According to the American Bar Association’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey, the percentage of lawyers and law firms utilizing social media is on the rise, and by a considerable margin, lawyers prefer LinkedIn over Facebook and Twitter. The ABA reports that 56% of law firms and 98% of lawyers have a presence on LinkedIn, up from 37% and 62%, respectively, just two years ago.
Why do lawyers prefer LinkedIn over Facebook (35% of law firms and 33% of lawyers) and Twitter (19% of law firms and 14% of lawyers), and what else does this report tell us about how lawyers can and should utilize social media going forward?
It should come as no surprise to anyone that social media platforms are playing an increasingly important role in our business and personal lives. For proof, one needs only look at how the New York Times responded to their own website being unavailable for several hours yesterday: they began posting their digital articles on Facebook until the site was back up! However, like every other technological innovation, lawyers have been slow to adopt social media. Even the ABA’s report indicates that although attorney use of social media is on the rise, the rate of increased use of social media among lawyers continues to be lower than the general public. The one major exception is LinkedIn. Don’t believe me? Well, based on the past two weeks, if you’re reading this page via social media, there’s over 90% likelihood that it’s through LinkedIn.
So what is it that LinkedIn offers attorneys that they cannot find in other social media. Well, several things, really.
“Professionalism” is a key word within the legal industry, and social media, with its ad hoc, filter free nature, generally did not provide lawyers with an ideal forum. Until LinkedIn. LinkedIn has done a marvelous job of marketing itself as the way to connect with people based on profession, company or industry. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn does not attempt to be a universal social gathering tool. LinkedIn wants to be the place you go to when you want to speak to other professionals.
Other social media sites have placed the emphasis on self-expression, connection with social friends and acquaintances, and representations of life outside of the workplace. LinkedIn turned that notion on its head, emphasizing personal traits such as educational background, work experience, and the skills one brings to their job. By focusing on a person’s work life, rather than their social life, LinkedIn has created that forum that was missing in previous social media platforms that not only allowed for, but encouraged, professionalism.
Modern social media cannot just be a bulletin board, and LinkedIn struck gold with their concept of utilizing endorsements to create a more interactive platform. By making the endorsement of another’s professional capabilities a lynchpin of the LinkedIn world, professionals are able to simultaneously able to fulfill two major needs: egotism (by having their own skills endorsed) and authority (by being asked to endorse the skills of others).
It’s remarkable how simple, yet effective, the concept of the LinkedIn Endorsement has been. It allows attorneys to stay on the radar of their colleagues by offering endorsements of their skills, maintain connections based on profession and specialty (as opposed to Facebook, which bases connections primarily on current location, hometown, or educational background), and provide a ready-made list of skills and references collected via crowd-sourcing.
Follow Companies/Join Groups
Ok, this may be the least original of LinkedIn’s ideas, but for the most part, their execution has been perfect for the market (with the exception of some problems with too much spam on certain group pages). Users can follow companies they are interested in, and keep up to date with news from those companies. In return, companies are able to constantly provide updates to their followers without having to limit their updates to 140 characters or compete with the lewd self-portrait on a Facebook timeline.
Even better for lawyers, in my humble opinion, is the ability to join professional groups. Properly moderated, these groups can be a great way for lawyers to stay informed about important issues via email. Many of you reading this article right now probably clicked into it via an email sent to you by a LinkedIn group. Because LinkedIn has successfully marketed itself to professionals, professional groups automatically have more credibility with users than similar groups on other social media sites, and credibility is the name of the game with attorneys.
Mutually Assured Destruction
The final aspect of the LinkedIn platform that makes it the most ideal social media tool for lawyers is probably its most ingenious: See Who’s Viewed Your Profile. It’s not new, but by eliminating the anonymity of profile views, unless you’re either willing to pay for an upgraded service OR sacrifice your ability to see who has viewed your profile, LinkedIn has given itself a kind of self-policing tool. (For more information on the value of upgrading to LinkedIn Premium, check out this article)
In order for LinkedIn to serve a truly social purpose for attorneys, we both need to know who has viewed our profile, and we need those whose profiles we view to know we’re looking. Since anonymity is the last thing you want when trying to burnish your professional credentials, there is a built-in incentive to keep your profile up-to-date, clean, and free of behavior you wouldn’t want your boss to know about.
Why do I call it “Mutually Assured Destruction”? Because the only way that I network is if you know who I am, and the only way my networking is successful is if you like what you see on my profile. At the same time, by looking at my profile, thereby letting me know that you have some interest in learning about my professional background, you’re increasing my interest in yours. Profile views build on each other, create conversation, and result in a steadily increasing circle of contacts. Creating a profile that contains photos or information that lacks professionalism will destroy that interaction, and users have a vested interest in protecting both their professions and their reputations.
Lawyers have flocked to LinkedIn in a manner unlike any other social media platform out there. The numbers themselves are stunning: 98% of lawyers utilize LinkedIn, whereas only 38% use Facebook. However, when you look deeper, it’s clear that LinkedIn has created a platform that caters to the unique needs of the legal profession, and to professional groups generally, in a manner far superior to other social media platforms. It’s easy to see why lawyers prefer LinkedIn.
So keep it up guys!