Curious what social media can do for you in the professional world? Then, as a baseline, consider who the world sees right now when it looks at you through the online lens. What’s your online image? Pull up the search window at Google.com. Type in your name in quotation marks and hit Enter. (Run the search twice if you use different versions of your name — say, with a middle or maiden name.) And there you are. That’s how you look to a stranger seeking information about you.
What kind of impression do you make?
You’ll find the good stuff over which you’ve had some control: your LinkedIn profile, your firm’s website, complete with lovely photo and bio, links to articles you’ve published, blog posts you’ve written, speeches you’re scheduled to make. You’ll find the big lawyer directories. (Wonder what they have to say about you?) You’ll also find some surprises, like unsolicited reviews of your services by former and existing clients. Maybe even a few from former employees. (Hope they’re good!)
But there will also be some things you wish weren’t there: Facebook photos tagged by others. Instagram selfies you actually posted yourself. (Why?!) Ancient news items, links that go nowhere or, worse, that connect to dicey sites. Letters to the editor. Complaints to city council. …
Is there no end? It can seem that way. Merely one version of my own name brings up 1,750 hits! No client in their right mind will go through all of them. But, still.
Ask Some Questions
If I do that search on your name and rummage through a few pages of hits, the nature of your practice should be obvious. But will it be?
Can I tell from the list of articles, speeches, biographies and news articles that you are a West Virginia litigator focused on big tobacco and mesothelioma defense — just as you wish? Or will you look more like a lawyer who has bounced all over the place in the past two decades — trademarks, Brownfields, oil and gas, and the five years you spent as special master on construction disputes? There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but if you’re presenting yourself as a big tobacco defense guy, be prepared to respond to questions about why you’ve been so fickle and how those skills translate. (And think hard before accepting that invitation to speak at a conference about trends in LGBT divorce law.)
Or maybe when I run that search, you will look like someone who doesn’t care what the world thinks about her. Three different LinkedIn profiles with your name on them, but none with a photo, and none with complete information? Four years since you’ve posted on the blog you started in 2010? Have you neglected to provide current contact information to online directories or professional associations, resulting in five different email addresses with three different firms?
Or perhaps I will stumble onto the side of you that you’d rather keep from clients’ eyes. No client wants to know you celebrate July 14 by dressing as Marie Antoinette and storming the men’s room. Or that your Star Wars name is Bulsar Vulan. While you don’t want to completely sanitize your personality, certain things just don’t shout “effective professional,” or leave the impression you’ll understand the import of a client’s concern.
Checklist: Clean Up Your Act
Before you jump into doubling your Twitter followers, branching into Tumblr or launching a YouTube channel, let’s get your current act cleaned up, okay? Do a sweep of every social network where you have an account.
- Get squeaky clean. Go back in time and eliminate rough language or references. You know what I’m talking about. Not just on Facebook and Twitter, either. Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, as well as video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vine, may contain unflattering content. (While you are checking, watch for language that may run afoul of ethics rules.)
- Hush it up. Learn about privacy settings and change them to support the brand, or personal image, you seek to project. Don’t get too heavy-handed — people like to know you’re hip to the Internet and not a trembling wad of social media paranoia.
- Update everything. Make certain your bios and profiles are totally up to date. Schedule time to update them regularly. New job? Of course that goes in there. Publish something new? Elected to head a nonprofit board? Changed your name? It all needs to be current. And consistent.
- Put a good face on it. Admit it. That LinkedIn photo was taken 15 years ago. Replace your headshot with something a little more current — and not something taken with a smartphone. Look as professional as you are. Pay for a good photo this once.
- Redecorate. Most social media sites provide a way to personalize your page with cover and background images. Do it. But be tasteful. (Probably not an Oakland Raiders fan shot.) Keep it fresh. Here’s an incentive: Every time you change your cover image on Facebook it provides another opportunity for you to reconnect with people.
- Who loves ya? You are who you hang out with. Maybe it’s time to do a little housecleaning among your followers and friends?
- Consolidate. With a gazillion social media apps and growing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and do a rotten job with everything. Look into management tools like HootSuite and BufferApp, which let you engage with people from a single screen. Consider signing off a few platforms. Some of the best Twitterers we know do nothing but tweet.
- Visit competitors. What does she look like? How much information does he share? Take a tour (do it periodically). Potential clients will compare you, so why not know what you’re up against.
Now you’re ready: Dust off your best game and get going!
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton (@AstinTarlton) is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member and past President of the Legal Marketing Association, a member of the LMA Hall of Fame, and a Fellow and past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Read more posts by Merrilyn on Attorney at Work here.