Facebook for law firms

I gave a presentation last week on social media for law firms that looked at ways in which firms — rather than individual lawyers — can make the best use of tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Over the next few weeks, I’ll summarize some of my points on this topic, starting with this post on Facebook.

Like most people, I began using Facebook purely as a social tool, adding friends and family and acquaintances-I-haven’t-seen-since-high-school to my contacts list. About a year or so ago, however, I began getting Facebook connection requests from business contacts, which felt a little odd — Facebook was for people I knew well and with whom I was willing to share updates about kids’ skating lessons, whereas more distant or professional contacts were more appropriate for LinkedIn and Twitter. So I tried to keep my personal and business lives in separate social media spheres, and from my conversations on the topic, I’ve found that many lawyers have tried the same thing.

Those distinctions are rapidly collapsing, though. Facebook recently passed the 400-million member mark — it would be the world’s third-largest country by population — and that much critical mass means that Facebook is a business tool whether we like it or not. Law firms are coming to this realization as well, and many are dipping a toe in the Facebook waters by setting up a Fan Page, a firm account that provides information about the firm and invites other Facebook members to  become “Fans” (a designation that costs nothing and serves to indicate support or appreciation for a given company, product or service — see my previous post about setting up a Facebook Fan Page). Unfortunately, most of these firm efforts are so tentative as to deliver very little value, and most seem to indicate a misunderstanding of what Facebook offers that a website doesn’t.

A typical law firm Fan Page merely repeats what the firm already offers on its website, and in much less detail. A short description of the firm taken from the website’s “About” page, a series of links to press releases taken from the “Media” page, and that’s about it: Website Lite, basically. I won’t pick on any firms by linking to their underachieving Facebook Fan Page, but if you search for any given large firm’s presence on Facebook, what you’ll likely find will confirm this.

What Facebook offers firms is the chance to tell a different story about themselves, or show a different side of themselves, than what is possible or appropriate to tell and show through other communication means, such as a website, a newsletter or a brochure. No law firm is really a one-dimensional creature that can be summed up completely by a corporate website — or if it is, it has bigger problems than social media. Most if not all law firms are complex, multi-dimensional communities of service professionals and service offerings, and some of those dimensions are more effectively conveyed through non-traditional vehicles like Facebook.

For instance, a Facebook Fan Page allows a firm to post photos and videos of a staff function, a charity fun run, or a lawyer’s TV appearances. It can let a firm start up discussions of interest to its Fans involving industries or communities that the firm serves. It can showcase upcoming events, either at the firm or in the community (perhaps including events that the firm sponsors). It can incorporate updates from the firm’s Twitter account, if it has one, or point to interesting or important developments in the law or with specific clients. Anything that a firm is or does that could benefit from the interactivity and sense of community that Facebook engenders is a good candidate for inclusion on a Fan Page.

Although there are many examples of firms under-utilizing Facebook, there are also a few very good examples of getting it right. Silicon Valley powerhouse firm Fenwick & West has a Fan Page worth studying: front-page updates incorporate the firm’s Twitter feed and include profiles of firm clients and their successes, the photo gallery includes shots from a turkey lunch and a LEED celebration, and the documents page links to all the firm’s shared documents hosted at JD Supra. Or consider the Fan Page for Wolfe Law Group, a construction law firm with offices in New Orleans and Seattle. Its Facebook page includes photos of employees building houses in post-Katrina New Orleans and downloadable SlideShare presentations by the firm’s lawyers. Patton Boggs’ Facebook page has a detailed biography page explaining its public policy, litigation and business law work, and a series of links to podcasts and events like local jazz festivals. You can learn a lot more about these firms and how they differ from their rivals from their Facebook pages than you would from their websites.

Facebook has only scratched the surface of what it can offer users, so I fully expect that the number and variety of features and functions available to Fan Page owners will increase in the years to come. The important thing to remember isn’t that every firm needs a Facebook page — I don’t think that’s the case — but that firms need to find out what social media vehicles like Facebook offer in terms of new ways of marketing themselves, new means by which the character and brand of the firm can be communicated, and new opportunities to develop a multi-faceted profile in the online world. Your website can’t tell the whole story of your firm, and you don’t need to force it to try — there’s a world of channels opening up to your firm, and now’s the time to experiment and figure out which ones deliver the best results for your marketing, branding and communications goals.

Comments

  1. Jon Busby said:

    Good post.

    But I was thinking, would an alternative solution be for individual lawyers to promote their own individual FB law profile. My take, that clients engage with individuals rather than a firm.

    @ 12:14 pm
  2. Jon, thanks for your comment. My upcoming posts will be examining social media more from the law firm enterprise perspective than from the individual lawyer’s point of view, but this is a good question.

    Certainly I think it’s a good idea for an individual lawyer to maintain a Facebook profile, and to use it for business as well as personal contacts. I think it’s good for lawyers to show a client or potential client their human side, and again, Facebook allows a lawyer to do that in ways that might not be appropriate or best suited to a website. I don’t think there’s a real risk that business contacts will see things they shouldn’t — really, a lawyer shouldn’t be posting intimate or embarrassing things on their Facebook page anyway. (You can arrange your account to make certain things like photos or events accessible only to certain specific people.)

    That said, I don’t think it’s a good idea for an individual lawyer to set up a Fan Page for himself or herself. Stem has a Fan Page and neither Steve nor I have difficulty asking people to become Fans of it. But I’d feel pretty dorky asking someone to become “a Fan of Jordan Furlong.” Unless you operate a sole or eponymous practice, I wouldn’t advise a personal Fan Page (and even then, you should name the Page not “John Smith,” but “John Smith, Barrister & Solicitor LLP” or some such, so that it’s clear you’re there in your “personal business” capacity, rather than simply your personal capacity).

    The rub comes when deciding whether a lawyer in a law firm should have his or or own Facebook Fan Page that might undercut or take away from the brand of the firm or compete with the firm’s own Facebook page. Very few law firm lawyers have their own websites, so I think the same rule should apply to having your own Facebook business page. The exception might be if a law firm lawyer runs a blog outside the confines of the firm — in that case, the lawyer could consider having a Facebook Fan Page for the blog. But it’s a delicate line that can be easily crossed. More on this in my next installment that will look at blogging for law firms.

    @ 2:43 pm
  3. Nick Holmes said:

    Jordan, you don’t refer to the demographics of Facebook users, though I assume that’s the biggest factor influencing what works on a Facebook fan page.

    @ 5:23 am
  4. Nick, thanks for your comment! Facebook demographics are in flux at the moment, in ways that emphasize its growing importance as a business tool.

    According to statistics gathered by iStrategy Labs (http://bit.ly/6AmNDH), the 35-54 age band, which constituted just 16.6% of all Facebook members in January 2009, accounted for 29.0% in January 2010 (the raw numbers are 6.98 million and 29.91 million, respectively — a 328% increase in just one year). The 13-34 band also increased its raw totals (from 34.12 million to 62.33 million), but its percentage as a total fell from 81.0% to 60.5% because of the surge in the 35-and-older group. (The 55+ group grew as well, from 2.3% to 9.5%).

    This signifies a growing Gen-X and especially Boomer interest in Facebook. Yes, a certain percentage of these new users are parents who joined Facebook to keep an eye on their kids — but once they’re there, they get interested and involved. It’s probably too early to tell exactly how the older users are affecting the use of Fan Pages — both are relatively recent arrivals at Facebook — but I think it’ll resemble a trend more than a blip, in the long run.

    @ 7:43 am
  5. […] Furlong in Social Networks No Comments Following on my last post, which looked at the uses of Facebook for law firms, I thought I’d review the uses of Twitter in the law firm context. As before, I’m going […]

    @ 12:03 pm
  6. Let me refer you to a terrific piece on law firms and Facebook by Adrian Lurssen at JD Supra: http://scoop.jdsupra.com/2010/04/articles/law-firm-marketing/facebook-for-lawyers-news/ . Required reading on this subject.

    @ 12:39 pm
  7. […] dozen years’ experience in legal journalism and communications with my emerging interest in social media for the legal profession. Check out the MSS main page for more details, and please don’t […]

    @ 10:04 am
  8. Pieces of me said:

    […] focused on social media in the law firm enterprise context. Here’s what I had to say about Facebook for law firms and Twitter for law […]

    @ 5:33 am
  9. […] Networks No Comments Following on my two previous entries that talked about how law firms can use Facebook and Twitter, respectively, it’s time I turned to the last of the Big Three social networks, […]

    @ 7:38 am
  10. […] 18, 2010 Stem Legal recently posted an entry on Facebook for Lawfirms.  In the posting, Jordan Furlong indicates that many law […]

    @ 2:06 pm
  11. […] by Jordan Furlong in Law Blogs, Social Networks No Comments Following on earlier posts about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for law firms, this entry will look at the last of the Big Four social media […]

    @ 10:28 am
  12. Erin McDonough said:

    This post is extremely helpful. I work for a small, private law firm and I am actually in charge of their social medias. I am a college student studying public relations, but the social networking for a law firm has been completely new to me. Your tips in all these blogs on this topic have been very insightful. The idea of letting the people see more of a human side behind the firm through their Facebook page makes so much sense.

    Again,thanks for the post!

    @ 7:47 am
  13. Josh said:

    Good article.
    Would there not be issues of confidentiality if several clients were added, and shown on FaceBook as “friends.” This would enable current clients or members of the public to effectively have a list of previous and other current clients. How would you protect yourself from this?
    J

    @ 5:42 am
  14. Josh, thanks for your feedback and question. There’d be an issue of confidentiality only if Facebook had a special category for “client” by which the person were identified — and even then, only if the client had insisted that the retainer be kept a secret (many clients don’t care whether their client status is known, and quite a few provide recommendations that make their client status crystal clear). Being a lawyer’s friend is not the same thing as being a lawyer’s client (and vice versa).

    @ 6:16 am
  15. Josh, you can add in the factor of consent. FB (and LinkedIn) require both parties to accept the relationship connection. You can’t just list a group of people or clients as friends. The other person *must* approve that association, or it doesn’t happen.

    @ 9:30 am
  16. Andrew said:

    In you Twitter post you suggested creating niche practice area or industry feeds within Twitter. What about the same idea for Facebook? ie X’s Real Estate Law page. Within Facebook one can then “Like” certain companies with which they do business while providing a relevant stream of bulletins, firm news, industry news.

    @ 11:51 am
  17. I think that’s a terrific idea — thanks, Andrew!

    @ 8:53 am
  18. Debbie said:

    I have a law firm as a client and they are SO concerned about the legal implications of using Facebook that they are nearly paralyzed. I have a copy of our states Bar Association marketing guidelines and it’s clear they were written with minimal knowledge and details concerning social media. The concerns I keep hearing from my client include things like “we aren’t permitted to give any advice”…ok…noted. “We don’t want to allow comments because we can’t create relationships (with prospective clients?)”. “We can’t show favoritism (supportive comments about a business, organzation, etc)”. I went so far as to call our state’s bar association and they couldn’t answer my questions and never returned my call as they offered to do once they got the answers which tells me they really don’t know either. What are your thoughts here?

    @ 11:39 am
  19. Debbie, that’s definitely a challenge. :-) This sounds like a firm that is extremely hesitant to actually do something — at a certain point, the objections become less “reasons not to do it” than “excuses not to try.” All I could suggest is to point out that I’m not aware of any case anywhere in which a law firm has been disciplined or sanctioned for using Facebook (or any social media, for that matter), whereas thousands of lawyers and law firms are using social media every day, without incident. Absolutely, firms want to avoid ethical miscues, but social media itself is not unethical, and used sensibly, it can be really effective. Good luck!

    @ 2:32 pm

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