Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dear Lawyers: Don't Outsource Your Social Media

I'm a legal marketing writer, so it may surprise you to hear me say that the last thing you should do is hire me to manage your Twitter account or your Facebook page. I'm a good writer and I know how to work social media, and I even have a law degree and legal practice experience, so it would seem that I'd be perfectly qualified to tweet on your behalf. And, in some ways I am.

I can pass along valid, easy to understand legal tidbits. I can comment intelligently on legal cases in the news. I can share your blog posts (which I may have written) and identify other blog posts that are useful and interesting to your network and don't promote your competitors.

Here's the problem: I'm not you.

Oh, I can become familiar enough with your style and your values and your favorite quotes that I can throw in some "personal" tweets. I can even post the occasional picture of your cat or the view from your balcony at that CLE event in Miami. But that's as far as I can go.

You've been hearing for a long time that social media is social--it's not just about pushing out content. While you can establish expertise and build name recognition with the content you share, social media ultimately depends on conversation. Conversation with you.

In Social Media, Attorneys are Not Like Corporations

A corporation can typically work successfully with a social media manager, because the company's brand is about the company, not one individual. When a representative of Motorola or General Motors meets someone at a conference, that person has no illusion that her new acquaintance will be personally responding to tweets or Facebook messages.

But, what if Fred Jones, solo attorney from Des Moines, Iowa, meets someone at a conference and that person decides to follow up with a tweet or a post on Fred's Facebook wall? This is where outsourced social media management gets sticky, for Fred and for the social media manager.

Social Media Outsourcing Pitfalls for Lawyers

Once upon a time, I took on social media management for individuals in a variety of fields: attorneys, executives' personal accounts, even minor celebrities. It fell apart because of posts, tweets and direct messages like this:
  • How was the Cubs game?
  • What's the weather like out there? (out there being a weekend trip I didn't know about)
  • What did you think of Larry's post about tort reform?
  • It was so great to meet you last weekend!
  • Let me know when you're going to be in town again! (which town?)
On the surface, none of this is fatal. I can make a generic comment about the Cubs game. I can say "you too!" I can pass along the message about being in town again, assuming that the attorney will know which town. But, if you understand the power of social media at all, you're beginning to see the very solid wall we're about to slam into.

I can't build a relationship in your place. I can't build on a relationship that I don't know about. Generic responses may be too impersonal for some of these contacts and weaken the relationship. Too much enthusiasm with a virtual stranger can also backfire. 

We can admit that you don't manage your own social media--a lot of professionals don't. But, that undermines your ability to effectively network through the platform, which was pretty much the whole point.

I can fake it, and possibly take the wrong tone or overlook something important when talking to a contact of yours that I don't know.

Or, I can do a stellar job of being you and actually move that relationship forward...and that will be just as bad as either of the previous options, because you won't really be a part of that relationship I'm building as you. Maybe you'll have an inside joke with someone that you don't know about, causing an awkward moment when your contact pulls it out in person. Maybe it will emerge at some point that you don't manage your own Twitter account, and your contact will be left feeling misled because he'd thought he was talking to you all that time.

Social Media Options for Lawyers

As an attorney and you choose to use social media professionally, you have three options. One is to outsource your individual social media account. Obviously, I hope you don't choose that option.

The second is to set up your social media accounts under your firm name rather than as an individual, creating the reasonable expectation that a representative of the business may be posting on behalf of the firm. This avoids many of the issues raised above, but may also weaken the opportunity to network effectively. And, Facebook has recently announced that a firm page won't get as much attention on the platform as one with an individual voice.

Third, you can engage directly in social media. Yes, it will require a small time investment from you, and you probably won't be as good at the strategic elements as an expert you might hire. But, when it comes to relationship building, you have one all powerful advantage: you're the person your followers and contacts are reaching out to engage with.