Technology Practice Tips: Social Media (Transcript)

This is a transcript of a podcast discussing social media in the law practice.

Speaker Key :  PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan

 PB: Hi, it’s Phil Brown. I’m here with David Whelan and we’re going to talk about social media. I guess the first question would be what is social media?

 DW: It’s a funny category because I think some people immediately think of Twitter and Facebook and even some old school people will think of My Space but it seems to be such a broader category including things like blogs as well.

 PB: And it’s obviously not just the purview of lawyers. It’s going on all over the world.

DW: Absolutely. Journalists are in it and doctors are in it. Everybody’s out there.

PB: And I guess some of the stuff that might be more in the news would be things like jurors who have been sending out micro-blogs or tweets from a courtroom about what’s going on in terms of jury deliberations and there’s been some cases recently about that.

DW: Absolutely. And there was a Twitter incident yesterday where a satirical newspaper sent out a tweet that suggested something was going on and the police department in the location actually responded as if it was a crisis.

PB: Okay. So let’s talk about some of the social media tools. I mean, one of the aspects of social media, I guess, is that people are able to get out their message without any sort of filtering by anyone.

DW: Exactly. And I think the type of social media that you use will need to fit into both how you want to communicate with your clients or with others, and also how that audience is going to be willing to communicate with you. And I think that that’s part of it. Because you can promote your practice or promote your activities in many different ways and you can also raise awareness by not necessarily talking about yourself but talking about things that would be of interest to your audience, so that once you start to think about which of those directions you want to go, it will help you to find out which technology or which sort of social media you would want to use.

PB: And this is one of the things, presumably, that makes it attractive or possibly attractive to lawyers and paralegals, would be being able to promote their practice as a marketing tool, communicate with clients, things like that.

DW: Right. And you and I were talking about these topics before and one of the things that came up was how much time do you need to spend in order to do these sorts of things and are there technologies or are there sorts of media that would make more sense and I mentioned Facebook as an example earlier. But Facebook is useful because many people have experience with it in their personal lives and so if you start to use it from a professional perspective, then it can give you the opportunity of not having to learn a new technology and use something that you might already be familiar with.

PB: A lot of law firms have developed a Facebook page for their law firm, whether they’re solos or whether they’re large firms and I just want to mention one of the potential dangers here is client confidentiality. And of course, it’s been said a number of times, it’s never a great idea to friend your clients because everyone can see, for instance, who your friends are.

DW: Exactly. It can make it very tricky and I think the issue that even though it makes it more comfortable for you to use Facebook, if you know it from your personal life, you have to realise that there… it can be difficult to manage a distinction between your personal Facebook and your professional Facebook experience.

PB: Right. One of the other things that people are considering using, or that a lot of lawyers do use, is blogging. Maybe you could just, sort of, outline what a blog is or what blogging is.

DW: Blogging is a longer form of writing online. It’s a little bit like an article. A little bit less formal of a method of writing, it will include links, often, to other sources of information on the web. It might be an opinion piece or it might just be a tip or a practical piece of information but it tends to be something that is very much geared to the author’s own interests or the author’s own audience.

PB: And so there’s a lot of people out there doing personal blogs about maybe what they’ve done that day or what restaurants they’ve eaten in. But, presumably, the idea for a lawyer would be to make it more like a newsletter covering some of the types of work they do, or articles that might be of interest to clients, things like that.

DW: Right, and it’s a great opportunity, I think, to take information that you’re finding or you’re coming across, or things that matter to you and sharing that with a potential audience. And the best blogs that are out there engage people who visit the posts by asking them to leave comments and to contribute, essentially having an asynchronous conversation with you, so that once you’ve posted your article or your blog post, people can then interact with that blog post and leave information that you might then also want to follow up and look into.

PB: And that sort of opens up another can of worms. But another thing that enables other people to do besides sending in comments which you might not have appreciated or expected, they can also copy links to your blog and disseminate it in places you might never have dreamt of.

DW: That’s right, yes. Blogging can be really useful. It is probably the most time consuming of the social media tools that you could use but if it is done well and if it’s done on something that you have a lot of passion about, it can actually become a relatively easy thing to do. And if you’re posting a blog post every week or every other week and your audience is continuing to respond to that amount of time, or that number of posts in a particular time period, then that’s a great way for you to interact with those people.

PB: And of course you can gather statistics if you use Wordpress or Blogger or one of those other services. You can also gather statistics on how many people visit, what time of day they visit your site, that sort of thing.

DW: Right. The benefit of using a blog for that sort of promotion or as a replacement for your newsletter is not only do you get rid of the cost of mailing out a newsletter to people you know, you start to reach people you had no idea would be interested in the topic you’re writing about or perhaps even in your services.

PB: And I guess a couple of things to note here for lawyers and paralegals would be, first of all, things posted on the internet are forever, and the other thing being, you know, you would have to be careful not to present any legal advice and maybe have a proviso on your blog that these are only your opinions and so on.

DW: Now, what do you think about Twitter, Phil?

PB: I like Twitter, I use it a lot. Twitter is a micro-blogging service, or it’s been referred to that way. It’s all the words you can get out there in 140 characters. So you can cover various topics and I know a lot of lawyers, in Toronto at least, are using Twitter to mention that they might be at a particular court house doing a bail hearing, or there might be a case mentioned in the newspaper involving one of their court appearances or clients. It’s getting very popular amongst lawyers, probably because you can say a lot in a very short number of characters.

DW: It’s a great example, I think, of how lawyers need to make decisions about how they want to interact, because Twitter is a very fast-paced information tool, it’s great if you are sending out messages to people, to an audience that you know you are going to reach. But because Twitter is a fast-paced environment, and people send out links, you can send out a link to your blog, for example, and a Twitter message so people can then link back to your blog post, but the life of that link is very short, and a survey that was done recently said that the life of that link is about three hours. So, if someone isn’t already listening in or monitoring your Twitter messages, they may miss a link that you send out. So, if you’re trying to promote yourself in a way that’s a little bit longer term, Facebook or a blog or a LinkedIn profile or you doing professional networking might be a better option.

PB: Right. And I would just say as a word of caution along the way that because Twitter is such an immediate sort of thing and you don’t necessarily have to put in the two hours that you would have to put in, or three hours that you’d have to put into a blog post which would be longer and more thoughtful, perhaps, Twitter is so immediate that people often don’t think about things like confidentiality and privacy issues and may be disclosing client names and things because they’re so excited about a recent case or an appearance and they might send something out there without getting the proper permissions from clients to disclose confidential information.

DW: And these micro-blogging services are still new enough. We’ve only got a few years, for example, of Twitter messages that have been made available or searchable. There is sometimes an appearance that the Twitter message, once it goes out, because you can’t find it - it’s no longer on Twitter.com, for example - that it’s gone somewhere. But I think what we have to be aware of is that all those Twitter messages are being stored somewhere, by someone and that sometime in the future, even though it may not be accessible now, we might start to see the ability to search far back into the past of messages you hadn’t planned to share with people.

PB: And I guess one last proviso to add here is that, besides the Internet being forever, would be the professionalism issue and you’re always a lawyer or a paralegal and you can never take that hat off, so depending on the information you’re disseminating through a blog or Twitter or Facebook page, you’re still responsible for that content and your actions.

DW: Yes, in that case it’s good to think of things like Twitter almost like you used to think about email, which is don’t send that message until you’re absolutely sure that what you’ve put into that message is what you want to send. So, maybe you don’t address it, but you don’t want to fling, you don’t want to send out nasty information in an email, it’s even easier with Twitter because you’ve got the Reply button and you send something and you regret it a moment later but that has then been transmitted to a huge audience.

PB: Absolutely. Thanks.

DW: Thanks, Phil.