At the same time, imagine the great opportunities afforded to you by participating virtually in online groups using websites such as CMCP and its corresponding LinkedIn group to connect with people with whom you already have things in common. An added bonus of social media is that most of the sites are free, and you can participate on your own time schedule.
Social media is a great way to meet other professionals. Attorneys and in house counsel are using social media on an increasing basis with the most popular professional site, LinkedIn, having 150 million users. In a 2012 survey report sponsored by Inside Counsel and GreenTarget, 88% of the in house counsel respondents reported that they view content from their LinkedIn connections as credible. More recently, an American Lawyer Magazine survey found that almost 85% of law firms are using social media as a networking tool.
In speaking to hundreds of attorneys and in house counsel about using social media professionally, I have found there is definite interest. The only reluctance to engage is based on not knowing how to approach social media, and not wanting to breach some ethical guideline. This article will hopefully put both of these concerns to rest. It is also intended as the first in a series of articles so your social media strategy can become more sophisticated without requiring a large investment of time on your part.
A. Getting Started.
Even if you have set up a profile on LinkedIn, or another networking website, you may want to take a second look at it. Here are some suggestions to highlight you to your greatest advantage.
1. Your Professional Tag Line. Under the edit your profile feature on LinkedIn, take advantage of the "Professional 'Headline'" category to add what are essentially search tag lines for what you do professionally. Think of it in terms of key words that someone may enter on the Internet to find an attorney with your expertise.
2. Profile Picture. A picture does speak a thousand words, and the same is true for your profile picture. An editor with a national business law magazine said that she is more likely to interview someone who is an expert in their field if they also appear approachable in their online picture. At the same time, you want a professional picture that is not outdated so people you meet in person or online will recognize you.
3. Websites. It is worth listing your firm bio, and also any blog with your articles. LinkedIn has a nice feature called "Other" where you can type in your firm's name or blog. In other words, you can brand yourself better by using the actual name of your blog, and your law firm name. For the law firm link, use the URL that links through to your firm bio.
4. Profile - LinkedIn "Summary". Next, if you have essentially cut and paste your firm bio into the profile section of LinkedIn or any other website, remember there is a social component to even the professional sites. You don't want to sound too stiff or formal. Think of your profile as a conversation about your legal practice, and remember to include thoughts on how you stand out from other attorneys. It could be prior job experience, or a focus to your practice that would make clients want to hire you. Be flexible about updating your profile to include experience that you know are areas in which clients need legal assistance.
5. Experience, Education, Interests. These sections in any profile are a great way to introduce "icebreakers" or ways in which people may find you. LinkedIn has a number of ways to find people with whom you want to connect. Searching for all people who went to a particular school, or worked at a particular place is one way.
6. Recommendations. It is easier to get recommendations than you would think. By clicking on the "Profile" tag near the top of your profile on LinkedIn, there is a drop down menu that includes Recommendations. Click on that, and it will take you to a page where you can choose between managing recommendations you have received, sending recommendations, and requesting recommendations. You can only seek recommendations from people with whom you are already connected. People are generally receptive to giving recommendations since it has become more commonplace with social media. However, you will get a suggestion back from LinkedIn to recommend someone who has recommended you. Social media is very much about etiquette and returning favors, so you may want to skip getting recommendations from people you do not feel comfortable recommending.
7. Applications. We will cover these in more detail in later articles. However, LinkedIn offers a variety of apps to add to your profile, and you can see the range of choices by clicking the "More" tag near the top of the page.
B. Join And Participate In Groups.
The real value of LinkedIn, or other professional networking sites, is the opportunity to network with people with whom you already share some common perspective. In addition to the people you already know (and who you should send a request to connect), you want to be connecting with people you do not already know, but may want to know better. Unless you do not meet the requirements for a group (such as you are not an alumni of the school), most groups are relatively easy to join. You can set it up so you receive either weekly or daily updates of the discussions started by group members. The default setting for these updates is daily. You can also set whether or not you want your membership in the group to show on your profile or not.
There are thousands of groups to choose from. As a general bright line rule (which like most rules has its exceptions), it is recommended to join groups with at least 100 members. It is also recommended to start with groups where there is some professional connection such as undergrad and graduate school alumni groups, honorary societies such as Phi Beta Kappa, associations for which you are a member such as CMCP, and professional bar associations and related groups for your area of law.
LinkedIn aggregates groups into categories that are searchable which you can find by clicking the Groups tag, and then clicking down to the Groups Directory. LinkedIn makes it very easy to find groups that you may want to join. It is also simple to leave a group so you should not hesitate to join a number of different groups before you find the best groups for you.
The next article in this series will discuss various ways to participate in groups. As a basic first step, you can post comments on discussions other people have started. You can also follow up and ask to connect with people you meet through the group discussions. People are very receptive to accepting requests to connect from people in their groups.
C. Basic Ethical Bright Line Rules.
The legal ethics of social media are covered in more detail here. However, to get you started, the most important ethics rule to remember is that social media is a form of advertising, and the offline rules for attorneys apply online. Further, attorneys must not disclose confidential or privileged information concerning their clients. Many clients do not want their corporate deals or litigation successes broadcast on social media by someone other than their public relations department. Your posts about your clients should be cleared with them in advance.