Bill Pollak, the CEO of American Lawyer Media (ALM), the leading provider of current legal news through national and regional publications, has an interesting piece this week in BtoB Media Business on why media leaders need to enter the social media waters.

Pollak explains he’s not blogging, Tweeting, and using Facebook because he has nothing do. He often finds “social media to be tedious and frustrating.” Pollak actively participates in social media because he’s “convinced that these tools will be the future of b-to-b media.”

Following Bill as a media company leader, one thing I’ve learned is that you lead by example. And it’s no different with social media per Bill.

…[I]f people like me don’t roll up our sleeves and begin to learn firsthand about the opportunities and challenges inherent in social media, our team members won’t feel like they should experiment and begin using them.

Pollak offers media company executives who are sitting on the social media sidelines four thoughts to get started. The same thoughts apply to leaders throughout our legal profession, whether a managing partner, CMO, or bar association executive.

  • Listen: Whether the market you serve revolves around torts or textiles, right now people are talking about your industry. Maybe in the old days (i.e., six years ago), those conversations would have occurred in the pages of your magazine or at your market-leading conference. Not anymore. Now those discussions occur 24/7/365 among bloggers you’ve never heard of and on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You should be listening to those discussions for new ideas, stories that your organization should be covering and for emerging experts who could become speakers at your events or guest contributors in your publications. Just because the writing isn’t as polished as you would expect from your reporters and the thoughts sometimes come at you in 140 character bites, it doesn’t mean those who blog or tweet don’t have something important to teach you. Listen and learn from them.
  • Monitor: Sorry to tell you this, but some of those discussions are about you–or about your company, your products and your services. You should be particularly attentive to those nuggets. If the buzz is positive, great. But when people post negative comments about your business, you have a chance to fix the problem quickly, or at least correct the record before those negatives get picked up by others and ricochet around the blogosphere. And I wouldn’t dream of attending one of my company’s trade shows or conferences without live-monitoring what people are posting on Twitter about it (and they will be posting). Not exactly scientific research, I know, but certainly helpful.
  • Connect: Building a brand or protecting an established one is all about building trust and a relationship with customers. In the b-to-b media industry, those relationships increasingly include readers who want to be heard and to establish a dialogue with our team members, particularly our reporters and editors. Readers want to build deeper connections with our staff–to know more about them, perhaps, but also to find out ‘the story behind the story.’ I want to listen in on that discussion as much as I can, both to hear what kinds of questions customers are asking and to see how our journalists respond. The sum total of those discussions will be more important in establishing what the brand means to our customers than all the promotional ads and press releases we put out.
  • Build community: The power in our brands traditionally came from the strength of the connection between our products and our audience. In the future, brand power will increasingly be derived from how well we help members of our audience connect with one another. We can use social media tools to do that, leveraging the power of LinkedIn, for instance, to help community members find clients, experts, jobs or whatever else they value. Those same tools will allow us to extend a three-day trade show into a yearlong dialogue, with our brands positioned as the host for those conversations. As executives, we should be looking for community-building successes and encouraging our teams to experiment with our own offerings.

Sure, if you’re not in the media field you can blow these thoughts off as Pollak is directing them to media executives. But, as a leader in our legal profession if you can’t extrapolate how listening, monitoring, connecting, and community building apply to your law firm or association, you’re in trouble. And if you think social media is a fad allowing you to stick your head in the sand till the storm passes, you’re in more trouble. As Pollak says, “Social media is here to stay.”

If you’re a leader in our legal professional looking for leaders to follow on social media, you could do a lot worse than following Bill Pollak. You can follow him via his blog and his Twitter feed.