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.