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Lawyers — not law firms — are trusted in use of social media

Social media in the legal profession is all about trust. By sharing information, insight, and ideas on a blog, via Twitter, in LinkedIn, or Facebook, others begin to trust you. Trust that results in opportunities to learn from one another and, often, in opportunities to do business with one another.

Being we’re among the least trusted professionals, social media provides a heck of an opportunity for those in the legal profession. The problem is that most law firms are going about the use of social media all wrong.

Rather than empowering individual lawyers, as people, to use social media to earn trust, law firms are using social media in an attempt to get people to trust their law firm or corporation. It doesn’t work.

People trust people. People don’t trust entities and corporations. Thinking you, as a law firm, are going to buck this trend is the height of folly. Being you’re an organization comprised of lawyers, people don’t trust you to start with.

Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Company and co-author of the Age of Conversation blogs about people, not corporations earning trust in their use of social media.

It’s been well documented that people don’t trust corporations as much as they used to. But who do they trust? It’s largely people from two categories: third party experts (academics, some media sources, analysts, etc.) and “people like me.”

That’s good news for you as a lawyer. As a third party expert, you can earn the trust of your target audience (clients, prospective clients, referral sources and influencers of those three) by sharing information and insight as an authority via social media.

Monty finds strong support for his position in a recent study from eMarketer on ‘What Makes Social Media Trustworthy?’ which looks at which sources of information are trusted by users of social media.

Sources of trust on social media

Lawyers and law firms should note the stark contrast between a company’s and an individual’s ability to establish trust.

  • 64% trust blog posts of people they know, while only 36% trust blog posts by brands or corporations.
  • 45% trust the Twitter stream of a person they know, while only 21% trust Tweets from a brand or company.
  • 64% trust a person’s posts in Facebook while only 41% would trust a Facebook post by a brand or company.

Looking at the sources of social media which people would ‘trust completely’ the contrast is even clearer, with people trusting other individuals over corporations by close to a 3 to 1 margin.

For law firms this means getting individual lawyers out from behind the law firm brand. Activities such as the following are not going to work as well.

  • Law firm Facebook groups.
  • Tweeting in the law firm’s name.
  • Tweeting in the name of law blog.
  • Law firm blogs that are little more than email newsletters or alerts.

What will work?

  • Law blogs with posts exhibiting a conversationalist style written by individual lawyers.
  • Lawyers tweeting in their own name.
  • Facebook networking by individual lawyers.
  • Individual lawyers networking via groups and answers on LinkedIn.
  • Individual lawyers’ comments in social networking sites and on other blogs.

Sure, it’s a little harder to educate lawyers how to personally use social media. Most lawyers are going to push back and say it’s the law firm marketing department’s role to market the firm, its practice groups, and individual lawyers. Wrongfully believing social media is another form of marketing, most lawyers are not going to want to get personally involved. Some lawyers may even think its beneath them or for just the ‘kids’ at the firm.

But if you’re looking to achieve a return on your investment in your law firm’s use of social media, your time and money is best spent on educating and empowering your lawyers to get personally involved — not in trying to use social media to build trust in the law firm’s brand.