Social Networking for Lawyers: What Works? What Doesn't?

What good is social networking if you can’t use it to get a recommendation from your contacts?

A friend recently asked me for a recommendation for an immigration lawyer in New York City. Although I’m a lawyer, I don’t personally know any immigration lawyers; but I thought that some of my social network friends might be able to point me in the right direction.

Twitter

My first thought was Twitter. About 125 people “follow” me (as LawyerKM) on Twitter [you can too!]. There are about 80 people who “follow” me on Twitter under my personal Twitter account [you can too! – email me at lawyerkm at gmail.com for details]. There is some duplication among followers, so, there’s not really over 200 prospective followers. My tweet was: “need an immigration lawyer in New York City – please @lawyerkm … with recommendations.

Then I thought about Facebook. I’ve got 90 contacts on Facebook. I personally know many (but not all) of my Facebook contacts. As a little background, I started using Facebook as a strictly professional networking platform; my profile was “all business.” As I became more comfortable with it, I loosened up and started adding more non-work related information, and personal friends; not just KM stuff. (On a KM-related note, I also started a Facebook group called Knowledge Management for Legal Professionals, which you may join.) I reached out to my Facebook contacts by way of a status update, which said “looking for an immigration lawyer recommendation. Anyone?”

What I thought would happen and what really happened were two very different things. Both Twitter and Facebook are very popular these days, and everyone is talking about them. My Twitter contacts are very active, and many of them are lawyers or in the legal industry. My Facebook contacts are pretty active, as well, but Twitter seems to have Facebook beat on the activity scale (this is a purely subjective observation).

Based on my Twitter contact types (law-related), I expected to instantly get dozens of recommendations from my Twitter contacts. I didn’t expect much from Facebook, however, because my contacts there are more diverse.

Surprise! In reality, I received no Twitter responses and a relative flood (no fewer than five) of Facebook responses – some within minutes, others within a few hours. Even more surprising was the quality of the responses. They were from real-life contacts (i.e. people I know) who actually used the lawyers that they recommended.

I passed the referrals along and my friend was pleased.

So, why did I get such good results on Facebook and bad results on Twitter? This, of course, is speculation, but these factors may have something to do with it.

Twitter's posting interface

The platforms – Twitter vs. Facebook Twitter is simple, but not so feature-rich. It basically allows you to post short (140 characters) messages for the world (or your followers) to see. Direct messaging to other Twitter members is another option. You can include links to web pages, but that’s about it. Your posts (or tweets) are listed in reverse chronological order. Since Twitter can only display so many tweets, the messages of the people you follow will be displaced by newer messages. So, with the really high rate of tweets out there (at least among the Tweeters I follow), you’re bound to miss a lot of posts – unless you keep a consistent eye on your Twitter account (or if you have those tweets fed to you via RSS for later consumption in an RSS reader). If your followers haven’t checked their Twitter accounts recently, they probably will have missed your latest posts.

Facebook tab menu

Facebook is a much more complex platform. There is more to it. People can share a lot more information about themselves. Work, school, hometown, religious, political, photos, etc. And this is key: there are non-linear, non-chronological connections on Facebook. Click on your home page and see your “news feed” – i.e., information about your Facebook friends. Check out their status updates, and their photos, too. It sucks you in. You’ll find yourself clicking around to see what’s going on with your friends. What groups have they joined? [My favorite, other than my own, is the group “I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Back Of The Head,” which has close to one million members.] You can also send Twitter-like updates to your Facebook friends, too (that’s how I got the word out). Bottom line: there’s a lot more information about your friends and a lot more ways to get to it. The interactions on Facebook, I think, are more meaningful. That level of connectedness, which is lacking on Twitter, makes all the difference. It makes people want to interact.

What about LinkedIn?

Ironically, when I set out to find a lawyer recommendation, I didn’t even think of LinkedIn – the business networking website. It wasn’t until the next day that I thought of it. But then I thought: how would I even go about using LinkedIn to get a recommendation? I didn’t want to spend a lot of time searching by keywords only to bring up second and third degree contacts, which require me to request introductions from my first degree contacts. Too much work. I finally decided to update my LinkedIn status with “looking for an immigration lawyer recommendation…” The result: nothing. There just isn’t a good way (at least as far as I know) to reach all of your LinkedIn contacts like you can do on Facebook.

Your thoughts / experiences?

So, have you had similar experiences? Have you successfully used social networking sites to make business connections? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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7 thoughts on “Social Networking for Lawyers: What Works? What Doesn't?

  • September 16, 2008 at 8:56 am
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    The problem with Twitter is that is so synchronous. As you point out, that twitter stream pushes things along very quickly. The twitter search has helped fill the void. If you are interested in knowledge management you can search on that: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=knowledge+management

    Twitter is about the flow. Facebook is a portal collecting information about the person.

  • September 16, 2008 at 9:52 am
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    This is a great post. What I find most interesting when I use Twitter to get information like a referral is I don’t Tweet it to the general public. I actually DM (Direct Message) specific followers who I hope will have information I need and then they connect with me privately. And I find this type of connection faster than Facebook connections. I see Twitter as speed-dial information. When it comes to referrals, too, lawyers may not want to publicly recommend one over the other but would do so in a private tweet.

    Your observations about Facebook are very astute. Tweeting is backslapping and chatting on the street. Facebook is a coffee shop where everyone goes to hang and it has a more intimate setting.

  • September 16, 2008 at 6:45 pm
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    @Susan – Thanks. I do understand the concern about lawyers not wanting to publicly recommend someone, but the beauty of Facebook (and Twitter for that matter, as you’ve noted) is that you can make a request publicly and people can answer privately – via FB email.

    And I love your analogy “Tweeting is backslapping and chatting on the street. Facebook is a coffee shop where everyone goes to hang and it has a more intimate setting.”

  • September 17, 2008 at 8:30 pm
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    You can try the Ask a Question tab and you’ll probably get some responses fairly quickly. I did a quick search through the Answers database and found that another person had asked for Immigration lawyers in Canada, so the question seems not to violate any LinkedIn rules…

  • December 28, 2008 at 1:34 pm
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    I agree that the move toward online “feedback loops” is gaining momentum, including sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I would add that the impact of these online communications mechanisms will (and probably has) impact traditional media. I wrote commentary on my blog about this phenomena at http://www.lawtechtv.com/home/2008/11/twitter-as-a-ne.html.

    Of course there are pros and cons for each, especially from a legal perspective, but the fact remains that online communications are becoming mainstream. Consider the recent efforts of the Obama Campaign as an example of the use of “cloud computing” and real-time communications both within the campaign organizers and externally to those potential voters in “cyberspace.”

    The movement is prolific – we began in the Agricultural Age, moved to the Industrial Era, “jumped the curve” to the Information Era, and now we are at the tipping-point to embark on the “Commmunications Age.” There is also an interesting article on the site (above) that references productivity improvements for law firm practice management using search & KM.

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