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Many lawyers, especially solo practitioners, use personal accounts on social media platforms to market themselves and their practices. But now that “social ads” are on the scene—what else are they selling?
Generalizing broadly, lawyers engage social media for marketing more or less depending on their feelings respecting two flashpoint issues: ease of use and price, and security of data. In a tight economy, those who prioritize cost savings and simplicity of interface and interaction are more likely to use social media for marketing—the major social media platforms are all free. Those whose chief concerns hover around data security (and these people most often wish to have “full” control over their business information) are less likely to engage social media or web-based systems.
Most lawyers who fret over security are usually worried about the potential release of their client’s information: some hacker infiltrating a third-party network, or some monolithic Internet concern turning over client data based on a government subpoena. Less often expressed is an uneasiness over the use of personal data and account information. And, outside of the myopic legal construct, the most important issue related to the Internet is protection of personal privacy, or the continual staving off of the Airstrip One society.
Of course, nothing is ever really free. If users of social media aren’t paying to play, somebody’s got to foot the bill. Social media outlets have massive numbers of users and virtual reams of personal information respecting those users. So the answer to the funding question becomes obvious: Advertisers pay for much of your access to social media. To keep that revenue stream flowing, social media providers must think about (1) how to keep prevailing advertisers interested; and (2) devising methods to attract new advertisers. To satisfy both requirements, social media platforms have begun to utilize social ads.
Well, social ads are targeted advertisements based on online networking patterns. Ads are targeted to you based on your activity. Those clickable banner advertisements in Gmail are a good example. Ads about you are targeted to others based on your activity.
Wait, now … hold the phone. Ads about me? That’s correct. Ads about you. Both Facebook and LinkedIn opt their users into social ads. Facebook was first, rolling out its social ads campaign this past March. PC World offers a nice run-down of the Facebook version, including screenshots. Basically, it works like this: Facebook thinks that if you “like”something, it’s more likely that your friends, when informed that you “like” that something, will buy that something.
Facebook describes how this is awesome for you and your friends. But mostly it’s awesome for Facebook, because they’re offering more targeted = more better ads, for which advertisers are (theoretically) willing to pay more money. In fact, the only ones losing out on the deal are those users who haven’t opted out, and who are, unbeknownst to them, slinging products that they may never have used or that they don’t, actually, recommend. I would have loved to have seen Amoco gas try to pull this crap on Johnny Cash back in the early 1970s.
With a view to the profit potential inherent in this arrangement, LinkedIn opted its users into its own version of social ads in June. However, the wider web thus spake, and LinkedIn was backpedaling by August, removing users’ profile photos and names from social ads. The whole, sordid tale is relayed via the New York Times’ Gadgetwise blog.
In light of what appears to be retrenchment on the concept of social ads (both Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s systems have been tweaked, not removed), there are a couple of solutions, only one of which is practical. Users can either (1) stop liking things on Facebook and following things on LinkedIn—but then why have an account?, or (2) opt out of the social ads. The second option is far more practical.
Third-party Internet vendors already have access to all of the information you cede them. The big providers, like Google and Facebook, already review your information for targeting ads to you. Social ads allow these companies to target ads starring you to your online friends, which is not so big a deal, because you can opt out, right? But, the real question is: What happens when there is no opt-out? Will you trade the slivering privacy of your online life, slicing ever-larger into the pie chart of what you do and who you are, for the convenience of a platform that ends up speaking for you?
Jared D. Correia is the law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School and of Saint Anselm College, where he was a captain of the debate squad that finished as national runner-up in 2000. He loves James Taylor.
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