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Rookie mistakes on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+? We’ve made plenty. So for this week’s Friday Five, we’re sharing a bit of what we’ve painfully learned and called in the big guns—Stem Legal’s Steve Matthews—for advice on avoiding, or overcoming, some of the gaffes lawyers make with social media.
1. Losing sight of the big picture. It’s so easy to get sucked up in comment drama and Facebook rabbit trails — and later wonder where your day went. It’s understandably addictive, but indulging in social media is not going to help you build a professional network of any substance, or advance your online reputation, without goals and a plan. It doesn’t need to be complex, but you need to be clear about why you are here. Example of a goal? “Build a network of X key referrers in Y industry,” or “Drive potential clients to my website content and convert them to clients.” Matthews says, “Overall, many lawyers don’t realize that to have lasting influence online, they’ve got to have content—something tangible and permanent—to back up their social networking efforts. That can be achieved through blogging, podcasting, or writing columns for trade publications—there are tons of possibilities. When lawyers get both pieces of the puzzle right—the content and the social networking—the result is great for their reputation online.”
2. Getting caught up in the numbers. When you first sign on to social media, it’s natural to compare your numbers—connections, followers or friends—with your peers and get a little nuts about how to ramp them up. It is fascinating to see the people LinkedIn recommends to you (especially those inevitable bad pennies who pop up at the top of the screen over and over) and terribly hard to resist clicking to connect, but pace yourself. Sure, some people may judge you by your numbers (“She just retweeted to 4 million followers!”), but for your purposes—say, establishing a referral network in a specific specialty— it’s truly not the size, but the quality of your connection that matters. “When it comes to using social media to build their reputations, I think lots of lawyers are completely missing the bigger picture,” says Matthews. “It’s not just about collecting contacts, it’s about engagement.” Which leads to number three.
3. Broadcasting instead of engaging. It’s fine to think of Facebook as your personal scrapbook and LinkedIn as your 21st-century resume, if that’s all you want. But to get real value, particularly on Twitter, communication has to go two ways. “One big mistake is to sign up for Twitter and just blast your content with tweets that are all about you. You know the old saying, ‘We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak’? It applies to Twitter, too. You have to do as much listening and replying and reaching out as you talk about yourself—and more.” It isn’t always easy, especially if you are not a natural communicator. So when you are just getting used to how things work, it’s fine to lurk for a while before you begin tweeting. “Figure out who your ‘tribes’ are: who you want to follow and who you hope will follow you,” says Matthews. “Get a feel for what sort of tweets will bring value to these relationships.” Eventually, however, you have to get in there and respond to a colleague’s tweet, have an opinion and contribute something to the conversation. “Only once you start to achieve that quality level of engagement do the social media tools start to pay off in the form of new relationships, media requests and referrals,” says Matthews. Besides, it’s a lot more fun.
4. Wasting real estate. How often have you signed up for a site, clicked the required boxes and logged off, promising to come back later to polish your profile? Thought so. “LinkedIn has major potential, but lots of lawyers only do the bare minimum,” says Matthews. “They sign up, establish a handful of connections, and just let it sit there. They don’t know how to effectively (or politely!) build their contact list, don’t take advantage of tools that help showcase their work (for instance, the JD Supra app), and their profiles aren’t optimized.” For example, LinkedIn automatically inserts your most recent job title as the “headline” in your profile—and most of us skip right on past without realizing that the headline can be customized. That’s a wasted opportunity—it’s the first thing people see when they click on your name. It’s easy to go back and replace “Owner, Smith and Jones” with a pithy “elevator speech” that describes specifically what you do and who you do it for. Include the keywords people would use to search for your services. “If your job title is listed as ‘partner’ or ‘owner,’ most lawyers would do best to bump up the level of description—’Real Estate Lawyer,’ for example,” says Matthews.
How else can you maximize your profile’s effectiveness? Put lots of client-oriented, helpful detail into your profile descriptions, says Matthews. Also, join groups that are relevant to your practice, ideally both law-related and geographic ones. And don’t forget to customize your public profile URL with your name. “This will help you rise to the top of Google’s search results when someone looks for you by name,” he says.
Now let’s talk about your photo. Get one. A current one. A color one. If you want to be clever or artsy—or use your cat or your hamster as your profile picture in Facebook or Google—be aware that image is probably showing up every time you sign up for a new social media account (especially those that require a Facebook login) or newsletter—or comment on an article or blog post. There’s nothing like someone seeing your beach vacation picture next to your sober comment on a new tax law article. Try to use the same professional photo in all of your social media accounts, or at least photos from the same decade.
5. Trying to be everywhere at once. In his handy post on figuring out your social media return on investment (spoiler alert: it’s just about impossible), Blog Tyrant says a lot of newcomers don’t realize that not all social networks work the same for different business types. Since the amount of time you can spend on this stuff is endless, you need to ask whether it’s smart to be on every social media platform. Once you figure out where you need to be, our best advice is to set a specific amount of time each day or each week for social media, and learn to use tools that will make you more productive. If you blog, can you automatically broadcast that link to your social media accounts? If you are on Twitter, can you use management tools to schedule batches of tweets in advance? And by all means measure what you can. If you are using social media to drive traffic to your website or blog, use free Google Analytics tools to show how much traffic your social media efforts are generating.
A final word of advice, especially for those who post comments on blogs and who may have a … different … idea of what engaging on Twitter means: Be civil. If you remember that old advice about never emailing or posting anything privately you wouldn’t want your grandma (or your state’s ethics committee) to read, you won’t go too horribly wrong. And if you do? Don’t worry, somebody else is bound to make a bigger mistake tomorrow.
Joan Feldman (@JoanHFeldman) is Partner/Editorial at Attorney at Work.
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