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Lawyers handling matters before municipalities need to use social media

Lawyers using social media with municipalities “The issue is: How do you get information out and communicate with the populace,” Allentown, PA Mayor Ed Pawloski tells The Express-Times’ Lynn Olanoff (@LynnOlanoff), “What I found out is more people are getting their news through social media than news outlets.” This from an excellent  excellent read in Sunday’s paper on how active many local communities are on Facebook and Twitter.

Unlike printed newsletters, which are costly to mail, municipal officials say dispensing information through social media is essentially cost free except for a minimum amount of employees’ time. In some towns, including Hellertown, Pen Argyl and Pohatcong, the social media duties are shared by municipal employees and technology-savvy elected officials, like Rieger. Pen Argyl’s Facebook and Twitter pages were the brainchild of borough council President Mike Nasatka, and he shares the task with borough Manager Robin Zmoda.

The municipalities’ social media sites have proven very popular among community members.

The Facebook page alone has more than three times the followers than the borough’s email list, [Hellertown Councilman Tom] Rieger said. Like Pen Argyl, Hellertown officials try to answer residents’€™ Facebook questions quickly, as both Rieger and borough Manager Cathy Kichline get Facebook alerts on their phones. …… Like Hellertown, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he gets far more Facebook messages than email messages these days. The mayor also runs an active Twitter account, where he shares multiple news stories a day on city happenings. He says he spends about 40 minutes a day on his social media accounts

These communities are not alone. From Ed Purcell, staff attorney with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

€œA lot of municipalities are using social media, Facebook and Twitter to disperse information, It’€™s pretty widespread.

What’s this have to do with a lawyer’s and law firm’s use of social media? A ton.

Virtually all general practice law firms are handling matters involving municipalities. Communications with the mayor, council members, and agency heads are routine. Whether by email, letter, or meetings lawyers are engaging these folks on behalf of their clients. On matters often lasting a long time.

When I practiced, the lawyers who got things done with municipalities build relationships of trust with the elected and appointed officials. Not only did lawyers need to back up what they said, but the lawyers and municipal personal got to know each other as people.

Lawyers not engaging municipal officials on social media are going to lose their relevance and effectiveness over time. They’ll not be connected with the people they need to be in a real and meaningful way.

Sure, this is a new world, and what was real and meaningful five years ago is no longer true today. The mayors and council members who are handling the social media postings themselves, as is the case in these Pennsylvania communities, are expecting people to be on the other end. That certainly includes lawyers representing clients with matters before them.

Are you going to laugh off Twitter and Facebook, like you may with fellow lawyers, in front of a mayor or council member who communicates with the populace via these social media? You’d be a dam fool to do so.

If I am representing clients on matters before municipalities , or even just a tax payer, I’d look at social media as a gift. I’d study social media, I’d get good at it, and I’d start nurturing relationships by using it.