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Third-Party Social Media: Ethical or Not?

A new company in Dallas, Texas, WiredForPR.com, is offering third-party social media engagement and blogging services for lawyers and law firms. As detailed by one of my new heroes Kevin O’Keefe in his blog, Dallas attorney/journalist Stephanie Dube Dwilson* is offering a service to lawyers who want to have social media engagement, but  don’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves.

(Hereinafter “Ms. [D]Wilson” due to her site and her resume – available here – being inconsistent.)

Yet with all that has been published about the potential pitfalls of failing to properly monitor your firm’s social media engagement, can you ethically rely on third-party social media?

Wired For PR

Ms. [D]Wilson’s website lists the services available to lawyers and law firms in what appears to be a deliberately restaurant-menu style. Beginning with a narrative discussion of what her site offers, Ms. [D]Wilson states:

“Your involvement can range from, ‘Set it and forget it,’ to, ‘Run everything by me first no matter what.’ What I mean is this; as a journalist and a licensed lawyer, I can maintain your blog and social media sites with minimal supervision. Most of my clients, however, like to review every single communication before it is released – and I am more than happy to oblige.”

All blog articles are ghostwritten, the site explains, and are written by a team of authors that are supervised by Ms. [D]Wilson. “Rest assured that nothing reaches the client’s desk until it has received my personal stamp of approval,” the site states.

The Price of Third-Party Social Media

The site offers three tiers of complete, hands-off packages for clients:

  1. For $799/month, you can purchase “The Busy Blogger” package, which provides “two high-quality posts a month to keep your blog from becoming dormant.”
  2. For $1,499/month, plus $399 set up fee, you can purchase the “Blogger’s Special,” where your blog page is created for you, and is updated “twice a week with fresh material to keep them coming back.”
  3. Finally, for $1,799 per month, plus $699 set up fee, you can purchase the “Social Media Guru,” which serves as a full-service social media package including a blog, Facebook pave, Twitter page, LinkedIn, Google+, the two blog posts per week, and two press releases per month.

All of these packages are designed to fit within your firm’s marketing strategy.

In addition to the full service packages offered, there is an a-la-carte section which offers one-time purchases of anything from blog posts and feature articles for a firm’s website to social media pages and press releases.

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About The “Author”

Ms. [D]Wilson’s bio is quite interesting. With a bachelors and masters degree in journalism, she obviously has the educational background to provide many of the services described. She also lists a JD from the University of Texas School of Law, earned in 2011, apparently to establish her legal credentials. However, her bio is missing a lot of additional information I would consider relevant.

First, her website and her downloadable resume spell her name differently, which for someone offering services based on professional writing, is kind of critical.

Her website:

Stephanie Dwilson 1

Her downloadable resume:

Stephanie Dwilson 2

That’s a little hard for me to overlook.

Second, neither her website or her resume indicate whether she is actually licensed to practice law, in Texas or anywhere else. (It should be noted that the press release, linked above and available here, does claim she is a licensed attorney, but provides no additional details.) Although I recently discussed that it is perfectly acceptable to minimize basic information such as the states you are licensed to practice in, that was on a law firm website. On the contrary, where your legal credentials are important, but not obvious based on your business, inclusion of those details is considerably more important.

Third, the resume makes considerable, yet dubious claims about Ms. [D]Wilson’s legal experience. Although it makes reference to her participation in “cutting edge research” and states that her briefs and motions received “favorable judicial responses in nationwide cases,” no representative cases are listed. Consulting her personal page for more information, as her resume suggests, nets the same result.

Additionally, all of her legal experience occurred from April-November, 2012, during her only stint of legal employment since graduating from law school in May 2011. Other than research and writing entries, the remaining entries from her legal career indicate that her employment may have been more focused on the firms’ blogs and social media presence than mass tort litigation.

third party social network engagementAn excerpt from Ms. [D]Wilson’s downloadable resume, containing
her only legal employment subsequent to graduation from law school.

Ethical Impact

None of this is intended to attack Ms. [D]Wilson’s legal abilities or her current business. It should, however, raise considerable questions for anyone considering her services. As I have detailed before, and has been discussed by MANY other writers, social media and blogging are both incredibly important AND incredibly hazardous for attorneys. When used carefully, social media and blogging can boost a firm’s online presence, attract new clients, and promote the accomplishments of the firm. When used poorly, blogs and social media sites are ready-made ethics complaints.

Although Ms. [D]Wilson’s page firmly states that nothing will be posted before going across her desk, no assurances are given that control of your firm’s social media would rest solely in her hands.

As Kevin O’Keefe put it so well in his article on this very subject:

“Lawyers blogging and using social media in a real and authentic fashion enhance their reputation and build relationships. Real and authentic engagement is the key yere – and that can not (sic) be farmed out. And if not disclosed, could be viewed as false and misleading and thus, [un]ethical.”

The concept of ghostwriting, in and of itself, should cause doubts for attorneys. Who gets authorship credit on the blog? Well, websites are a form of advertising, so if the author is not accurately credited, is the advertisement misleading? What if the reader assumes that the ideas and the writing included in the blog are indicative of the quality they will receive from the attorney? Then, it likely IS misleading. Remember that one of the key distinctions between something that is misleading or not depends not on how the attorney views it, but on how it is interpreted by the prospective client. (As an example, consider that certain invitations to dialogue can be considered as creating an attorney-client relationship, even if not explicitly agreed.)

Your social media and blogging engagement should be engaging, informative, and yours. An important question asked by Kevin O’Keefe was “Would you have a [third-party] networker go to a reception with business leaders for you?” Of course you wouldn’t. Before purchasing third-party social media engagement, ask yourself why the same standard doesn’t apply.