When posting to social network, be sure to use 'sharer' discretion

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Published on 6/30/08

In an earlier column we touched on the issue of social networking Internet sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, where participants share information about themselves with a widening network of contacts. Facebook and LinkedIn are, of course, available to the world at large. But as social networking advances, there are ways to be more selective in the online "friends" you have.

Tom Mighell, chairman of this year's American Bar Association Tech Show, provided a good example with his recent article in Law Practice Magazine. He wrote that the Texas bar has rolled out its own social networking site for members only and that more than 2,200 lawyers have joined it.

Because members sign up using their bar number, the closed network helps to minimize many of the concerns that exist with public sites like Facebook. Members have their own home pages, can add "friends" to their network and can converse and share information with them electronically.

Those information-sharing concerns are very real because, on a social networking site just as on a website or a blog, you are sharing information about yourself with the entire world. I have always taken the position, for my blog and otherwise, that the information I provide has to be viewed through the crucible of my business. That is, if it has a bearing on my business or the potential to generate new business, then it is appropriate. If it is personal, it has to have some connection with making me "human" in the eyes of my clients and prospective clients. Otherwise, I don't open the subject.

So, here are my personal notions of what would be appropriate for a lawyer's social networking or web site profile:

  • Discussing religious affiliations may not be relevant except if your desired clients are either the religious organizations themselves or are somehow connected with the religious organizations — in other words, your target market. For example, I've had a couple of coaching clients who were deeply involved in their church and drew a substantial clientele from that source. In addition, they sought to represent churches in their secular dealings. For them, I think it would be foolish not to recognize their involvement with the church.

  • Listing political offices held, from the local school board to Congress and the Cabinet, is certainly appropriate for such accomplishments — without necessarily mentioning party affiliation. Again, however, each person's situation must be evaluated individually. If many of your clients have or could have a political affiliation, then mentioning political party or other partisan cause may well be appropriate.

  • With so much negative focus on today's military activities, I am not sure that touting past military service is appropriate. This comment, again, is made only for the purpose of focusing our attention on the purpose of lawyers' marketing efforts by way of today's social networking. Serving as an officer does suggest leadership, however, so again it's a function of your target market. And, if you represent soldiers or spouses of military personnel in divorces, knowing the military code because of previous military involvement would be a significant highlight.

  • Personal interests can be important — depending on what they are. On the one hand, it can "humanize" you. And, it could be a door that opens new business. I have a consulting assignment because the client knew I was a cyclist. His experience was that cyclists provided him with more value. … Go figure.

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