“Social platforms were not built with your law firm’s professional rules of conduct in mind. “
Social media can feel like just buzz words in the marketing world. Yes, there are a lot people accessing Twitter and Facebook constantly either while on the go or at the office, but that doesn’t mean everyone can capitalize on the momentum there.
If you’re considering growing your law firm’s online marketing audience by tapping into social media marketing then it’s certainly worth learning more about it. And while using social media as a lawyer or law firm there are concerns specific to social media you should consider before investing your time, energy or money into these platforms.
Here are 10 things to consider before definitively integrating social media into your law firm marketing plan.
No matter how you choose to advertise, you’ll still need to give some basic disclaimers. Even short boxes of text can take up a lot of space in a social post or even in your profile description which are often limited in the number of words or characters you can enter. In the case of Twitter, giving you only 142 characters per tweet, it could be impossible to promote anything if a disclaimer is necessary with every post.
You’ll need to make sure to describe yourself or your firm according to current legal advertising guidelines for your state, these guidelines are often amended and sometimes new releases to the social media platforms themselves can come into conflict with your advertising code of ethics. For example, if LinkedIn decided to change their wording from profession to specialty, without notice, then, in certain states, you could be in violation of your rules of professional conduct. You’ll need to keep your information current and accurate at all times, so there are no claims of false advertising. Also, be aware of changes to social media accounts which are outside your control.
Monitoring or even moderating comments left by your audience on your pages is also incredibly important, both in terms of what’s being said and how many people are saying it. A client may love you and your services, but if what they write borders on hyperbole, or makes false claims about their case or your firm?
You’ll likely have to take it down. Typically your state’s professional rules of conduct will help guide you in terms of how you can be described on a public page by those who want to endorse you. Your state may limit the type of or overall amount of feedback as well.
Watch how you communicate on social media, especially if you want to use your social pages to promote and offer your firm’s legal services. You may get some leniency for reaching out to a close friend in need, but even then it could be a potentially bad move. It’s probably best to keep all offers (direct or otherwise) restricted to other marketing channels.
Utilize social media to promote news about the firm, content your firm publishes that aims to help and is worthy of sharing and any pertinent information about your service offerings or perhaps how they apply to local events in your area that might arise.
For example, if you live in a beach community that is jam packed with college students during spring break, posting about DUI laws or perhaps sharing some facts and statistics such as drunken disorderly arrests, or properly damage claim statistics, etc. that pertain to this local event would be of interest to your followers.
As a lawyer, you may forget just how much privileged information you have access to. Seemingly innocuous updates about your day on social media could be a breach of confidentiality on some level. Keep any social posts professional and business related.
Also, be wary of “location-based” settings within mobile social apps. If these settings are enabled your social post may get tagged with your location (if known) and could lead to a confidentiality breach. Some apps even have a “check-in” feature such as Facebook and Four Square that will publicly announce your arrival to a particular destination.
This could be very problematic for your law firm and could hurt any case you are working on. Get to know and understand how each social platform works before you ever participate in social media for yourself or your law firm.
This might very well be our #1 cause for concern for law firms on social media.
Many business professionals love social media because it is a virtual form of networking for their business. However, normal networking is very different than social networking for attorneys. If your law firm is connected socially to another account which perhaps is involved in a lawsuit or a key witness or any other participant in an active legal matter, it could mean the dismissal from a case because of claims the judge would not be impartial or that there was a prior personal connection between your firm and the other party.
The same thing could be argued for the attorney-client relationship as well should their be significant ties over social media. This could be damaging should they see ties via social media that should not be there.
And this is where social media can become dangerous for your firm. It is easy to grow your following… almost too easy.
Literally a few clicks on any network and you could be adding new followers in mere moments. For example if you are on twitter and type in a specific location such as Pensacola, FL, in a matter of seconds you will see thousands of twitter profiles that are tied to the Pensacola area. It would be easy to move down the list and follow every possible profile in the area to connect with the local audience.
However, it is not always apparent who you are connecting with. Some profiles use innocuous names or business names and you may have no idea who the person truly running the profile might be or who they have associations with.
“The virtual world does not excuse the physical world and repercussions that could follow.”
Every state has their own laws and regulations, but a friend or a connection on social media could do irreparable harm to your firm or your active case work if you are not vigilant in knowing who your friends are.
We touched on this in our “confidential information” section above as well. Your social profile information and often the posts themselves can now be accessed on a global level. It’s not uncommon for your location to be published along with the post itself.
Just imagine if you publish on a social network and just happen to be walking by the opposing council’s client’s place of business. If your firm is defending a client in a lawsuit against this place of business can you imagine how potentially damaging that could be to the case? Depending on the context of the social post and the sensitive nature of a particular case, releasing location data can be a cause for concern.
Also, since many social profiles are public by default, the information contained therein can be found by just about anyone savvy enough to dig for it. Always keep that in mind. The information you share will be available to more than just your immediate followers.
You won’t be able to communicate with those who are represented by legal counsel during a case. However, it is generally considered acceptable to view public information from profiles and social pages to glean more about a person’s character, etc. However, be careful using this information as it is often inaccurate, exaggerated, or not up to date. This can also raise ethical concerns with social media.
Unrepresented Third Parties
Don’t try to trick or otherwise subvert private information from an unrepresented third party’s social profiles. This seems like an obvious one, but it’s been known to happen on more than one occasion.
The definition of marketing is becoming increasingly broad in the advent of social media. What was once considered advertising (i.e. promoting your services and practice to the masses) is often now mislabeled as marketing. Marketing should focus on building awareness of your law firm without “selling” or broad tactics to reach potential customers. It should focus on efforts to connect your firm with other businesses or individuals to form a mutually beneficial advantageous exchange of service. In fact your law firm marketing plan should clearly maintain a goal of connecting with potential prospects who will benefit most from the attorney-client relationship. Many law firms toe the line through social media and resort to advertising tactics and even seemingly unrelated topics or content shared could be subject to the rules of professional conduct for your state, so caution is extremely important.
Don’t get me wrong. Social Media is great.
It’s great for any business, individual and even a law firm. Social media gives any professional entity a chance to connect directly with a local community who needs their help the most. It gives you a platform to reach users locally, nationally or even globally and if you have an authoritative stance on a particular matter. Your law firm can establish a great deal of credibility and clout by sharing your thoughts, insight, and published content regarding a legal matter across social channels.
But there are also many restrictions, as well as legal, and ethical concerns to consider with every social media platform:
- Social platforms are not built with your professional rules of conduct in mind.
- You must be mindful of how each platform presents the information you provide and that by default the platform does not violate any ethical or legal regulation you must abide by.
- Also consider that platforms can change or update their privacy settings or the way they display information at any time.
- Keep a watchful eye for changes and updates.
Social media violations should also be a concern for your law firm if you are considering a third party marketing agency to represent you online. If they are not up to speed on the latest professional conduct rules or what they can legally or ethically promote, say, or address, it can create serious legal or ethical issues for your practice. Your firm would be liable for anything they post or promote, as well as who they connect with on your behalf.
All of these “virtual minefields” aside, social media can pay off by increasing awareness, credibility, authority about your firm as well as helping to bolster a solid reputation as a serious and helpful law firm in your local community.
This article only touches on many of the potential issues or concerns social media can present. Professional rules of conduct can vary depending on where your law firm practices. Therefore it would be difficult for us to address each area specifically. To learn more about ethical concerns or barriers you may face for your law firm, we would be happy to discuss in further detail and help tailor a custom law firm marketing plan that is not toeing the line of ethics or violating any professional conduct guidelines set forth by the state or the ABA.
If your law firm is struggling with marketing in general, check out our eBook that touches on 7 Key Legal Marketing Challenges to Avoid. It may help shed light on why your firm is struggling to acquire new leads, maintain revenue, or grow your practice.