I am not a social media expert but rather an attorney who uses social media. Social media skills have been something I have learned over time, by trial and error, starting with my Facebook account in 2005. Intentional usage of social media as a networking tool is something I didn’t begin until later, as I began learning how to network. There is a dance to be learned with both traditional networking and with social media networking. As an attorney less than three years into practice, I’m still learning how to improve my networking dance, but over time I have picked up on several mistakes that I or others have made while using social media. Here are some common LinkedIn mistakes specific to attorneys:
Complying with attorney ethics rules.
Although this section will be considered the most important section by many attorneys, I intend to keep it short. There are a lot of seminars and articles that scare attorneys away from social media; these seminars and articles focus more on ethical issues than on giving advice on how to effectively use social media. This is unfortunate: social media is here to stay and attorneys should learn how to use it.
LinkedIn profiles are construed as advertising in some states and so you should ensure that your profile complies with your state’s ethical rules. If you are an Indiana attorney, make sure your profile complies with Rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Indiana Professional Rules of Conduct. As of October 2010, the Rules were modified and the former rule that testimonials are absolutely not permitted has been eliminated. You still need to be cautious if you want to have testimonials: pursuant to the Comments in Rule 7.1, third parties cannot make statements about you that you could not make about yourself. Also, if you are admitted to the bar in Indiana, you should not list a “specialty” on your LinkedIn profile unless you are certified by an agency or fall under one of the other exceptions of Rule 7.4.
Although this section was listed first, the remaining sections are equally important as they cover mistakes that negate your original purpose for joining LinkedIn. Attorneys are trained from law school to read and interpret ethics rules whereas the business potential and networking uses behind social media are usually learned over time while in practice. Don’t let the risks of ethical violations subsume your purpose for joining LinkedIn.
Failing to target your audience.
Targeting your audience is an important step: you need to do this to get more benefit out of LinkedIn.
Who are you hoping will see your profile? Potential clients? Potential employers? Legal recruiters? Potential partners? Potential referral sources? Others who can help further your career?
The audience will affect how you should portray yourself on LinkedIn and how you use LinkedIn. If you’re aiming for multiple audiences, like most attorneys, then you will need to try to keep all of your target audiences in mind. LinkedIn frequently shows up as an individual’s first “hit” in an online search and so it is a great way to market to those who are researching you.
Using the proper headline on Linked In.
Your headline is the first thing that potential connections, recruiters, and others will see. LinkedIn automatically uses your current job title unless you take the step to edit your title: on your Edit Profile page, click on the “edit” button just above your name and title.
This correction is important as the headline is your first opportunity to market who you are. More importantly, your headline needs to include those words that would be used in a search by your target audience. If you want a potential client to find you in a search of “Indianapolis” and “attorney,” you need to have “attorney” in your headline. You may not show up in results if you only display that you are a “Partner,” “Associate,” “CEO,” etc., of such-and-such law firm. If you are an associate or partner who is hoping a recruiter will discover you in a search of associates or partners at your firm, you may want to keep using “Associate” or “Partner.” Even if you edit your headline, your official title at your law firm can still be used in your Experience section.
Finally, you may want to consider putting your practice area(s) in your headline, so that people will know you as an Intellectual Property attorney or a Corporate Reorganization attorney.
If you are currently employed, you should consider avoiding “career opportunities” as an option in the Interested In section of LinkedIn. I have seen several currently employed associates and partners list this on their profile. Your current employer could see this and there is no reason to risk appearing disloyal; the employment economy for attorneys is still poor so don’t risk losing your position before you are ready to make a jump.
Failing to stay active on LinkedIn.
Unless you simply wanted your resume on the internet, there is not much point of making a profile and then leaving it to sit in cyber world. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for improving your professional relationships.
A better use for LinkedIn would be to take the opportunity to build respect from your colleagues or potential clients. You can post articles, blog posts, and newsworthy information; these posts will go into the updates feed that your connections will see. These updates will also remain on your profile unless you specifically delete the posts. Every so often, you can make updates to your Experience, Summary, or another section on your profile as a way to tempt people to look at it; the more often an individual looks at your profile, the more likely that individual will remember your experience and areas of practice.
Using posts in this way is a low effort technique of completing the traditional networking dance: after making initial contact with a new connection, you should follow-up to make the connection stronger. While posting updates is not as effective as making a phone call or having lunch as a follow-up, it is better than failing to follow-up at all. If you’re good at using the update feature, you can keep more people following you with less effort than traditional networking. This strategy is most effective when you use it as a method of supplementing traditional networking rather than replacing traditional networking.
Failing to brand your activity on LinkedIn.
When utilizing LinkedIn’s updates feed to post articles, blogs, etc., you have an opportunity to brand yourself to your connections. You should determine who your target audience is on LinkedIn and decide how you want to be perceived by that audience. Branding your posts can be a method of helping people connect specific characteristics, traits, or facts to you so that when certain legal issues or topics arise, people will contact you.
Whether you are focusing on building referrals or client development, if you practice in a specific area of law, you will want people to think of you when specific legal issues arise for them or their clients in that area of law. Legal articles can be good items to post but sometimes even lawyers find scholarly articles something to put at the bottom of their reading pile; consider posting interesting news articles or interesting commentary related to issues in your areas of law so that your posts are more likely to be read. These posts can help people to remember your areas of practice.
Although this next tip might not necessarily be a branding technique, I also like to attempt to intentionally increase the general goodwill and respect I receive by posting good quality articles and blogs that are aimed towards attorneys in general. Sometimes my posts will involve general practice management, networking advice, or commentary on the law profession. Thoughtful articles can leave a good impression with your colleagues and help them with their own practice and career. As referrals from other attorneys continue to be a large source of business for attorneys, I consider colleagues a target audience and the potential goodwill I could gain an investment.
Finally, be prepared to have different branding plans for LinkedIn versus other social media platforms you might be utilizing; not only will you likely have a different audience on each of the different social media platforms, each of the social media platforms are utilized by their users very differently. My Peace Corps background and love for Indianapolis has been helping me develop a following on Twitter more than my legal background; a few legal-related tweets thrown in helps circle them back to the fact I am an attorney.
Failing to actively add connections on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn searches operate in a unique way: when someone searches for an attorney, individuals who that individual are connected with will first show up in the search results. When there are not any “first degree” connections, LinkedIn will next try to show individuals who are connected to that person’s connections, i.e., “second degree” connections. Ultimately, the more contacts you have, the higher likelihood you will show up in the first page of someone’s search results even if you do not know that person. I have already entered into local counsel contracts as a result of this process even though I didn’t personally know a single individual that the hiring firm knew.
Increasing the number of contacts you have is an important way to be found on LinkedIn if you want to be found by clients, recruiters, and others. I’ve spent numerous hours hunting down individuals I served with in the Peace Corps, classmates from college and law school, and more in an attempt to have connections in more cities in the United States so as to further increase the likelihood I will show up in search results. (If the intent behind forming those LinkedIn connections sounded rather cold, you should also be aware that I was already connected with most of those individuals on Facebook which I consider a better platform for maintaining personal relationships.) To continue to increase your contacts, consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile to your email signature.
LinkedIn suggests that you only add individuals that you personally know; I generally follow this advice with only a few exceptions. If your primary focus is on improving your search rankings, you should ignore this advice and connect with as many people as possible. If you use this method, be prepared for questions from those strangers on how you know the connections that you share with them.
Sources for Further Improvement.
These tips are specifically aimed towards attorneys but there are numerous resources out there to further assist you in improving your profile that are not attorney specific. Chris Brogan’s blog is a great resource for common sense tips on how to improve your profile; the blog can be found at chrisbrogan.com. His book Social Media 101 comprises many of his blog posts and is an excellent source for introducing yourself to social media. I also recommend reading the following blog posts at Blue Sky Resumes and Executive Resume Branding, here and here, which lists common mistakes generally made by users on LinkedIn. I found both lists to be helpful.