I am attending the conference 2010 Futures Conference & Symposium Agenda hosted by the College of Law Practice Management and the American University Washington College of law. This is a live blog post of Social Media: the Ultimate Business Development Tool or a Huge Waste of Time. The panel discussion moderator is Dan Pinnington, PracticePro. Panelists are Steve Matthews, Stem Legal and Timothy Corcoran, Hubbard One. 

The session description: “Social media is hot. Staid law firms are throwing open their firewalls and venturing into the fray. Is there a legitimate commercial aspect to this? Our experts say “yes” and promise you will walk away from this session ready to implement a social media strategy that will change everything.”

Audience Survey
– Most hands up for Linkedin, many for Twitter, many for Facebook, only a few for blogging, a few for Legal OnRamp.
– Number of contacts on Linkedin varies widely
– Number of Followers on Twitter ranges widely

– Why
– Future of Facebook
– What’s the bottom line – does it increase income
– Is social media an alternative to e-mail for work communication
– How do you find the time to participate
– Who at a law firm should use social media
– Can you integrate social media with telephone
– How do you develop new biz with social networking
– Is social media also collaborative media

Steve on Social Media Stats
– Facebook has over 500m users
– Twitter 140m
– Linkedin 80m users, 1m lawyers
– Legal OnRamp has 12,000 members, one-half are in-house counsel

Is Social Media Over-Hyped?
Steve Matthews
– Lots of press, but that does not equate to value. So yes, it’s over-hyped.
– Tendency in S/M to create an audience without having a clear message
– Quantifying S/M is hard. Followers is not necessarily a good metric. More followers does not equal bigger share of voice.
– But if your existing contacts and sources of biz are online, you should nurture those connections in S/M
Tim Corcoran
– Yes, over-hyped. Equivalent of an echo chamber
– It’s a tactic, not a strategy. You need a strategy first; S/M may be a good tactic to reach audience.

Do Law Firms Need to Participate?
– Yes. There is a long learning curve and it’s important to be there on the ground floor.
– Facebook knows a lot about its users. A firm may, in the future, be able to target top performers at top schools via Facebook ads
– Just as lawyers should have website and Linkedin profile; beyond that, S/M depends on a firm’s objectives
– Comparison to managing domain names. Firms need to manage their brand in multiple venues, including S/M.

Examples of Firms Doing Social Media Right or Wrong
– Hard to identify stand-out examples.
– Better to approach from practice group than from firm as a whole. It’s hard for a firm as a whole to have a conversation.
– To answer, you need to know what the metric is
– Some firms have a good presence online but it’s not clear they are making more money or influencing their buyers

What Could Firms Do Better with Social Media?
– Do better with content management. For example, if a firm publishes a newsletter, article, or other content on its website, it should use tools to push it out automatically to social media outlets.
– It takes time to manage a social presence. There are tools that make this easier. Set aside a consistent amount of time to be active in social media – if you have already decided it’s an important tactic for outreach.
– Don’t necessarily have the same standard for all posts. You can have types A, B, and C. Not every post has to be an opus.
– Break big chunks of text into multiple posts and schedule them.

Biggest Peeve about Social Media
– Folks who don’t have a content strategy. If all you do is comment on others’ content, it’s not very effective. Social media should be driven by original content.
– Firms should have a general social media policy. Generic is better than policy focusing on specific sites because the popular sites may change. Key is to make clear that you represent your employer. Understand that privacy is a myth (you cannot separate your home and office you).

Are Law Firm Attitudes Changing? Ethical Issues?
– Law firms, which have avoided Facebook, are likely to go there soon.
– Gone are the days where lawyers in large firms have stealth blogs.
– Voices can be different for different audiences, e.g., clients versus law students
– Firms want their lawyers to blog. Many lawyers, however, will want to create their own blog to build their personal brand. Personal brands ultimately trump institutional brands in social media.
– Peeve: have a business strategy before you think about a S/M strategy

Audience Comment: The key for lawyers is to be found on the web. Clients will “Google” a person. To rank high enough to be found, social media is important. But hard to quantify.
Steve Matthews points out, however, that all the social media sites use the “nofollow” tag, which means that they do not influence “Google juice.”

Can You Keep Personal and Business Separate?
– This can be hard
– It can be ok to mix… but don’t overwhelm followers with stream of personal details

Should Firms Monitor Content?
– Set up RSS feeds of firm mentions
– Decide if you are monitoring yourself, the firm, or what your employees are saying
– Search firm names and lawyer names