Big-picture thinking from a social media guide

As noted on Twitter and blogged by Simon Fodden at Slaw, the Law Society of England & Wales has released a social media guide for lawyers and law firms. Simon observes that there’s very little here to excite the experienced user of social media, but that its target market of social media newbies will find it a useful and illuminating primer on this whole area. If you consider yourself in that group as well, I’d recommend this guide for your review and your firm’s adoption.

Two aspects of the guide stood out for me. One is its refreshing emphasis on strategy, relatively rare in such guides and even more rare in law society advisories. Many social media guides focus too much on the “How to” without paying sufficient attention to the more important “Why bother?” Before undertaking any communication or marketing initiative, you have to be able to state clearly and concisely why you’re doing it, what you hope to get out of it, and how you’ll measure your success. Law societies often get stuck in admonishment mode: don’t do this, don’t do that. It’s nice to see that trap avoided here.

The second interesting aspect of the guide is its multiple references to the law of unintended consequences. In one respect, this reflects the more traditional regulatory concern that something could go terribly wrong, so be careful out there and be home by 11. But from another perspective, this really is a timely and necessary reminder. Lawyers share (and then some) the general human tendency towards tunnel vision, the failure to see the big-picture implications of small actions. This is especially problematic with social media: many lawyers don’t appreciate just how powerful it can be — for good, yes, but very easily for destructively, irredeemably bad. One Tweet, one sentence in a blog post, one line in a Facebook update can easily become “viral” in both senses of the word.

Kudos to the Law Society of England & Wales for a social media guide that gets lawyers thinking about both the exceptional and the mundane, and reminding us that the one thing lawyers crave most — control — is the one thing social media explicitly does not promise.

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