, referring you, or researching you as a part of a case will most likely start with LinkedIn. So let’s focus on the LinkedIn platform, recognizing that the basic principles apply to other sites as well.

Your Profile
Start with a basic profile. That includes your name, occupation, firm or company, location, photo, and education, together with a summary of what you do and whom you do it for. Your photo should be a professional, up-to-date headshot. It should be a photo of you—not you and your dog, or you and your kids. If you’d rather not give people a reason to know or guess your age, omit your graduation year when you list your education. To make your “link” easier to find and to remember, some sites, like LinkedIn, allow you to customize it.

Your summary does not need to be long, but you should think of words people will use to search for you. Consider the type of matters you handle in your practice and include that information in your summary. Mention any high-profile cases you’ve been involved with. I strongly encourage you to note board service or other volunteer information. This provides conversation-starter questions for people when you are getting to know each other. This is the “above the fold” part of your profile and should make someone want to look further. But above all, be brief!

Whom Should I Invite?
Don’t send an automated email to everyone in your database. Instead, start with people you really know—people you went to school with, people you have worked with in the past, and professionals who have been good sources of referrals for you, or whom you have recommended to others.

The next time you have a good conversation at an event, send an invitation afterwards, but don’t use the standard invitation copy. Say something unique that identifies how you know each other and a common interest, for example:


I really enjoyed your article about the hazards of not being on social media. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. Please let me know if I can be a resource for you at some point.

Best regards, Your Name.

Avoid sending invitations on your smart phone or tablet, where it’s difficult to customize them. It may come off as impersonal.

Whom Should I Accept?
While you can control whom you invite on a social media platform like LinkedIn, whom to accept can be a bit trickier. See whether you know people in common. If the invitation is customized, it will give you some idea of why the person wants to connect. Be wary of connecting with people who seem to have no connections in common with you. If I’m not sure I want to accept an invitation, I simply archive it. Unless it’s clearly spam, I don’t report it.

Endorsements Versus Recommendations
Endorsements are requests to endorse others in your network, based on their skills. Endorsement suggestions may pop up when you log in. It’s become a fast, hit-the-button, please-go-away distraction. In general, I just don’t participate. But I was inspired to learn from endorsements that other people saw skills in me that weren’t front and center in my mind. I thought I was most well known for my networking and relationship-building guidance. It turns out that strategy and public speaking were at the top of the list.

Recommendations are much more compelling. It takes time to write them and, therefore, they have more weight. I’d encourage you to give generously. And don’t be shy about asking for them as well. Whether you are giving or accepting endorsements and recommendations, please be consistent with the ethical rules for attorney advertising in your jurisdiction.

Joining groups on social media is an excellent way to expand your network. Select them carefully from trade associations, universities, past employers, companies you may want to follow, and other organizations you belong to. Your group memberships may be listed as private, so people looking at your profile won’t be able to see them. If you belong to groups that don’t comport with the professional image you want to project, you should designate them as private.

Other Ways to Network
Publishing platforms are a compelling way to be heard by a large audience. Shorter posts are better. Include a photo or image. This may be a blog, newsletter, or applying to LinkedIn’s publishing platform.

It’s easy to think that online networking is where it all happens, but be sure to leave your desk every so often. When I speak to women audiences, I challenge them to eat lunch at their desks only one day a week. Men go out, and the “informal networking” is often where relationships are built and information exchanged.

Advanced Search Button
There’s a small button to the right of the search bar on LinkedIn called “advanced.” You can use this tool to create a targeted list by industry or to reconnect with your contacts when you travel. Let’s say I’m traveling to Dallas. I look up people I know, separate them by industry, and send an email. It gives me a chance to reconnect, even if we don’t see each other.

Online Safety
A few years ago, I was with a bunch of engineers at an event on April Fool’s Day. There was a birthday celebration and someone asked, “Is it your real birthday or your digital one?” Because of the risk of identity theft, I recommend that you don’t include your real birthday on your LinkedIn or other social media profiles. In fact, don’t post your birthday anywhere online. Some say they just post the month and day, but it won’t take much for someone to dig through your profile and make an educated guess. On LinkedIn, I don’t list my birthday at all. On Facebook, I use the birthdate of a relative who has passed away. You should also refrain from listing your marital status, which doesn’t have anything to do with your business. And don’t share your home address. No one needs to show up at your house uninvited.

You should behave on social media the same way you behave in person. As a child I asked my grandfather, a lawyer, what he did all day. He thought for a minute and then responded, “I help people honor the Ten Commandments.”

Whatever you say and do on social media is public. Think of it as the front page of a newspaper. Participate the way you would in any other public arena.

Parting Thoughts
Participating on social media takes time. But the biggest chunk of time is getting started. After that, you’ll spend less time on maintenance and staying connected. Managing your online presence also saves time because you control the message. Social media is not without risks, but those risks can be addressed. I encourage you to embrace social media, recognizing that your profiles and postings are organic documents. They need feeding and watering every so often. Take care of them and they will take care of you.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, social media, LinkedIn, endorsements, networking

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