Last month, I partnered with MyCase, which offers web-based case management to lawyers, on a webinar discussing the use of social media and blogs to network and build relationship online. We had a huge number of people turn out, which speaks to MyCase’s following and the quality of their web production production.

With so many people attending, there were more questions than I could get too. Here are those questions — and answers for the webinar attendees and you. Hope you find the information helpful.

I have a blog on wordpress.org and I am having trouble growing a network and building relationships. I have been doing this since August. Is wordpress.org a good site for blogging, which is linked to my website?

Growing a network and building relationships takes time, the fact that things have not come alive for you yet is likely not because of your blogging platform.

WordPress, with good design, sound development, the right upgrades and maintenance and the right hosting environment can work every well. WordPress is the blog platform of choice for leading publishers including Time, GigaOm, TechCrunch and the NY Post as well as the blogs on The LexBlog Network (LXBN).

Give yourself some time and make sure you are networking effectively. Growing a network, nurturing relationships, and building a word of mouth reputation through blogging takes time. A year or two is not unusual. This doesn’t mean you will not acquire new work in the first year; you will.

Understand blogging is not about generating traffic as is the case paying for Adwords and SEO. Blogging gives you things that last a life time and that are much more valuable to you – a reputation as a “go to” lawyer and relationships.

Make sure you are networking effectively through blogging. This means 1) focusing on a niche, 2) following leading bloggers, reporters, and writers in the niche, 3) following subjects whether they be laws, terms of art, companies, products/services, or people related to your niche, and 4) engaging in the “conversation.”

The conversation is what these people are writing about. Engaging these folks will get you seen and, over time, get you cited. It is an art to engage locally, nationally, subject-wise, or even company or person-wise.

How does Kevin feel about using the same Twitter account for professional AND personal stuff? Should a “good” professional keep it separate?

I suggest having the same Twitter account for personal and professional matters. Firstly, because I have a hard enough time keeping tracking of one person and keeping him organized. Two people would drive me nuts. Staying on top of mobile apps and having them set up for personal and professional sharing is not that easy. Are you going to get all freaked out when you share a personal item on a professional account and vice versa?

And secondly, social media works when you are willing to be social – personally. Having two accounts tells others you are not really interested in letting them get to know you as a person. Information moves socially based on trust. Trust developed by getting to know each other as people. Relationships develop socially, person to person, not company to person. It’s why personal Twitter accounts work better than corporate or law firm Twitter accounts.

Three, social media culture and nuances are hard enough for lawyers to master. Why add another layer of potential confusion? Do what the vast majority of people, including lawyers, are doing; have one account.

What is the proper etiquette for sharing someone else’s article on your blog?

Answer. Weave the article or blog post you are sharing/citing into the context of your blog post.

I generally insert a lengthy block quote or two with the appropriate attribute. For example I might write, “As the New York Times national legal editor, John Schwartz (@jswatz), reports (the word reports would be linked to the story’s url) this that or the other thing.” I’d then insert the block quote. I do this for both news stories and blog posts which I am citing/sharing.

I put a link to the Twitter handle of the reporter or blogger in parentheses after their name. This is akin to a personal shoutout, allows my readers to follow the blogger/reporter, and makes it easy when I share my blog post on Twitter giving my source a hat tip (h/t) in my Tweet so they say that they know I shared a blog post citing them. Think engagement.

You will pick up your own style of citing and sharing third party content by following blogs and news stories. See what others are doing and see what you like. Emulate the good ones.

What do you mean by “give” in this context? Creating content? Forwarding other people’s content? How is the latter “giving?”

Give means to focus first on giving value to other people at all times. Do not make it “the goal” of your social media and blogging work to draw attention to yourself and to generate work. Business will come if you help enough people. Business will come if you put your passion, care, and expertise on display.

People hire people they like. People like people they see helping others without any expectation of return. It’s especially true with lawyers, who have the public perception of non-givers, when in fact many of us are givers.

Sharing others content is giving. I review stories and blog posts in my news aggregator for an hour plus a day. The things I see are very niche oriented — companies, products, terms of art, and people — all relating to networking online, especially as to law firms and professional services firms. I also see articles and posts from sources (blogs, publications, columns) that cover these sorts of things, ie, marketing, publishing, social media, law etc.

I act as a funnel of information when thousands of things come into my reader and I select 15 or 20 to share on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. People following me on Twitter seem to get value by my giving as the number of followers grows. Same with Facebook and LinkedIn. They see me as intelligence agent on the subjects I follow.

I am also giving, whether sharing my content or content by others, by generating conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. We all learn in that sort of dialogue.

How much time out of a day do you estimate taking information in from these sources? Ex: blogs, news, Feedly, Flipboard etc…

Personally, a lot. But it’s part of what I do for a living. For lawyers, I’d suggest 20 or 30 minutes a day following feeds in a news aggregator. I’d include sharing to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, directly from your news aggregator, in that time.

You may find that you are learning so much and meeting so many interesting people you are learning from that you’ll end up spend upwards of 45 minutes a day. There are worse habits than reading and meeting people in an effort to become a better lawyer.

For blogging, as I discuss below, a post a week is great. Maybe it’s a post every couple weeks to begin with. Make it fun and blog based on what you see in your feeds.

With abundant availability of social media such as Facebook twitter, and LinkedIn, not to mention a blog site, is a personal/firm website really necessary?

Good question. I’d have something you could call your own and which you can easily control and update. For many law firms this is going to be their website.

But think of the website as a business card or brochure, you’d go broke if that’s all you did for business development. In addition don’t spend a lot of money updating your website, unless it’s really bad, and don’t spend more money on drawing people to your website than you’d spend on drawing people to your brochure.

Many smaller firms with a singular focus use a blog as their home base. They don’t have a website. In addition to offering insight and commentary, the blog has interior pages detailing who they are, what they do, and how people get a hold of them.

Consumers of legal services (business or consumers) do not distinguish between a website and blog. They’ll call your blog a website. Prospective clients and referral sources will certainly not hold it against you for not having a website. Heck, most people looking for a lawyer will appreciate that you lead with information of help to them, as opposed to information about you.

Also consider whether a website is where you want to place your time and money. Law firms get all consumed in updating websites and doing what ever they can to get people to come to their website. Ironically, 86% of people do not trust advertisements. Law firm websites are advertisements – just look at the disclaimer on the bottom of one.

I’d consider spending your time and money networking online to grow your reputation and relationships in a meaningful way. Use a blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to engage. If you don’t know how to network online, get some help. It’s time and money better spent than on a website and getting people to come to the site.

If I’m already blogging regularly, then what else can I do to leverage?

First, make sure you are blogging effectively — that you are engaging third parties in a conversational manner and picking up new business via your growing online presence, relationships, and reputation.

Now with your blog as a home base, get out and network further. Build social media equity by sharing other’s blog posts and news stories on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You need social media equity for people to share your blog posts on social media. Most people do not share items from people that only share their own stuff. Twitter will work the best for this if you are niche focused and regularly share. Make sure you are using a news aggregator to save time.

Make sure you share your blog posts on social networks in an engaging fashion, versus broadcasting. People can feel the difference. Lead with different teasers or questions when sharing on Facebook and LinkedIn. Be present to engage the people who like and comment on the items you share. The mobile apps for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook make it easy to see when people are engaging you and your content.

Look at content, others and yours, as a the currency of engagement. Do not look at shouting out content to draw attention or to generate traffic as the end goal. Your goal is word of mouth and relationships.

How do you feel about LinkedIn’s premium paid service?

The best answer I have heard is from LexBlog’s Kristina Corbitt (@kriscorbitt). “If you have mastered all there is to the free LinkedIn, go for it. But most lawyers are only leveraging a fraction of what they can on LinkedIn.”

I pay for the premium because I always have. When LinkedIn first started I could not believe how valuable it was. I wanted to support them. Now that they are billionaires, who knows if I should still pay.

The best answer is to try it and see what you think for a month or two. I like the tagging and some of the CRM (client relation management) features the premium service gives me.

Please solve the debate. Should the blog be on the website or should it be separate?

Wow, I don’t think we’ll solve debate. Whether a blog should be in a website or not can be like talking religion or politics for some folks.

A blog should live on a separate site from a law firm website. This enables the blog and the blogging lawyers to achieve a level of authority that cannot be achieved through marketing, which is what you have with a blog in a website.

Blogs separate from websites will be cited and shared more. Such a blog also opens up the door to guest posts from and interviews with prospective clients, strategic business partners and influencers who may shy from opportunities to participate in your website marketing.

Think of multiple blogs as well. Some individual lawyers have multiple blogs they publish to. Many law firms have multiple blogs. Each of the blogs is engaging a different audience. People follow a blog, not the law firm.

You cannot cover multiple topics on a blog anymore than a magazine could report on both fly fishing and modern brides.

The goal of your blog is not to draw traffic to your website, the goal is to grow relationships, and a word of mouth reputation as a “go to” lawyer or “go to” group in a niche. Focus on developing business and a career, not traffic to a website, which I hear as the argument for a blog in a website.

I see many blogs in websites that are uninspiring and not updated. I wonder if such blogs have become a chore for lawyers because the blogs are not getting cited, shared, and getting work. It’s hard to do things when the results are not there – and blogging is the same.

If you only have 30 min /day to devote to the all of this – what should I be doing?

That’s three to four hours a week. Not bad.

Many good law bloggers, such as Dan Harris with China Law Blog, write their blog posts in under thirty minutes. He posts most every day, you could certainly post a couple times a week taking that much time or more.

A blog does take time, but done well you distinguish yourself from other lawyers. A blog is like a book – it shows you work at things in your niche, that you stay up to speed and that you are well thought of in your field.

A blog is also your home base where your passion, expertise, and care is always on display, where each separate post can be found on a Google search, and where your content is always owned and controlled by you. That’s not the case with your content on social networks, whether LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

I would then use a news aggregator, ie, Feedly or Flipboard, to follow relevant sources and subjects. Not only can you easily share items from your news aggregator, but you’ll be identifying items to blog about.

Do you think blogging about something your passionate about could turn people off and make them decide not to retain you if they disagree with your beliefs?

When I refer to passion, I am talking about matters relating to the law and the area of law you want to be known for. If you’re not passionate about an area of the law, what could you get passionate about?

It shows when you blog about an area of the law for which you have a passion. It shows when you don’t. You’ll enjoy the learning. You’ll enjoy meeting people with a similar passion. You’ll enjoy the love you get with your posts being shared and cited.

Passion can include the insight and commentary which lies between your hears. Share some of that rather than reactionary summaries of the law.

Of course, just as in dinner conversations with professionals, you cannot say everything you think. It just doesn’t work. How would those at table feel? How would your partners feel when word gets back to them?

I do not discuss politics and religion on my blog nor on social networks. It tends to bring out the worse in some people. I do know lawyers with a national and international presence who do. Their philosophy is that they cannot represent everyone so if half the people do not like them and their views, so be it.

In the big scheme of things, the vast majority of lawyers show too little passion in their blogging. They accomplish far less than they could and they do not have as much fun from blogging.

At the same time, there are some great lawyers blogging from large and small firms who do blog with passion. Dan Harris of China Law Blog. Stewart Baker of Steptoe Cyberlog, Charles Sartain of Energy and the Law, Karen Koehler of The Velvet Hammer.

I just attended a CLE class on controlling ethics risks in social media, and it seems to be a thorny issue. Do you have any ‘golden rules’ to help avoid any common ethics trip-ups?

Far less thorny than some lawyers would leave you to believe. I wonder where lawyers, bar associations, and CLE organizations come up with some of the issues they raise. The thorns are not there in practice. For the most part, the lawyers and people teaching about the ethical issues of social media are not even active bloggers or social media users.

First rule is to be smart. Just because it’s the Internet, don’t throw your common sense out the window. You’ve gone to college for four years, law school for three years, and probably raised by some good parents. Use what you have learned.

Second rule is the same ethics’ rules that apply to other activity apply when it comes to being online. Was the same for telephones, fax machines, email, text, whatever.

Third rule is you are always a lawyer. You don’t get to be a drunken idiot at a baseball game, have word get around, and then say “not to worry, that was me personally, not as a lawyer.” You wear your professional hat wherever you. You may be more relaxed in some settings, including Facebook and coaching little league, but you are still a lawyer.

Fourth rule. Don’t pass any rules that would chill lawyers from using social media, social networks, and blogs. They are just so powerful in achieving good things that we do not want anyone to be afraid to use them. If anything just include social media within the rules you already have.

I am sure there is more to be discussed on ethics, but in 18 years I have been using the Internet for networking, I have seen few lawyers get in trouble. The ones who did get in trouble did some incredibly stupid things.

Photo Credit: wayneandwax