I have often made reference to the fact that, in my humble opinion, lawyers (both in private practice and inhouse counsel) must become increasingly comfortable with using social media to promote not only their achievements and relevant or interesting best practices or developments in their legal practice area, but also to build and grow their personal brand and networks.
Over the last few years, I have made selectively growing my social network a priority. LinkedIn is one such platform for this sharing of ideas and personal brand promotion and it is the one I have focused on the most to strategically meet my objective. Unfortunately, many lawyers I meet have little or no social media presence.
I find that legal professionals generally fall into one of four categories with regard to their social media (specifically LinkedIn) usage:
• L.I.O.N.s: These are referred to as LinkedIn Open Networkers that accept or add anyone and everyone to their network. While good for getting information out to the masses, this shotgun approach is often ineffective as there is little to no “personal” connection to your network. I also understand that there is a cap of 30,000 connections in LinkedIn, so choose wisely!
• Bears: Aggressive, but selective, networkers. This refers to users that will select several major areas of concentration, say members from a specific community group, geographic region, profession (law, HR, accounting, etc.) and/or educational background (MBA, LLB, etc.) and generally connect or accept invitations from anyone within these groups openly, while being more closed or restricted in opening up to connections outside of that group. These are generally aggressive posters with multiple postings per day on relevant or interesting subjects.
• Sheep: Keep their networks restricted to close people and colleagues they know or have met personally. They may occasionally post, but these posts are generally limited and often provide little to no personal opinion or reflection along with the posting.
• Ghosts: Very little or no social media presence. These legal professionals either do not use social media at all, use a pseudonym to look at and read other users’ profiles or postings or have a very limited public profile (possibly no picture) and do not actively share information or post in these forums.
Unfortunately, I find that those who would benefit the most from having a robust social media strategy are often those who are not taking full advantage of these important marketing tools. I regularly meet law students and junior associates still early on in their career who, while advanced with the use of social media for personal social use, are either sheep or, even worse, ghosts with regard to social media usage for business or professional marketing use. At a time when they need to be growing their business network, building a personal brand and advertising their accomplishments and their potential areas of contribution, they leave money on the table. At this stage of their careers, it is imperative that people can easily learn more about them, their practice area, accomplishments and business/career aspirations. These tools offer free advertising, the type that in the past people would have spent extensive resources to achieve — use it!
So where within this continuum should a legal professional locate himself/herself? I obviously highly discourage legal professionals, especially law students or associates, from being sheep or ghosts. I also do not recommend implementing a L.I.O.N. approach as I think this reduces the perceived value for others of joining your network. You obtain the greatest value from your social media network and will provide the best benefit for your connections by landing somewhere in between a bear and a sheep strategy (with a heavier tilt toward a bear). This is the sweet spot where you can be selective and focus on specific professions, geographic regions or industries but aggressive in growing your network and influence within these target groups. This then works as a guide for you as to what type of articles you should be posting, what achievements you should be advertising and what upcoming events you should be promoting. This will also allow you to build an active and supportive solid network. The target group for connections will be broader for some while others will prefer a more narrow scope. This is OK!
Some final tips to consider:
• The greater the number of active contacts you have, the more likely that your postings will be seen. The way tools like LinkedIn work, I am told, is that when someone likes your post, it then becomes visible to his/her contacts and it gets shuffled to the top of your contact’s updates, making it more likely to be seen and re-seen.
• The time that you post will make a difference!
• If you are posting very strong or controversial views on a subject matter, you may want to reconsider, or consider starting with something like “these are my personal views and they do not necessarily represent those of my employer.”
• Adopt strategies to be seen in social media tools like LinkedIn.
• If in doubt, send out a connection request. Increase your chances of being accepted by including a message as to why you want to connect or why it would be valuable to the recipient to accept the request (keep in mind this is not always possible for requests sent by mobile phone).
• Keep in mind the 30,000-contact limit.
Whether you adopt a L.I.O.N., bear or sheep strategy (never a ghost), keep in mind that there are many tools out there — use them and remember that no one will or can promote you and your accomplishments as well as you can. Do not ever leave money on the table and watch out for that limit!