How I learned to love social media

I’m a fan of social media. It wasn’t always that way and if you catch me on a bad day, my opinion might be different. What I can say is that over the past decade it has helped me develop my practice, build my client base and extend my profile in a market that is increasingly competitive. I even got a job through it!

Social media is made up of a broad spectrum of apps, websites and platforms that allow us to communicate with a network of individuals, organisations and institutions. When we talk about social media, it’s easy to narrow it to only a few platforms that have become part of our culture and that you will all be familiar with. For many lawyers, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will be the obvious examples, but there are many more besides. Instant messaging, live-streaming, podcasts, videos, interactive games, chat rooms and forums. However, each platform has its own identity, tone and set of rules – both formal and informal and rarely constant. In order to make the most of social media, it’s important to know what, as well as who, you are dealing with.

Lawyers v social media
Lawyers and law firms use social media in many different ways. Many will see it as nothing more than another way of directing potential clients and interested third parties to a website or a press release; others will use it as a way of keeping up to date with news from their favourite journalists; more still are likely to use it socially, to share personal news, photos and events.

There are no established rules about what or how social media can or should be used for. As a result, we are all, in one way or another, making it up as we go along. This lack of regulation has made for some interesting stories in the mainstream media, recently around the global nature of social media and the inability of national courts to restrict it – even when an injunction is in force.

Risk v reward
Lawyers are rightly known to be risk-averse and this is a sensible stance to take when discussing social media. That said, risk can be reduced by understanding the environment and the unique challenges we each face. Data protection, confidentiality, defamation, intellectual property and reputation issues are all prevalent in the social media world. But, with the exercise of some common sense, proportionate precautions and appropriate guidance, a clear course can be easily steered.

But social media has its benefits and these must be balanced against the risks. It is an efficient, cost-effective marketing tool, easily shared, succinct and versatile. Whether gathering or disseminating information or opinion, advertising, socialising or recruiting, there are numerous tools at your fingertips.

Of course, like any form of communication in the 21st century, social media will never be risk free, but the inherent risk can be substantially reduced.

Personal v professional
Part of my practice has developed to advise clients on social media issues. As an employment lawyer, more and more client matters have a social media element, either directly or indirectly. As a consequence, social media is not only a tool of my trade, but also a medium that I need to understand in order to be able to properly advise. As a result of my experience, I know that there is a fine line between having a personality online and risking damage to your professional reputation.

One of the greatest challenges facing social media users in our profession is finding the balance between sharing personal information, opinions and news while remaining professional, trustworthy and beyond the reproach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Any lawyer who posts on social media must assume that the information can and will be seen by clients, colleagues and interested third parties, including the press. Regardless of whether you name your firm or employer, there is a willingness from the courts down to draw a direct association between you and them. If your comments cause damage, expect to be held accountable.

I may be accused of viewing social media through rose-tinted lenses, and perhaps I do on occasion. Indeed, I have seen the very best that social media can offer, from charitable deeds to the sharing of information, good news and learned opinion. But I am under no illusions. I have seen the worst too and it is becoming ever more relentless. That said, if you choose the right medium for you, for your clients or for your business, the rewards are plentiful and you might even learn something along the way.

Kevin Poulter

About Kevin Poulter

Kevin Poulter is a partner and head of employment at Child & Child. He writes regularly for Legal Voice on social media for lawyers. He is on Twitter (@kevinpoulter) and has a blog covering social media and legal issues at kevinpoulter.com

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