How CLE providers can use social media

Late last month, I co-presented a session on social media for CLE providers at the Mid-Year Meeting of ACLEA, the Association of CLE Administrators, in New Orleans. In the process of preparing my remarks, I was struck by the resonance between social media and CLE programming, and I came to conclude that there are some largely untapped opportunities to combine the two. Here are some thoughts about how CLE providers could use the Big Four social media platforms.

Blogs

Reduced to their essentials, CLEs and blogs actually have a lot in common: they’re both vehicles for the provision of valuable legal knowledge from a platform that has proved itself trustworthy over time. Blogs that attract comments and conversations, or serve as hubs for the discussion or exchange of ideas, also bear some resemblance to the networking aspects of many CLEs. Moreover, the provider behind the vehicle benefits from growing community acceptance of their legitimate role as the organizer and curator of important knowledge. So I think CLE organizations could benefit from the creation and delivery of a blog, not so much as a pure exercise in social media, but as a complementary platform to raise awareness and deliver value.

A CLE blog could offer a wide range of content, but none so easy and so value-rich as excerpts from CLE papers. Virtually every CLE program obtains a paper or other content from speakers, but the majority of these contributions never escape from the massive three-ring binder or thumbdrive issued for the event. Accordingly, take an especially relevant or incisive 600- to 800-word excerpt from a CLE paper, paste it into the blog, and presto, you’ve got a post that delivers real value to the reader, rewards the contributing author (with an outbound link), and promotes the event before or after it takes place. Here’s an example of a CLE blog to start you thinking, from California’s Continuing Education of the Bar.

Twitter

Everyone who’s attended a CLE session and who has even a glancing familiarity with Twitter knows how frequently programs are live-tweeted these days. Live-tweeting is a double-edged sword for CLE providers: the free publicity and widespread circulation of presenters’ content are obviously positive, but downsides include the rapid spread of bad reviews of a disappointing event and the risk (overstated, but still real) that people who might otherwise have paid to attend in person will stay home and follow the Twitter stream.

Risks versus rewards aside, CLE providers have no chance of stopping the live-tweeting trend, so they might as well ride it and try to add value. More CLE providers are actively encouraging live-tweeting through the provision of wi-fi access to attendees and official hashtags for each event. They should also consider designating an “official” tweeter who posts updates through a special live-tweet Twitter account attached to the provider. Roundups or collections of these tweets would make quick-and-easy posts for the aforementioned CLE blog as well.

LinkedIn

I’m not sure many CLE providers are yet fully aware that LinkedIn is a potential source of competition for them. Yes, it’s the world’s online Rolodex and “Who do they know” credibility checker, but LinkedIn’s Groups provide benefits remarkably similar to what CLEs deliver: a community of professionals with shared interests who post useful or interesting information on subjects of common business significance and who take the opportunity of close quarters to make contacts, build networks, and potentially obtain work. LinkedIn Groups won’t replace CLEs anytime soon, but the similarity is there.

Again, since this is a worldwide trend that can only be joined, not beaten, CLE providers should start looking at ways in which they might use LinkedIn to supplement their offerings. Creating custom Groups for each new program, to which in-person attendees would be invited upon registration, would allow the providers to post excerpts from papers or previews of presentations beforehand, to gather questions for the speakers ahead of time, to generate discussions about the issues raised in the program, to conduct feedback through survey tools, and to notify delegates of similar sessions in future.

Facebook

The legal world has yet to get a handle on Facebook, which is rapidly approaching the astonishing threshold of one billion users. Most lawyers and law firms regard Facebook as a highly informal and personal social media platform, one not suitable for professional matters. Whether or not that is or will remain true, Facebook will still be a very inexpensive way to reach an extremely large population that by sheer size will include members of a CLE provider’s target audience. The question, still open for law firms as well as other legal market players, is how best to do that.

I recommend that law firms use Facebook in a less orthodox manner than their website or other social media tools, and the same applies to CLE providers. Facebook users who “Like” a particular CLE provider could be rewarded with special rates for fans only, or an “earlier-bird” reduced registration fee. Depending on your appetite for innovation, you could go really offbeat: provide a special “mystery CLE session” for Facebook fans only, like the “secret concert” giveaways radio stations offer, free or at greatly reduced rates, on a topic that’s eventually revealed to be widely applicable (e.g., practice management).

As one of the most tradition-bound aspects of the legal profession, CLE could use some shaking up, especially as provider options multiply and prices continue to drop. Think about ways in which social media might do the shaking, opening your CLE programming to a whole new audience and a whole new approach to its promotion and delivery.

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