As social media’s seemingly unabated growth continues, many more law firms have embraced this emerging technology. It’s difficult to resist the powerful business to business potential of social media and networking sites because these tools allow firms to connect directly with their core constituencies (clients, prospects, employees, etc) and create valuable communities. Yet, as a number of recent developments showcase, these tools also present a variety of challenges for law firms. For example, a widely discussed National Law Journal article that was published on May 31st revealed that new community pages on Facebook can prove embarrassing for law firms. Which firms would ever advertise that they have “bimbos,” “ticklemasters,” or “whipping boys” working for them? Even though these pages seem fake, they can still bring some level of embarrassment to a firm. This is especially true when these pages are generated from the profiles of Facebook users. Thus, there is in fact a Facebook user who claims to work at a law firm and who has included his or job title as “whipping boy.”
This example is not even the most frightening for law firms (or any professional organization). Just ask James Andrews, formerly of large PR firm Ketchum, Inc. While in Memphis visiting FedEx, a major client, Andrews said via Twitter that he would die if he had to live there. This comment was not well received by Memphis-based FedEx and created a great deal of embarrassment for Ketchum. These types of off-handed and seemingly harmless remarks are constantly posted on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites. Given the explosion and increasing importance of social media, it has become necessary and paramount that law firms establish and enforce social media policies for attorneys and staff members.
Perhaps the first and most important step in creating a social media policy is defining the ubiquitous term. I define social media as any digital platform that facilitates interactivity and connectivity. Depending on a firm’s use of social media, this definition may vary slightly, but the social media policy should be as broad as possible so it anticipates potential social media sites. In order to protect a firm, these policies should address: email usage; blog posts and commentary; social networking access; online professional profiles; social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Legal OnRamp, etc); privacy expectations; disclosure; confidentiality; security; and violations. Once finalized, all firm attorneys and staff should read and sign this policy to ensure their awareness of the rules. The firm could also produce a one-page laminated tip sheet that summarizes the policy or highlights the most important rules. Having a physical reminder on someone’s desk or near a computer offers further assurances that the policy will be followed (alternatively, this tip sheet could be posted on the homepage of the firm’s intranet).
Law firms cannot ignore social media, but must establish clear and robust policies to protect the firm and its reputation. In the social media sphere, reputation is the most valuable commodity an organization posses. Lose your that respect and trust and it can be difficult – even impossible – to regain.
Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of LMA Practice Marketing Newsletter Copyright 2010 Legal Marketing Association –The Virginias Chapter.© 2013 Hellerman Baretz Communications LLC