Do you feel at a loss or intimidated or repulsed by the thought of using social media? Like it or not, social media sites are a new means of communication, which we cannot ignore any more than we can ignore email. The fact is social media, if used properly, can be an effective, professional, and personal tool. If you are not using these sites currently, take a few minutes to see why you should be using social media and what you can do efficiently and effectively to save time, learn more and even advance your career.
What’s the point? It’s all about building and creating relationships. Think about the way you traditionally get to know someone. You meet, you talk, you learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, you find things in common, and if you like that person enough, you set up another meeting to do it all again. Social media is simply an outlet to let people get to know others at their own convenience. Instead of sharing things face to face, you share things with a select group of people via Facebook or Google+ or you just share things with the world via Twitter.
But I don’t have time. If you don’t have time to watch the news, read a newspaper/magazine, or go to dinner with a friend—just check your newsfeed. The magic of social media is that it was designed for people with little time and/or short attention spans. We all have smart phones—be it an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone. We all check our email. But it is even faster to check your newsfeed. Your Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn apps provide a constantly updating newsfeed right on your phone. No longer do you have to read an entire article about the debt crisis; now you can just “follow” the @NYTimes or @CNN on Twitter and catch their headlines in 140 characters or less. Each contains a link that you can choose to click on if you want more information or you can simply scroll past it. Do you love a good travel deal? Do you want to get tips about home repair? For any kind of information that you may desire, there is someone tweeting about it. And that information does not have to flood your inbox and you do not have to waste time deleting it. Got a complaint about a restaurant or hotel you just visited? You can tweet about it. In fact, I tweeted about problems I was having with a particular hotel recently and within minutes, I was offered free parking, free points and free breakfast. I did not have to ask for a manager, and I did not have to be put on hold. Quite frankly, I did not have the time to do either.
What do I get out of it? You gain information and instant perspective about a company or person just by following their tweets and/or status updates. You would be surprised how often most corporate entities are tweeting and what they are tweeting about. Corporations tweet articles or people that have mentioned them. Some tweet deals and discounts. Some even tweet about legislation that is up for a vote in the House or Senate that may affect them. Not only can you follow the entity, you can follow your client contact. Now I am not suggesting that you “friend” a client on Facebook initially, but you can “follow” them on Twitter or invite them to your LinkedIn network. Both are less personal than Facebook. Following someone can give you great insight into who he or she is and give you an easy way to break the ice the next time you speak with him or her. You can keep it professional and discuss that New York Times article his or her company tweeted about, or you can make it a little personal and ask about the restaurant he or she recently tweeted about. Either way, you have something to talk about.
But what should I share? Anything that interests you from articles to restaurants to experiences. It’s up to you. I assume many people email articles or links to things they have read that they think will be of special interest to someone. While you can still do that, what is even easier is simply posting it on your wall or tweeting about it. You can quickly suggest books, movies or restaurants to your friends and acquaintances. You might tell them about an amazing trip or experience that you have just had – share pictures or video. What we often like to know about people or share about ourselves can all be posted to your “wall” or shared through a simple 140 character “tweet.”
How do I use social media for professional purposes? It’s all marketing. Lawyers live by their professional reputations and work hard at becoming the expert in their niche area of practice. Social media is a way to advertise your knowledge and insight in a quick and simple way. People may have little time to read your blog or log in and peruse your profile. But a short and insightful post is like a perfect news sound bite. It can have lasting effects and get you noticed. Twitter is the perfect tool for this, and because it is searchable and open to the public, it is best to keep it professional. Facebook can be linked to your Twitter account; however, because many people use Facebook to keep up with friends and family and post pictures, it is probably best to keep Facebook strictly personal. Professional relationships with judges, clients and coworkers (unless they are your very good friends), are better fostered through LinkedIn and Twitter.
1. Open a Twitter account and find some people or businesses to follow. Every so-called expert, personality, news source, or business is on Twitter, so search for them and follow them. You can find out who follows them or who they follow and build your base from there. You will be surprised how much information is available to you in just a 140 character tweet.
2. Pick your niche. Just like finding a niche area of practice, it is important to find your niche when developing your social media personality. Are you the guru on employment law, products, health care? Are you an expert in cooking or travel? Remember just because you are a lawyer, does not mean your social media personality has to be all about the law. It is about building a following and providing helpful information to your followers. If your followers trust you in one area, they are more likely to trust you in other areas.
3. Tweet daily. This sounds harder than it is. We are constantly absorbing information all day. Take a minute to spread that information around. Read a great article —tweet about it. Learned something new today —tweet about it. Found great, but possibly little known case law —tweet about it.
4. Connect your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, selectively. Keeping some things separate is important, but sometimes we want to reach all of our audiences at once.
a. Sync your Twitter and LinkedIn account. Market more than just your resume and your network of connections to the LinkedIn universe —market through the tweets you are already posting on Twitter. Do not wait for connections to happen —make them happen. Ask for advice or a business through both your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Syncing is simple. After logging into LinkedIn, there is a status update box just left of the share button. You will see the famous Twitter icon. Click on it and you will be taken to the Twitter authorization page. Follow the steps and choose what you want to be connected.
b. Selectively connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Sharing personal pictures and status updates on Twitter may not always be wise, but you can send tweets to Facebook by linking the two services and using the hashtag #fb to get certain tweets onto Facebook.This is an option you can turn on through Facebook, just search for “selective tweets.”
Kim Tran is an attorney in the law firm of Hiltgen & Brewer PC in Oklahoma City. Ms. Tran's practice is concentrated in the areas of product liability, insurance defense, insurance coverage, commercial litigation and construction law. She represents companies involved with consumer goods and products, manufacturing industries and the insurance market. Ms. Tran is an active member of the DRI Women in the Law Committee, serving as the vice chair for the webpage subcommittee.