It’s great that lawyers and law firms are coming to understand that using the Internet for business development is not all about ads, websites, SEO, and online directories. But I fear that folks are getting caught up in social media hype.

We’ve got folks basically telling lawyers that you all you need is to use social media and it’ll cure the ills of professional and business development. I’m waiting for one social media expert to do a program on how you can successfully practice law without having clients, so long as you’re using social media.

As a result, good lawyers are being turned off by social media – when something sounds too good to be true, those with an ounce of common sense turn and run. In addition, those lawyers buying the social media hype are wasting their using time social media all wrong because no one stopped explained to them the principles behind blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Aliza Sherman has a good post at GigaOm this week about stopping the social media hype.

Don’t trust anyone who says they’ll reveal the ‘secrets of social media.’ There are no secrets of social media. As someone who’s seen the bubble of the early web and new media business burst, I’m feeling a sense of deja vu.

There are people who make a good living off hype and the naivete of others. They see a short window of time when people are still in learning mode or ‘behind the curve,’ and they swoop in with shiny promises bathed in snake oil, take as much money as they can get, then run.

The rest of us are left here in their greedy and destructive wake to pick up the pieces and, worse, to deal with the disillusionment of people who’ve been burned by a con artist claiming to know the ‘secrets’ of social media that will make everyone rich.

Sherman’s referring to the fact that the same principles that applied to the use of the web in 1995, apply today.

In 1995?

  • Communications. The Internet and the Web were technologies that were transforming the way we communicated.
  • Connection. Being online connected us to people and to information more quickly and easily than ever before.
  • Community. The Internet and Web was bringing together like-minded people for mutual support and friendship.
  • Convenience. Using the Internet could close distances, reduce time, and help us do things more efficiently and effectively.
  • Creativity. The Web was helping to ‘level the playing field,’ putting tools of creation in the hands of the individual.

Today?

  • Communications: Check. Although now we’re calling this ‘Conversations.’
  • Connection: Check. Our connections to people are augmented through social networking functions. Our connections to information are augmented through feeds and sharing functions. We’re so connected now, our minds are boggled.
  • Community: Check. Social networking functions enhance the ways we can start and grow communities.
  • Convenience: Check. Never before have we had so much information and so many tools at our fingertips.
  • Creativity: Check. From the ease of setting up a blog to building a presence on a social network, anyone with access to the Internet and a computer can create and publish virtually anything online.

I started using the Internet for client development in 1996 as a small town lawyer in Wisconsin. I immediately saw the net was about communication (not broadcasting info about myself on a website), but connecting with people to build relationships of trust and creating communities of people with similar interests. I loved the convenience of connecting with people hundreds of miles away and competing with the ‘big boys’ with the huge marketing budgets.

I wasn’t a technologist, I was just a guy trying to make a living that enjoyed helping others. I knew the more people I got out and engaged by listening to their questions (then at AOL), sharing answers, and building a following, the better reputation I would have. It would spread by word of mouth.

I realized the Internet wasn’t anything new. It was traditional client development that had been going on for a hundred years in the legal profession.

  • Communicate. The Internet was not about creating a website chockfull of information about myself and what I did. The Internet was built to communicate with people. Listen, engage, and provide value by responding to the needs of others.
  • Connecting. As lawyers we network among our target audience of clients, prospective clients, referral sources, and the influencers of those three (reporters, publishers, association leaders, conference coordinators and the like). The net just expanded our opportunities to network.
  • Community. People, lawyers included, are social animals. We tend to congregate with people with similar interests. We exchange info. We mentor each other. We refer work to one another. We lean on each other for support. The net made finding people with similar interests easier.

Not only has nothing changed in the last 15 years cited by Sherman, I’m not certain anything has changed in the last 150 years.

The same principles that underlie how lawyers use social media and the Internet correctly are the same principles that underlie the type of client development good lawyers have been doing forever.

I’m in total agreement with Sherman that social media is being over-hyped. I’m seeing it all over the legal profession. What do you guys think?

  • “On beginning to apply himself more resolutely to public business, he remarked it as an and absurd thing that artificers, using vessels and instruments inanimate, should know the name, place, and use of every one of them, and yet the statesman, whose instruments for carrying out public measures are men, should be negligent and careless in the knowledge of persons. And so be not only acquainted himself with the names , but also knew the particular place where every one of the more eminent citizens dwelt, what lands he possessed, the friends he made use of, and those that were of his neighbourhood, and when he travelled on any road in Italy, he could readily name and show the estates and seats of his friends and acquaintance.”
    -Cicero’s opinion of how to conduct one’s affair as a lawyer; Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD) John Dryden translation.(Cicero being the greatest lawyer in all of Roman History)
    Nothing has changed in 2000 years. SM folks need to get over it.

  • I guess I was a little short going back only 150 years Keith. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Kelly Newcomb

    Agree with you 100%. Social Media is a tool that should be considered as part of a lawyer’s marketing kit, if it makes sense for that individual. Some lawyers golf, some prefer public speaking, others will find social media a valuable, efficient tool for building their business. In the hype, many lawyers and firms also have overlooked the value of social media in providing competitive intelligence about a client, prospect, industry or company, or as a way to stay ahead of the news.

  • Good point Kelly, social media needs to make sense for the lawyer. It’s not for everyone.
    Note though that social media complements other client development efforts whether it be speaking, networking via business, charitable, and social organizations, writing, and general engagement with clients and prospective clients.
    All we’re talking about is doing those things that get you known for what you do and enhancing your reputation as a trusted and reliable authority.