Social networking used to mean going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting or a bar association event for the purpose of meeting face-to-face with other professionals who might be able to refer you business. That description is so last-century. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web-based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging.”
This article is about this new Social Networking, even though I am not yet quite sure what it all means or where it is heading. I do know, however, that it is a technology that lawyers need to consider. Those of us of a certain age can feel overwhelmed by the speed with which these new technologies appear. By the time I figured out that I needed to have Facebook and LinkedIn, I discovered that everyone was “twittering.” If you had twittered when I was in my twenties, you would have been institutionalized.
As I started doing research for this article and some upcoming presentations, I was completely overwhelmed with the volume of information and the speed with which these technologies change. If you thought that the proliferation of websites and e-mail was tremendous, hang onto to your hats.
However, time waits for no one, and if you are going to continue to practice law and continue to want to build a practice with new clients and hire new attorneys, then you need to have some understanding of the new media, how these new technologies work and how you can use them to your advantage.
The difference between these new pillars of social media and the old ways of the Internet and e-mail is the fact that these new technologies are completely interactive and are often in real time. It is more of a conversation than a “presentation.” This is what is now being referred to as Web 2.0. According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 refers to “a perceived second generation of web development and design that aim to facilitate communication, secure information sharing, interoperability and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, web applications, such as social-networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn), video-sharing sites, (YouTube, MySpace), wikis and blogs.”
Web 2.0 is all about sharing content, and lawyers and law firms generate a log of useful content in the course of doing business. (From White Paper, “Getting More Social,”)
First, you must accept the fact that there is a time commitment when learning a new technology or topic. If you are not tech-savvy, you might find this overwhelming or even a waste of time. This is time that you are using to invest in the future of your practice. If that is not important to you, then you can ignore these new technologies. But if you plan on continuing to practice and hope to bring in new clients, this is an investment of time you must make. You may rant all you like about the new technologies and how they might be negatively affecting the practice and professionalism and courtesy and blah, blah, blah (BTW, I agree with you), or you can learn how to use them to improve the way you service clients and get new ones.
If you have not done any type of social networking or made any Web 2.0 connections, my suggestion would be to start by setting up a LinkedIn account. I would start with LinkedIn because it is used more in a business setting as opposed to Facebook, which is more personal, or Twitter which is – well, I am not quite sure what it is yet, but even Senators and Congress people are twittering, so how hard can it be?
Actually Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. People are constantly sending messages – “twittering” – about all types of information, including business and law-related.
Go to LinkedIn and set up an account. You will be asked for information; give the minimum to start. It is about creating connections with others, be they other attorneys, potential clients, referral sources or contacts in your address book. Once you set up your account, you can search for groups that may be of interest to you.
I just searched on Maryland Lawyers and there were almost 700 names. I went through the list and asked people that I knew if I could link to them. In addition, you can “recommend” some of these connections and have them recommend you.
You can also ask up to 10 questions a month to any list of connections or category which can be useful for referrals or other networking. I just asked a question of some MSBA Members who I found on Linkedin. I asked how they were using Linkedin and whether it has helped. There are also lists of Q&As that have already been asked and answered.
I received a number of responses to my question almost within a few minutes of posting it. The most descriptive was from Diane Davison, an MSBA member, who wrote:
I have met clients on both LinkedIn and Facebook. I have also found many, many old clients, and revived some of those relationships. I have gotten in touch with people at certain companies that I otherwise would never have been able to contact (on behalf of clients), for instance record-label execs.
I have made connections with other lawyers, also, that has been helpful to my practice.
I also found an old high school friend who has now, as a lawyer, offered me a great position in an ABA section.
It’s a new, amazing world out there!
Whether or not you think these new connections are helpful or even necessary, you need to understand that these are new tools in your networking and marketing plan. You must to start to understand them and use them in conjunction with what you are already doing.
As I mentioned, there is a lot of information already written about how to use these new tools, what precautions need to be taken and the pros and cons of the time it may take. I have included links to them at the end of this article. The article will be online in mid-March and the links will be live; this will make it easier for you to go directly to them.
In the coming months, I am going to use them and report on how effective they may be. In addition, the Solo and Small Firm Section will be “twittering” from the Solo Day Program @ the Annual Meeting to let you know what is happening. One of the sessions at Solo Day will be on using social media to build your practice. Solo Day @ the Annual Meeting is on Friday, June 12, 2009, in Ocean City. Hope to see you there.
• Create Policies for Social Media. Although this is for firms whose partners and associates are going to social media, this is a white paper. ALL attorneys should read this to consider some of the consequences of getting social before understanding the pitfalls.
• How Lawyers Can Use LinkedIn. Good interview with one of the most “LinkedIn” lawyers on the web.
Watch four YouTube videos on how to use LinkedIn.
• Web 2.0 and the Recession: Little Guys Can Finish First. Jaffe and Associates is a Washington, D.C., PR firm that has some excellent articles available online on how to use these new technologies. Although the firm usually works with large firms, the advantage to Web 2.0 is how effective and affordable it is for solos and small firms. It really levels the playing field
• Getting More Social.
• Marketing Me. Excellent article by Heather Morse Milligan, a marketing director for an LA law firm who talks about how to incorporate the new media with the “old” techniques.