By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

This article originally appeared in Lawyers Weekly.

In their new book, marketing experts Tim Tobin and Lisa Braziel suggest that the activity generated by social media sites is analogous to a giant, ongoing 24-hour party. The name of their book neatly sums up their philosophy:  Social Media Marketing Is A Cocktail Party: Why You Already Know the Rules of Social Media Marketing.

They believe that sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter provide an on-going stream of cyber conversation that you can (and should) step into and out of at will.

So how do you navigate this new kind of cocktail party? Tobin and Braziel advise using the same conversational strategies you’d use at a “real life” cocktail party.

For example, you wouldn’t go to a cocktail party spewing one long commercial message about how great you and your firm are – and you shouldn’t do this on line either. In a real social situation, surrounded by people you don’t know, you’d start with small talk, share a little about yourself personally, ask questions of your fellow party goers, tell a funny story or two, and then mention something about your firm.

You want to follow a similar approach online. Popular attorney and blogger Nicole Black suggests using a 50-30-10-10 rulewhen operating in an online forum. Here’s her formula:

  • 50 percent of your posts should provide followers with links to articles, blog posts and other online content you think might be of interest; this includes “re-tweets,” or “sharing” of relevant content. If you want to be seen as an expert in a particular field, this is the opportunity to aggregate information on a specific subject matter and share it with others – but do so in a way that is helpful and informative;
  • 30 percent of your posts and comments should consist of replies to other users’ posts, links, status updates or tweets – in other words, engage in conversations with others at least 30 percent of the time. Don’t make it a habit to focus only on yourself and your needs;
  • 10 percent of your posts can consist of self-promotion, including your firm’s blog posts and information about professional activities and accomplishments;
  • The final 10 percent of your online communication can be comprised of posts or tweets that are devoted to your personal interests and hobbies.

Building your profile

Thinking about the world of social media as a giant cocktail party can make it feel friendlier and less foreign. While nothing will replace real, live human contact in terms of marketing effectiveness, adhering to that notion and the appropriate conversational guidelines will help you navigate that world and market yourself appropriately.

As you set up your social media marketing efforts, survey legal profiles that are already up and running. Browse through different sites and select those that convey the level of accessibility and professionalism you’d like to emulate.

Next, decide on the host or hosts of your social media platforms. Start with whatever site you feel is the most popular in your community and with your clients and referral sources. Conduct a search to see where your competitors have set up camp. Ask your clients, other attorneys and referral sources about their on-line behaviors and preferences.

Here are some guiding principles you can use when assembling your profile:

  • When profiling your law firm, you may use your firm logo, an exterior photo of the firm’s building, a picture of the partners or the entire team as your main profile photo. Additionally, you may post photos of the events your firm sponsors, such as charitable or sports-related activities.
  • Avoid posting any photos that are overly personal or that could embarrass any member of the team. Keep in mind that potential clients and referral sources can and will peruse these photos. If a photo sends a message or tells a story contrary to the image the firm is striving to convey, don’t post it.
  • In order to present an accessible, but professional image, you should post your mission statement and the biographies of the partners, associates and select team members. You should also post your practice areas and any area of special expertise. Many firms use the text already developed for their website, which provides continuity of message and tone. Although the language and presentation on a social networking site is generally less formal, continuity is important.
  • It is okay to post information about the hobbies, passions and interests of key firm members as long as this does not become the focus of the site. A small amount of personal information is fun and provides the humanizing element that’s often missing in more formal marketing efforts. But keep in mind that organizations or affiliations listed – especially political and religious ones – can be a turn-off to potential clients and influencers. Remember, an on-line profile is a marketing tool and not a tell-all diary in which to reflect every affiliation of the firm and its members.
  • You may post news and information related to upcoming events – but don’t overdo it.
  • The sole purpose of having a presence on a social networking site is to draw attention to the firm, so having a great many followers is desirable. Followers can come in the form of referral sources, professional and community contacts, and clients. Given the public nature of the relationship (often a name and picture are displayed for each follower) each firm must ask itself if it’s appropriate to request its clients to become friends, fans or followers of its site. Clients of an estate planning firm may be perfectly comfortable being linked to the firm’s profile. Clients of a criminal defense firm may not share the same level of enthusiasm.
  • Every firm that has a website should automatically link to it in several locations throughout their profile. If the firm posts a blog, a “teaser” should be posted on the firm’s “wall” (a page within the profile that contains public conversations and updates) with a link back to the blog.
  • It’s important to select one person in the firm to regularly tend to the site. He or she can post updates on firm activities, respond to queries and upload new photographs.
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