Social networking for lawyers means one identityLawyers are notorious for having more than one identity in social media and social networking.

Many have one for their personal affairs, and one for business. Some use pseudonyms to claim some expertise or flawed SEO advantage ala @accidentatty on Twitter. Lawyers in larger law firms often hide behind a practice group Twitter identity rather than use their own name.

I agree with journalist and blogger, Jeff Jarvis, on the fallacy of having more than identity in social media.

Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online. That was Facebook’s key insight. Twitter’s, too. Tweeters want credit for their cleverness; they are rewarded with followers and retweets, their nanoseconds of microfame. Facebook is built on real relationships with real people in real life. “The whole thing was based on this foundation of reality,” Mark Zuckerberg says in an interview. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing is true. But on balance, I think it’s a lot more real than other things on the internet. In that way, I think, yes, it does create authenticity.”

Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities.

Jarvis is spot on that those claiming multiple identities are less authentic. It’s as if they are afraid of people finding out more about them.

Those are the two identities we are trying to manage–not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and our outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we look inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are, and we’ll be found out.

As to other people’s perceptions or your fear that your law firm will get wigged out if you use your real identity online, Jarvis suggests:

What needs to change is not so much our behavior, our rules, or our technology but, again, our norms: how we operate as a society and interact with each other.

A good young lawyer in a large law firm asked me last week about using his true identity online, particularly on Twitter. Rather than use a pseudonym, GAEmploymentLaw (hypothetical) on Twitter as well as Tweet under the firm’s practice group blog handle, he was considering using his own name. Or at least as close as he could get to his name with a Twitter handle.

I explained it was his call, but to me it was a lay up to use his own name.

As a lawyer, your reputation is everything. Your reputation is earned through relationships. Relationships built and nurtured by engaging with others in a real and authentic way.

There is no way you are going to build a word of mouth reputation that’s going to pay the mortgage and feed the family for the long haul under a pseudonym, GAEmploymentLaw.

Ask yourself what type of client is attracted to a lawyer who runs on a pseudonym. I’m not sure I’d want those sort of clients.

It’s also not all law talk all day long on the net. You interact with people all the time on the net whether it be blogging, on Facebook, or on Twitter on other subjects that you have an interest in. Just because we’re online doesn’t mean all the rules of social interaction change.

If you’re coaching soccer, sitting on a local civic board, or running a local girl scout troop do you want to be know as GAEmploymentLaw? Of course not. You’d want to get known by your real name, get to know folks, and build trust. When someone needs a lawyer you’d welcome helping them or refer them to a lawyer who can.

Social interaction on personal or civic matters, just like social interaction on the law, is now online, in addition to offline. People participating in those soccer clubs or serving on those civic boards are interacting online whether it be at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or on blogs. Why complicate interaction and reduce the risk of looking inauthentic with two identities?

If you’re using a pseudonym or hiding behind a practice group name, I’d suggest changing now. It’s not too late, we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to social media and social networking. There’s plenty of time to start being real.

“The best solution is to be yourself,” says Jarvis. “If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink. Better yet, blog about it.”

  • I think there are completely legit reasons for “dual identities”. They are *not* necessarily lacking in authenticity–they can be very useful, even desirable, for separating content for appropriate audiences.
    Frankly, I don’t mind a mix of personal and work related tweets from *some* people. However, I think many people would be actually better served by separating the two. Not in order to be less authentic–be yourself in both–but in order to make sure that the audience you want reading you doesn’t lose interest due to too much personal or too much work related information. Yeah, I might mention something about work when I’m with other parents at a play date with my daughter–but I certainly don’t repeatedly pester them with decisions I’ve read recently and want to discuss. Anymore than I go on about every cute thing my daughter does with my co-workers. Okay, well, I do that–but it annoys them, and with separate accounts, it doesn’t have to. :)

  • I completely agree with Dave. I created two Twitter identities, not so I can hide my own identity to others but instead so my followers can choose the type of content they would like to see. Under @ktbattlelaw, I post messages relevant to the legal industry, the company where I work, and other topics relevant to my professional network. Under @ktbattle, I post messages about my personal interests, the music industry, pop culture, my hobbies, random musings and other topics more relevant to a broader group of followers. Both accounts are open for anyone to follow, so I’m not hiding any messages. Instead, I am giving my followers the opportunity to choose which messages from me they want to receive and which ones they want to filter out.

  • Thanks for the comments Kate and Dave. I can understand why you want to create to seprate accoints. But I don’t think it serves a lawyer or other professional well to do so.
    If a lawyer shares tweets on personal interests, they’re going to meet and engage people with similar interests. They’ll build relationships through this that are going to grow the quality of their network.
    I share things about my personal interests, including professional/college sports and family activities, in social media and social networking. There is no question I have met some wonderful people by doing so — people who have contributed to me growing professionally and personally. It’s also led to relationships which have brought in work to my company.
    I share these personal things feeling secure that I am not bothering people nor giving up personal privacy.
    So while I can see why you create multiple accounts, I don’t see it in a professional’s interest to do so.

  • I agree, to a point. Yes, your account would be benefited by being somewhat personal so I don’t see much of a point in having one professional and one personal identity. However there really are legitimate reasons to separate content to different audiences. I have separate blogs, one about technology and ediscovery, and another about child abuse survivors. To say that they attract different readers would be putting it very mildly! Obviously, I would not try to combine those two blogs, so why should I not have a separate Twitter profile for them, to interact with each audience, as well?
    I don’t think the followers of either account would appreciate a sudden rash of tweets about the other subject matter.

  • I’m with Kate and Dave on this one. Having two Twitter handles gives my followers the choice whether they just want tweets within the narrow scope of my blog (@scotxblog) or whether they want the broader range of tweets from my personal account.
    Both accounts are public, and the description field of each references the other, so readers know they have a choice. Some choose to follow both; some follow just one but not the other. (I respect that choice, and I almost never cross-tweet between them.)
    In the context of a law blogger, forcing it all down the same firehose feels inconsiderate to readers.
    Kevin, I think your post might be blurring together two different things — using two account “identities” to separate content, like we’re doing, versus using a pseudonym to hide your real identity.

  • Kevin,
    Thanks for the post. My twitter id has always been @constructionlaw. I just picked it a year or two ago when I started. I’m just comfortable with it and most folks that follow me regularly know who I am in any event because of my profile.
    I have no real issue with personal tweets so don’t have multiple accounts. I’m actually worried it will look inauthentic to change now.

  • While I agree with this 99%, I have also found that it is nice to have my “personal” blog in addition to my professional blog. I am currently getting my LLM in New Zealand, and while a lot of what I’m learning ties into my professional blog (Is Yoga Legal), the stories about my trips around the islands are not of interest to the law and yoga. I do not hide one from the other, and have actually linked between them, but I find that my personal blog is for personal matters, and if people who visit the professional blog want to learn more about me as a person, they can, but that is their choice. I am not, by any means, under the impression that I can hide one from the other. That is where I wholeheartedly agree with you – there should be no pseudonyms in order to hide behind one identity or to be someone you are not. Thank you for pointing that out.

  • Dave

    Kevin-
    I don’t think sharing personal interests and building relationships that way is wrong in a professional context. But that original post (and yours) seems to imply that it’s somehow duplicitous or that you are not being your “true self” if you split your writings between multiple audiences. I call shenanigans on that.
    If you are open an honest about who you are in all your on-line dealings, there is absolutely, 100% nothing wrong with splitting your writing between two streams oriented towards different audiences.
    It’s painfully easy to follow, friend, etc. people these days, and there are many people in my Twitter feed that I follow twice: once professionally and once personally. It doesn’t diminish them in my esteem one bit. But it gives those who are only interested in one or the other the option of a filter. It’s not burdensome for those who want both, but considerate of those who only want one. Open, honest and considerate are three things I think are always good for business.

  • Dave

    I also disagree that you can’t build a reputation that will help pay the bills under a pseudonym. The first example that jumps to mind is econwriter5 (Gwynne Monahan). She managed to turn a very strong presence on Twitter (under and account that *isn’t* her name) into a paying gig as the Community Manager for Clio.
    The key *isn’t* what your account is named, or how many accounts you have. The driving factors for success in any social media are being true to yourself and engaging the community. Do that, and you can call yourself whatever you like.

  • Kevin, this is a good conversation to have because this is all still pretty new to many. I understand why some create what appear to be catchy, or promotional, monikers in Social Media as they believe including the name of what they do in their name will help send that message to their followers, friends, connections and fans (or likers).
    Let’s say I created LegalMarketingPro as my name on Twitter, or on my Facebook Business Page. One of the challenges with this practice is that there are a thousand people who are also legal marketing professionals, so I have the added challenge of proving why I’m different without letting you in on my name and persona right from the start.
    I’d rather have someone think “Oh, I should ask that, that, oh, what’s her name…yes, Nancy Myrland, if she can come speak to our group,” vs. “I need to ask that legal marketing pro to come speak to our group,” not having any idea who that legal marketing pro is.
    If you insist on using a marketing-oriented name, or even a nondescript one, my suggestion is to make sure your name is stated nearby in your profile, and easily attached to your made-up name. I go to too many profiles to look for a first name by which to refer to someone in a response, and can’t find one anywhere. I’ve even gone to a website to find that person’s name, and have found it’s hard to find there too.
    Bottom Line: Don’t make people work to figure out who you are. They won’t because they don’t have time. It’s our job to make our identity clear to others, not theirs.

  • I understand the concept of two blogs. If I decided to offer my sports commentary (rantings) on the Cubs, Mariners, Packers, Seahawks, Badgers, and Notre Dame, I might put at risk my followers on social media for professional and business development.
    A solo family law lawyer in Litchfield, CT or a general counsel for a major law firm in Manhattan who may be apt to follow this blog probably doesn’t share similar passions.
    I’m still not buying the pseudonym being a good idea for Twitter, Facebook, and the like. I understand how people started with Twitter handles with pseudonyms and by sharing helpful info they generated good will & some relationships. Chris Hill (@constructionlaw) and Gwynne Monahan (@econwriter5) are good examples.
    But when Gwynne came up and introduced herself to me the first time and we started talking, I had no idea who she was even though I had seen over a long time items she shared on Twitter. She told me this after a bit. The conversation and intro woud have been much richer had I known I trusted her already – trust to the extent I appreciated what she shared on Twitter.
    Gwynne’s a fine and talented professional who went far too long before gaining employment. Did not using her real name hold her back in that regard? I don’t know.
    I’m old school guys. At age 55, I don’t feel the need to hold much back. I am going to be myself using my real name wherever I go. I can’t change my persona based on who my audience is – it’s just not me. For me to build relationships with people, I’ve got to be myself. I advise lawyers to do the same.

  • Jim Brashear

    I, too, have two twitter profiles: @ JFBrashear for professional tweets, which links to my LinkedIn profile, and @Mounder for personal tweets, which links to my Facebook profile. Sometimes I’ll post the same tweet to both profiles, but more often the content is distinct. The audiences are very different.
    Another reason I created separate profiles is that Twitter profiles that I follow for legal topics sometimes post personal opinions (particularly on political matters) that I found offensive, or they frequently report about personal details like their dinner plans. When I attend a musical performance, I don’t want to hear the artist’s personal political statements. When I follow a profile branded as “legal” I don’t want to be inundated with unrelated chatter.
    I view separate profiles as a content filter. As a matter of personal preference, I don’t use my professional Twitter profile for extraneous topics that might alienate an audience that is following me for professional commentary.
    Posting all of one’s tweets in a single profile gives your followers two choices: follow or unfollow. Posting your tweets in different profiles allows your followers to choose the content that suits them: one, both or none. Choice is a good thing.

  • I have to come out on the side of the majority of comments here. I don’t think it is duplicitous or bad to have two identities and in some ways it is helpful. Like many here, I have two twitter identities: @faithpincus for my public speaking related posts, and some personal interest posts and @PincusProEd for my CLE company posts and legal posts. Why?
    1) Because sometimes there are people who want to know about public speaking who don’t care about it in a legal setting or the legal world; and
    2) I may sell my company, Pincus Professional Education, some day, and if I do, I’ll still be a paid professional speaker/public speaking coach, which is tied to @faithpincus
    As for Facebook – I keep them separate as well – http://www.facebook.com/pincusprofessionaleducation
    Why? 1) my clients and customers don’t need to read about comments from someone I dated in highschool reminiscing, and; 2) sometimes I get political on my personal facebook page and politics is a sticky issue – too easy to tick people off, including potential speaking clients or CLE customers.
    I do, however, sometimes post personal updates/info on my company’s facebook page. For example, there is a photo album there called “Dog Days of Pincus Pro Ed” that has my dogs in them, since I’m such an animal lover and they are such a big part of me. So there is some cross over, but I control it.
    Like was said above, choice is good. But I admit is’s a bit of a pain to manage multiple accounts.