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What’s That In The Sky? Spreading the Word with Facebook and Twitter

Lois Lane
@reporteracelois (Metropolis)
‘Bank robbery in progress down on fifth! Heading over ASAP to cover for @dailyplanet w/co-reporter @mildmanneredclark’

Jimmy Olsen
@photoboyolsen (Metropolis)
‘Police are cautioning all civilians to avoid downtown. @Superman is now in the building! I can’t believe @mildmanneredclark is missing this…again.’

Had new media existed in the DC Comics universe during the reign of Superman and super heroes, I imagine the above (poorly fictionalized) communication stream would be something of a staple for our heroes and heroines. Can you imagine the response time Superman would have if he was live-tweeted disasters as they occurred? Think about the many, long overdue ‘thank you’ notes he would receive if he maintained a Facebook page for all those damsels in distress to post on.

As a lawyer, you don’t need a red cape or laser vision to cultivate and capitalize on an online identity.  With over 200 million accounts on Twitter (and subsequently 140 million Tweets per day) and more than 500 million active users on Facebook, these two social media heavyweights are ripe with opportunities for you to develop an online presence and expand your sphere of influence. Colleagues and clients alike are interested in finding out about who you are beneath the three piece suit. Your thoughts on the legal profession, opinions on current events and even your day-to-day operations are just a few tenants of a multi-faceted personality that you can now bring online and place front and center for both your interested and interesting peers.

As a legal professional, it is essential that you understand how to deftly navigate this new medium of online interaction. While the exposure may benefit your practice, there are also pitfalls to social media you should be wary of. Below we’ve compiled the key components to an active and engaging online presence.

Follow the numbers: there’s a reason why they’re called ‘active’ users

Twitter and Facebook afford you the opportunity to connect with others in the industry who you might not have the chance to meet at a conference or networking event.  Seek out and connect with others online who are serving the same communities you are and start cultivating a profitable alliance.  Don’t let the internet trolls and ‘Rick rolls’ deceive you; these online communities are teeming with business professionals, industry experts and entrepreneurs who are exchanging ideas (and a few witticisms) on a daily basis. The average daily sign up rate on Twitter hovers around 460,000 accounts, with a staggering 572,000 new accounts created on March 12, 2011, alone. As far as Facebook is concerned, there’s a reason why more than 10,000 sites add the now ubiquitous Facebook ‘like’ button to their page every day.  If you’re not already pulling breaking social media news from Pete Cashmore (@mashable) or trading tips for busy lawyers with Big Legal Brain (@biglegalbrain), may I ask exactly what are you doing on that morning commute?

Don’t wait for the Daily Planet coverage: connecting with ‘followers’ and ‘fans’ in real time

The beauty of online engagement is the rapidity with which you can update your profiles, as opposed to print, radio and TV ads.  Effective social media use offers you instant access to your clients and industry peers, allowing them to comment on your services offered or business practices in real time. This affords you an increased response time, which exemplifies that you are listening and catering to your consumers. When practiced effectively and consistently, Twitter and Facebook also offer you the opportunity to debunk some of the more ‘unsavory’ opinions on the legal profession.  Instead of uploading a default picture with an avatar that resembles something out of Avatar, perhaps opt for a shot showcasing you in a more casual light. Nobody connects with the giant lawyer in the polyester suit on the billboard off of the freeway. We want them to know that you’re living and breathing, too (unlike that polyester suit).

It’s a dialogue, not a monologue: practicing inclusion in an profession built on confidentiality

Social media is not a ‘top down’ environment; it’s an ongoing conversation where the trending topic is king and a simple thumbs up icon sometimes says more than words ever could. Direct, hard sales for your services often fall on deaf ears and are viewed as ‘spamming’ the community. By setting up a Facebook page or Twitter handle, you are entering an implicit agreement held by all active users that online outreach is a two way street. If you are effectively leveraging your online persona by consistently providing updated and accurate information relevant to your profession, the followers will come (and stick around). Just be sure that you are also linking back to articles you find interesting or promoting noteworthy events of others. When you lower the barriers to participation inherent to your profession, you’re inviting industry peers and colleagues to connect on a variety of levels.  It is when these connections are made that your inevitable pitch will be more warmly received.

Leverage the “Like”: now that you have their attention, what are you doing with it?

When a person ‘likes’ a page on Facebook, did you know that they are alerted to every subsequent post and update that page shares? Imagine then, that same person re-sharing your own post with their own followers, and so on and so on, ad infinitum. The end goal is to enable your followers and fans alike to advocate for your services to their own social circle.  This personal recommendation will often reap more benefits than a ‘cold call’ ever could. Whether you’re a ‘sharer’ or a ‘sender’, there’s no denying that Facebook and Twitter offer invaluable platforms for the widespread dissipation of information.  In fact, you’ll find that most Twitter handles and Facebook pages are supplements to some pre-existing web presence, as a means of further promoting their brand or practice. If you would like to drive more traffic to your web site or perhaps just encourage more community commentary on your blog posts, consider auto-drafting Twitter updates for your regularly scheduled posts or promoting noteworthy happenings through a status update on Facebook. Still not convinced of the potential leverage? Eventbrite recently concluded from their aggregate data the exact profitability of ‘tweets’ and ‘likes’. On average, a Facebook ‘like’ drove $1.34 in ticket sales, compared to $.80 per Twitter update. While you may not be in the business of social commerce, clearly these numbers speak to an engaged community.

The personality of a professional: you can’t hide behind a ‘secret identity’ online

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mild mannered news reporter or consider yourself a man of steel; the key to a successful online presence is staying genuine to your real world persona. Also, using common sense in regards to your posts and updates is, well, just common sense. Be sure to reference your firm’s policies on social media practices and to utilize Twitter and Facebook’s own privacy and group settings. Be clear on the rules and regulations governing this new platform of networking, whether you’re a small firm attorney or voice for a corporate brand.  You wouldn’t want the wrong information to wind up in the wrong hand-held device.  At the end of the day though, your Twitter handle and Facebook page should be an extension of yourself, and a few quirks are welcome. This is your opportunity to rein in potential clients who need more than a free consultation to convince them to hire you.  Just don’t be that guy who Tweets ‘eating a sandwich’ at two in the afternoon. Nobody likes him.

Look, What’s That In The Sky? is Tip #7 in our series 10 Secrets to Super-Power Your Legal Practice (without Super Powers.) Previous tips include: Tip #6 Don’t Hide Behind Your Mask, Tip #5 Reputation is Everything,Tip #4 Team Power!, Tip #3 Lawyer by Day, Blogger by Night, Tip #2 Your Super-Suit, and Tip #1 Your (Not So Secret) Identity.

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