20130802-172802.jpg Clara Shih (@clarashih) CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social and Lisa Shalett, Head of Brand Strategy and Digital Strategy at Goldman Sachs, wrote this week in the Harvard Business Review about the “Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout.”

Shih and Shallett acknowledge that participating in social media is not without risk, but not participating can be an even greater risk, especially as to reputations and relationships – the lynchpins of business development for lawyers and law firms.

One, you’ll be invisible and less credible.

The social Web is changing how people communicate and access information. With a smartphone or tablet in hand, you can search for and find almost any information you seek, within seconds, whenever and wherever you are. People are looking you up. Not having a presence means you are not easily “findable” and perhaps leads people to question whether yours is a credible business. People are increasingly turning to social networks as the easiest way to get their questions answered. Potential buyers are going online to research products or services before they purchase them, or new contacts before they meet them. On average, buyers progress nearly 60% of the way through their purchase decision-making process before engaging with a sales representative, according to Corporate Executive Board (link is PDF). If people are looking for information about you or your business, what are they finding? A social page or profile at its most basic level enables you to provide accurate and helpful information about what you or your company does to your intended audience. Additionally, social media pages typically appear with prominence in search results — without these online presences, relationship managers and organizations risk not being present in the search results when an interested prospect goes looking.

60% of the lawyers in a major law firm I just visited did not use LinkedIn. They’re invisible. They’re also less credible compared to lawyers using the largest professional network.

Consumers of legal services, corporate or personal, are apt to trust a LinkedIn profile and network completed personally by a lawyer over a law firm website profile done by marketing. A completed LinkedIn profile is going to rank higher in Google searches as well.

The firm’s lawyers weren’t blogging either. They’re forfeiting their position as the “go to” lawyer and missing out on emerging industries as sources of new business. These lawyers are also absent from the conversation taking place among thought leaders, reporters, and business leaders who are blogging — a conversation which is being followed by in-house counsel.

In addition to being invisible and less credible, Shih and Shalett warn that businesses holding out on social lawyers are perceived as behind the curve.

As consumers embrace new technologies, they expect businesses to do the same. Companies (and their representatives) that aren’t using social networks will not be perceived as forward-thinking and, in the long term, will risk losing customers who want business partners who speak their language. Would you create a new personal checking account with a bank that doesn’t have an online portal? Today, we depend upon online access to data, including our finances, so that seems unthinkable. Soon customers will feel this way about having a social connection with businesses.

Social media, per Shih and Shallet, is being viewed in the business community as a new and innovative way for businesses and customers to do what they have always done: nurture relationships, exchange information, build reputations, and leverage trusted networks of friends and experts.

Not a difficult concept. And it’s concept that is being embraced by your law firm’s clients, prospective clients, referral sources, reporters, and business leaders.

How do you appear, as a lawyer or law firm, if you fail to embrace the methods other businesses are using to network, nurture relationships, and build reputations? Not only are you making it difficult for those whom you’d like to do business with to connect with you, but you are also looking old and behind the times.

If every lawyer in your law firm lost their cell phone today, you’d have them replaced by tomorrow, no questions asked. I’d act with the same sense of urgency in getting your lawyers using social. It’s just as important for long term success as a cell phone.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Jasleen Kaur.