The 21st Century Lawyer Toolkit: Facebook

Facebook LikeIf you’re a reader of this blog, you have probably noticed some significant changes around these parts. We are now “2Civility” for all of our online communications with much of our outreach and communications moved into the Web 2.0 Cloud.

At a recent event, a group of us started discussing how we got started on the Big 3 social media sites. I don’t remember much about Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook, though, I remember the time and place exactly. July 2004 in Cambridge.  A month after college graduation, a friend showed me this website to which she had been invited called “Facebook”. We both checked it out and signed up. (A few months later, that same friend also introduced me to another little Internet startup called “Gmail”).

Ten years later, Facebook is ubiquitous. As of April 2014, the platform has more than 1.28 billion users. That’s half of Internet users IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Monthly active users? 1.23 billion. 72% of online adults visit Facebook once a month. 757 million people use Facebook actively every single day. 128 million of those live in the United States. And one more statistic – 45% of Internet users over 65 use the social media site. Read the rest of the article linked above. It shows you the truly mind-blowing global reach of a single website started a mere decade ago.

Now, naysayers will point out that Facebook is on the decline. In January 2014, Princeton University published a widely-cited article predicting that it would lose 80% of its user base by 2017. The article’s methodology may be suspect (as Facebook itself amusingly pointed out) but the concerns with the social media platform remain: stiffer competition, inactive users, porous privacy settings, increased mobile usage, declining interest, limited marketing yield, and of course, The Next Big Thing. What Facebook will look like in 2017 is anyone’s guess.

But for now, it is here and here to stay. Given our own social media roll-out, we encourage attorneys of all stripes to utilize Facebook not only for their personal use, but also for their legal business. The social media channel can be an effective tool for anything from business development to background searches to lawyer networking. So to that end, here are my own professionalism tips for navigating your Facebook world:

  1. Why are you on Facebook? Facebook is a tool, and like any tool, it is only useful if you have a reason to use it. If you want to use Facebook professionally, determine precisely how you want to utilize it. Are you trying to find clients? Meet attorneys? Develop business contacts? Determine your Facebook strategy and your success measures, then go ahead and get started.
  2. Reputation, Reputation, Reputation. Your Facebook page will either have your name or your company on it. Or both. Either way, you are associated with that Facebook profile or page. The rules governing your real life do not change when you go online. Please do not sacrifice the reputation that you have spent years building for something that it took you three seconds to type. Which leads to Tip 3 . . .
  3. The Internet is Everywhere and Forever. I was once told never to write anything down that I wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. In this 24-hour news cycle, where articles are focused on more scandal, more conflict, and more clicks, you truly have to assume that anything you post, comment on, write, and photograph, can end up on the front page of Google News, Gawker and, yes, the New York Times. And while the news item may be quickly forgotten, the history of it will stay forever in the permanent ink of HTML.
  4. Check, Check and Recheck Privacy Settings. No matter how strict you are, your Facebook page is never really private. So again, assume that your Facebook page is a public page that can be found by anyone in the world at any time. But, still check your privacy settings. Show what you want to show to the world, to your friends, and to no one except yourself (and Facebook’s advertisers). It might not make it impossible for a determined person to breach, but it will certainly make it more difficult.
  5. Don’t Criticize Employers or Clients. This is simple: if you wouldn’t do it to their face, don’t do it on a forum potentially viewable by a billion other people including, in all likelihood, the very people you are criticizing. Moreover, what example are you showing other potential employers and clients when you publicly complain about and criticize others who have worked with you? Which leads to my last tip . . .
  6. Keep It Professional. If you wouldn’t do it at work, then don’t do it online where your name, photo and bio are all available and your comments can be taken out of context and widely disseminated. That professionalism tip also applies for your photos, your grammar, and your posts. If you want to be seen as an ethical, professional attorney, then make your Facebook page the same.

So go ahead and grab your Facebook “tool” out of your social media toolkit. It’s sitting there, waiting for you. It’s now for you to decide what to create.


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