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Digital Networking: Building Powerful Brands and Powerful Business

Jamie Elise Tracey Szal, Laura Meyer Gregory, and Deborah Feder


  • The most surprising aspect of professional social media is the depth of the relationships that you can form in a virtual context.
  • Building a digital community is far easier than in-person networking.
  • Thinking of digital networking more as community building underscores another aspect of professional social media that takes many people by surprise. The community is generous.
  • Through digital networking, our outreach can spread much farther at a touch of our fingertips.
Digital Networking: Building Powerful Brands and Powerful Business
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In-person networking disappeared almost overnight in March 2020. While it has started to return, its replacement—digital networking—is here to stay. The authors all dove into LinkedIn last year and, in that time, have been nothing short of amazed. In this article, we share our reflections on making the most of professional social media for business and professional development.

The three of us are geographically separated—one in Maine, one in Kansas, and one in Massachusetts. We are all lawyers but in completely different subject areas. Jamie is a state and local tax lawyer with a national practice. Laura is an insurance coverage and bad-faith litigation attorney with a practice in New England and beyond. And Deb is a former practicing corporate lawyer, now a business development strategist for lawyers and law firms. We met each other and many others on LinkedIn.

During the pandemic, we built our relationship through LinkedIn, Zoom, phone calls, and text messages. Each of us supported one another personally and professionally over the last 20 months. We even wrote a book, #Networked, about it!

This article outlines what we have learned about digital networking and how you can benefit from getting involved. We focus on LinkedIn, the platform we use most. Lawyers do, however, use other social media platforms as well, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Clubhouse, depending on the clientele they work with. If your practice area is dependent on individuals—e.g., family law, criminal defense, personal injury—consider exploring the platform your target client is more likely to use or consider using multiple platforms. Our potential clients—business, insurance, and legal professionals—are on LinkedIn, so that is where we show up and join the conversation.

The Depth of Digital Relationships and Community Building Is Surprising

Without a doubt, the most surprising aspect of professional social media is the depth of the relationships that you can form in a virtual context—genuine connections with colleagues, peers, and prospective clients. While many assume that the digital world does not build authentic relationships, we learned from each other (about tax, insurance, client development, and branding) while expanding our circle of relationships, including potential clients, nationally and internationally—all through LinkedIn.

Professional social media are about building community. A true community has variety. We learn from one another. Connections become friends, confidants, and colleagues. The stronger the connections, the stronger the network of support that we can build around one another.

Digital Networking Is Easy

In one sense, digital networking is transactional: Write post. Like post. Add comment. Click "connect."

In reality, building a digital community is far easier than in-person networking. Gone are the days of trying to apologize for cold hands or sweaty palms. Heck, gone are the days of trying to measure each other’s worth on the strength of a handshake at all. Building a digital community starts with a post or a comment and turns into a conversation. From the conversation comes a connection (as “friending” is known on LinkedIn). It’s as easy as the click of a button.

Digital Networking Is Generous

Thinking of digital networking more as community building underscores another aspect of professional social media that takes many people by surprise. The community is generous. Generous with their content creation. Generous with their networks. Generous with their time, connecting off-line with others or answering questions about their posts.

The name of the professional social media game is reciprocity. Get to know people not just for what they can do for you but because they are interesting and can enrich your life. Give professionally. Teach. Write. Offer to make introductions within your network. In other words, show up to serve, rather than thinking only about what you can get. Letting go of the expectation that you will immediately generate clients allows you to build relationships of different kinds, including business relationships, through authentic conversation and collaborations, far beyond the reach of your traditional networks in your local community.

Digital Networking Is Effective

Where in-person networking is limited to those people in the room with you, digital networking has no such limitations. Through digital networking, our outreach can spread much farther at a touch of our fingertips. With effective, consistent posting, you build your brand, which is the foundation for, as Deb would say it, curious conversations. Those conversations build relationships and communities. The strength of your community is a powerful tool for generating business.

It is also a more effective way to showcase your content and expertise than what can be easily done at a cocktail party. After all, would you walk into a party and, without any pretext or invitation, suddenly start spouting off about the latest case developments? Not a chance. However, blending casual conversation and your expertise through an online presence creates a solid foundation for a relationship that translates well to in-person marketing. Networking in person with someone who knows who you are and who knows that you provide great content on LinkedIn builds a much stronger connection. LinkedIn is a great icebreaker. Some of the best conversations begin when someone in the group you joined reads your name tag and asks, “Are you the one with all the LinkedIn posts about. . . ?” or, “I saw your post about your Supreme Court case—congrats on your win!”

Digital Networking Is Equitable

In many ways, digital networking is the great equalizer. In-person networking, pre-pandemic, often took place during what were for many the least convenient times of the day, often disrupting personal routines. Building a digital community requires none of this. You engage in your own time. You put in the time you can devote. You and I do not need to be on the platform at the same time to have a conversation and forge a relationship. A platform that allows all to effectively engage on their own terms is powerful.

Digital networking can be a better fit for many, especially women, than traditional marketing because it can be done at times that fit into and around your busy day. Without the need to attend live events at disruptive times, balancing personal and professional commitments becomes more manageable and can be done whenever you are free and wherever you have internet access.

Be Yourself

Pursuing digital networking works best when you simply are yourself. People like to know whom they do business with, not just that they are doing business with someone competent. Social networking platforms are an ideal opportunity to showcase what you know and what you are passionate about. Don’t be afraid to show your personality.

A LinkedIn post is an opportunity to capture attention and interest and to share knowledge and experience. There is just enough space to give facts and analysis and to imbue it with your personality. Use it to your advantage! Write the way you speak. Trust yourself. Remember that people want to work with real people, and when you trust yourself, your target audience is more likely to love it.

Making clear how you want to be seen is the key to building your professional presence online. Think about this: The personal is the professional. Now, we’re not saying that you should start posting all your cat videos on LinkedIn (although a certain Zoom cat filter failure video did make its rounds among lawyers on the platform). What we are saying is that you should not hesitate to share the aspects of your life that go beyond just your daily practice area as a lawyer. It allows your community to build a picture of you as a complete person. When they reach out to you for business or to make a client referral, they know with whom they are dealing.

Be Consistent

Social media are part art—having the knack of organic connection and content that resonates. Social media are also part science, as every single social media platform runs on an algorithm, which selects what content is shared and how widely. One factor that heavily influences the algorithm is consistency. Posting on a regular and frequent basis enables lawyers to use the algorithm to their advantage, giving their content the best chance of a broad audience.

Stay consistent in your messaging as well. You will forge stronger bonds with your community, based on trust and shared interests, much faster with consistent messaging. The aim of well-done professional social media is that you are building your personal brand. Do you want your personal brand to be “scattershot,” the digital equivalent of flinging spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks? No. Your digital content, both your own posts and your comments on other people’s posts, should reflect those areas you focus on in your practice and those aspects of your life that you are passionate about.

Make the Most of Curated Content

Professional social media present curated content in a readily digestible format. When professional social media are done well, lawyers and other professionals share their knowledge. We post to educate and to spark conversation with our target audience to pique their interest in us as lawyers. There is an incentive to demonstrate that you are on top of the latest trends and developments in your industry. After all, you are sharing your content to be perceived as an authority in that area—someone to send business to. Your content should be focused on attracting your ideal client. Make sure that you are comfortable with a potential client viewing everything that you post, including your comments.

By the same token, follow your clients’ social media pages. They provide a unique opportunity to learn of interesting developments in their businesses and (more importantly) what is important to them. For example, one of Jamie’s clients shared that the company received a prominent recognition as an up-and-coming retailer. It was a client she had not worked with in a few months, and she used the award as an opportunity to reach out with a word of congratulations. No business pitch. No ask for work. Just a simple “Congratulations,” rekindling a client relationship in an organic way.

It’s Important to Be in It for the Long Game

It should come as no surprise that even among professionals, the use of social media is on an exponential rise. Admittedly, using professional social media is not necessarily an overnight strategy to instant success. As with any business development, using it as a tool takes a commitment to the effort.

Social media algorithms favor those who have a larger following. Building a genuine following takes time. We need to dispel the notion that to build a digital network, you connect only with those people whom you already know or you have already met. Think of LinkedIn as a giant ABA conference. Would you network with only those people you already know? No! While you may gravitate toward your existing colleagues for part of the night, to exclusively do so defeats the purpose of networking. Building your network on LinkedIn is the same.

Connections fall into three categories:

  • First and most obvious, clients and prospective clients.
  • Second, referral partners. We see referral partners often as people who may practice in the same or related practice areas, perhaps in other states, or who work with your clients in different capacities. These are the professionals you need in your virtual rolodex if you are conflicted out of serving a particular client or need to bring additional resources to the table to problem-solve with and for your clients. Don’t we all prefer to engage local counsel who has experience in our practice area, who can help us navigate the local rules smoothly?
  • Third, collaboration partners and peers. These are attorneys and other professionals who can be your broadcasters, helping boost your content on the platform.

Do not be surprised if there is quite a bit of overlap between these latter two categories.

While engagement is important, so are lurkers—those who view posts but do not engage. No likes. No comments. No outward indication that they have absorbed your content. They are there to listen and learn. As it happens, the lurkers are often ones to reach out with direct inquiries for work or professional opportunities. All three of us have personally experienced this.

Professional Opportunities Await

Through LinkedIn, we have all developed new clients—directly and indirectly. More than that, we all have been presented with countless professional and personal opportunities to create and expand relationships, to participate in events or publications that expand our reach and recognition.

How many times have you thought to yourself, “How the heck do I get this awesome article I just wrote into XYZ trade publication?” Before LinkedIn, we all experienced this. Once again, this is where building a robust community reaps immeasurable rewards. Your community may consist of podcast hosts, publishers, event managers for industry continuing legal education (CLE) organizations, and others. Once you have built a rapport with those connections (by doing such things as engaging with their content), do not hesitate to start proactively seeking opportunities to offer yourself as a featured guest or author.

For example, Jamie enjoys the ABA podcast “People in Tax.” After listening to several episodes, she connected with the host on LinkedIn, leaving him a note about how much she enjoyed the podcast. When he asked for topic recommendations, she suggested he highlight more state and local tax (SALT) professionals, and she was thrilled when he immediately responded by asking if she wanted to be his first SALT guest. Deb and Laura have both had similar experiences of expanding the reach of their work far beyond their local community.

Through LinkedIn, each of us has secured opportunities to write for legal publications, presented CLEs, contributed to #Networked—our best-selling book about the power of women supporting women in digital communities—and participated as featured guests on dozens of different podcasts and webinars, including ones with other kickass women lawyers we met on the platform.

Not to put too fine a point on it, if you aren’t involved in digital marketing, you are missing an opportunity.

Professional social media are what you make of them. You get out what you put in. In a world that is digitally dependent, digital networking and community building are opportunities to reimagine how you pursue your practice in that environment.

Embrace it.