New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Blogging, Facebook


October 20th, 2009

The Unseen Danger of Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, and More)

The marketers and promoters love social media. They just don’t talk about the hidden risk. They think every lawyer should be involved and that those not involved just don’t get it.

All I ever seem to read is how great it is for connecting with others and drumming up business. But never a word about how it can kill business.

Yes, social media such as Twitter and Facebook can kill your business. And it’s better to learn that lesson now than later. Lawyers can lose clients, or simply miss the opportunity to be retained.

I saw this today when I Googled myself. I did this after Scott Greenfield wrote a piece that created abundant commentary, centering on the fact that he types his posts up with exceptional speed, but never edits. Anyone that reads his Simple Justice can see this in many a post.

And I wondered, if a potential new client was given my name by another, and that person Googled me, what would they see?

Well, the first page of my results shows three separate social media sites: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They show up there despite the fact that I’ve not exactly been the biggest user of those sites over the last year. (My opinion that Twitter stinks remains unchanged, though I continue to drop links into it when I post something new here.)

So this is what the potential new client will see, even if you have an active presence on the web. Since I’ve written over 800 posts in this space since I started in November 2006, and received thousands of inbound links, I probably fit the definition of active presence. And yet, those three sites still manage to crowd out links from so many others.

So if social media sites will be on the first page of what your potential client sees, then those sites must be appealing to the client. And by appealing, I don’t mean that you have to strut your legal stuff. Rather, you have to make sure you don’t turn off the client.

And that’s the danger; turning off the potential client by prattling away with all types of trite tidbits that only the most devoted of significant others could care about. Is this what you want your new clients to see? Because if that is what you are typing, that is what they will see.

And not only will they see it, but they will see when you wrote it. Ten posts written during business hours will make a client think two things:

  1. Why is the lawyer writing about this stuff during work hours? I want a lawyer that is busy with a good book of business. (Crowded restaurants are usually crowded for a good reason; empty ones usually empty for a good reason.)
  2. Will the lawyer be Twittering instead of working on my case?

The same risks, of course, may exist for blogs. And it is one that I often think about when writing. (For the record, I generally write at night or in early morning, but can edit the time stamp. I’ve composed many a post in my head while going for early morning runs on taking the train to/from the city.)

While many lawyers write with the hopes that future clients will read their stuff, I often fear it, particularly when going off topic. It is that fear of clients reading my words that makes me kill many a story before it gets published. It may be one too many that goes off-topic or it tackles a subject in a way that just turns people off. Personal attacks on certain people, for instance, can easily lead to backlash.

But at least I know that if I write something dumb, it will be quickly buried on the blog and (hopefully) forgotten in two months time. That won’t happen as easily with the big social media companies though. Those links, which likely contain “fluffier” stuff than a law blog would handle, will be right there on page 1 of your results. And you may lose the biggest case of your career because the client went elsewhere. And you never even knew.

And one last thing to think about, since someone somewhere will holler, “But there are privacy options that allow me to shield the public from seeing my Facebook page!”

Sure there are, but what will you do when a current client asks to friend you Facebook? Insult them by saying no?

It’s often been said that you should never write anything that you are afraid to see on the front page of the local paper. The story of Flea made that clear.

But let’s take that one step further: Never write anything that you don’t want your clients to see. Because you may not get to keep them as clients.

11 thoughts on “The Unseen Danger of Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, and More)

  1. A very valid and important concern. It relates back in part to your reason for blogging, or twitting as the case may be, but it’s critical for people to understand that their social media connections, cute little twits or snarky blog posts, become permanent parts of their landscape whether that was their intent or not.

    ultimately, the issue will come down to priorities. If you want to enjoy twitter and facebook as a means to engage in a little online socializing, you do so at the expense of your carefully crafted professional persona. If you are unwilling to take the risk of having a client (or adversary) find out that you are human being as well as a lawyer, and sometimes say something dopey or funny or silly, then you cannot engage in social media activities.

    And it’s not just you. If I twit about Eric Turkewitz, and write something nasty, it may appear when someone Googles the name. The Turk has nothing to say about it, no involvement in it, and can do nothing to stop it. Others can destroy your carefully crafted professional persona without a second thought. It’s not fair, but it’s quite real.

    It’s a new world online. It offers some opportunities, and some huge pitfalls. Worse still, it’s likely that you won’t appreciate the significance until it’s too late. The digital world can be very dangerous, and it’s critical to be aware of it.

  2. Eric- You know that when writing your blog post you can schedule your message to go live at any given time. Many people will write their posts at different times of the day or night but choose, for whatever strategic reason, to publish them at different times of the day.

    I personally like to schedule my blog posts to go live at 6:00 a.m. even though I’ve written them days or weeks before.


  3. Eric,

    This is an excellent post that raises points lawyers and other professionals should consider. Social media provides tremendous opportunities for professionals today but I agree there are downsides. A good rule of thumb is too stay professional even if you are engaging in social media unrelated to your work. That doesn’t mean you can’t use humor or have fun but it should mean that you don’t embarrass yourself, your family or your employer.


  4. This is a great post.

    A fair amount of organic search results come up if you google my name. Recently, sites like Facebook, justia and avvo have started to crowd out the better 1st page results. One reason to re-consider joining sites where you may not focus your energies.

    I like Justia and Avvo as companies, but don’t focus any energy there. I wonder if claiming my profile made the search results show up higher. I tend to claim profiles just to check out a service, but I think that’s worth thinking twice about.

    It’s tough to control the Google!

  5. I don’t know Turk, I think you’re overthinking this. I have two blogs, have over 9000 tweets, a facebook account, and my google search result is ok with me. I think it all depends on the client. I guess you’ll never know who doesn’t contact you, but if the client is referred, I don’t think seeing that you’re on facebook or twitter and spend time blogging will turn them off. If a lawyer is one who “gets” clients through the net, it may be a problem, but most of my clients go to the net after hearing my name, or so I’m told.

    As for friending clients on facebook. I don’t, until the case is over, and if they ask why I don’t accept, I tell them that.

  6. It never occured to me to be ashamed of blogging during the day.

    Ashamed? No.

    But concerned about how others might see you if it happens all the time and they perceive that is what you do all day long? Well….

  7. I just wanted to add the thought that once comments are made and become part of the internet, its extremely difficult, if not impossible to get them removed. I’ve advised clients of this because so many post things on sites that later come back to haunt them especially in injury litigation.

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