The term Social Networking is now part of our everyday vocabulary, and not just for Generation Y. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter are some of the fastest growing websites in the world, whether they are used to reacquaint with old school friends and colleagues, to share personal information, pictures and videos or to be a "nosey neighbour" on what everyone else is doing, where they are doing it and why. Never has the concept of "web" in World Wide Web ever seemed so pertinent.
But aside from using this as a convenient way to keep track of friends, social networking sites (if used in the right way) can have significant value in helping you expand your business network – one of the most important career development indicators in today's market. In fact, the concept of entering a "blind" meeting - one where you haven't previously had contact with the participants, but have been introduced through online business networking - is fast becoming a particularly efficient way to generate business. And best of all, it's free. For those lawyers that sometimes lack the confidence and experience to "work the room" at networking events, the use of social networking is a great way to make inroads into a potential client base.
Whilst there are some minor issues to be aware of (see article "Employers using social networking to vet candidates") it would be unwise to not to embrace the huge potential of this medium. After all, millions of users worldwide are using social networking – so why shouldn't you?
Which sites to use?
Ultimately, the decision on which social networking sites you might want to use is a personal choice. It may depend on your peer group, your area of practice or simply which you find yourself most at home with. Whatever the case, the rules are generally the same: project a professional profile at all times. This is particularly important in the legal profession which, as one of the more "traditional" sectors, often views the virtual world with some scepticism.
LinkedIn : This is generally perceived as the most "grown up" of the popular social networking sites. It is designed to be a purely business network and, whilst connecting to friends is ok, it is not intended to be used for general chit chat. The key is to develop your connections, seek and give recommendations and tap your network for further connections. It is a perfect opportunity to showcase your expertise by creating links to articles or other professional associations you are involved with. By joining relevant legal groups (either discipline or sector specific) you can reach a wider audience with which to share your interests.
Facebook : Undoubtedly one of the biggest online community phenomena of the new millennium, Facebook now has over 500 million active users (facebook stats). It is fair to say that most of us will use this for personal (rather than commercial) connections, but don't dismiss it too readily as a way to generate business contacts. By joining relevant groups you can catch up with both old friends and new contacts and increase your visibility to potential opportunities. A word of warning, if you intend to exploit this method of business generation, it is essential that you keep your profile professional. Remove any inappropriate photos, comments, tags etc and if you don't want random people seeing your profile, keep your privacy settings high.
Twitter : The newest and, at least at the moment, possibly the least tested in a professional capacity, it is however used by millions worldwide, both for personal and business connections; everyone seems to be tweeting these days. Essentially it's a micro blogging site and you can tweet about anything you want, but in order to use it most effectively to build a network of contacts, you need to explore the immense resources available to communicate with likeminded professionals. By following key accounts that are relevant to your profession, such as The Law Society, you can investigate a vast wealth of information you may not have previously encountered. You can then tweet yourself, but remember to keep it relevant and interesting. If you have legal articles or deals published elsewhere on the internet, this is the perfect forum to widen the potential readership.
Aside from the most commercially known sites above, there are other ways of generating an online network. Briefly these include:
- Online resource communities – such as directories of professionals (either legal or non-legal), bulletin boards, discussion lists and references to articles;
- Professional Associations – such as the Employment Law Association, the Environmental Law Association or the Associate of Women Solicitors. These will expose you to newsletters, events listings and resource pages and make you visible amongst like-minded lawyers;
- School & University Alumni sites – many of your academic peers who studied law with you will now be competitors or potential clients.
And if you feel there's nothing out there that really fits your legal practice area or interests, then consider starting your own online community – but remember it will take time and continued effort to make it successful.
It goes without saying, for those lawyers that may sometimes lack the confidence of face to face networking, this is an excellent way to further expand your potential future client base. But to exploit it to the maximum, you need to keep it fresh and relevant. Most social networking sites are now available through the ubiquitous internet enabled phone which allows you to keep your profile/status up to date at all times.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.