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.”