Although I have a blog and accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Plaxo, I am not a big “rah rah” social media cheerleader for the sake of being one. There is much about social media that is overhyped, which is probably why I liked G.M. Filisko’s article in the January edition of the ABA Journal, “Social Media or Snake Oil: Does Social Media Measure Up to the Hype?” I saw many parallels in it in terms of how I have used social media and thought it offered some honest advice.

After the jump, I will point out a few things that have helped me along the way with social media — and reveal its biggest “not-so-secret” secret….

1. Social Media’s Big Secret

The big secret with social media is that it’s not easy. In fact, it can be hard work. One needs to build an online audience, find or write entertaining content, link to others, and most of all keep at it. There is no magic formula. You can’t just sign on to Twitter or start a Facebook page and expect to turn into Adrian Dayton, although I’m sure many of us would if we could.

2. Keep an open mind.

Most people venture into social media wondering how they can make money with it. If that’s why you want to start your own blog or website, chances are it’s not going to happen right away. That does not mean down the road you won’t end up writing for a blog or website that does make money (say, for example, this one), but that should not be your primary motivation. Get into social media because you have something you want to talk about or publicize; that way you will stay motivated and interested.

Social media is a crowded market. In his ABA Journal article, Filisko cites lawyer and PR guru Babak Zafarnia, who states: “Unless you are celebrity, I wouldn’t get too confident about having 300 Facebook friends.” That said, you can certainly use social media to enhance your career. To be honest, I started my e-discovery blog mainly so I could tell people I had a blog. I was working as a legal recruiter for a small outfit in 2008, and I thought having a blog might help distinguish my company from the competition. I figured I would give it two weeks or so and see how things went.

Before I knew it, lawyers from across the country began to contact me for my opinion on e-discovery “trends.” This encouraged me to keep at it. In addition, I was learning a lot more about e-discovery because I was constantly researching the topic. As a result, I was able to speak with more authority on the matter, with my clients and potential clients.

3. Be yourself and get to know people online.

Although these seem like two separate points, they are closely related. Most people can spot a fake pretty quickly. If you put on airs, people will see you for what you are.

Zafarnia points out in the ABA article that social media is too often a bunch of “one-way” conversations. It’s so important to start a dialogue. If you are simply sending messages out like an automaton without encouraging feedback, very few people will pay attention to you after a while.

It’s not surprising that the article mentions Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog. O’Keefe is a prime example of someone who takes the right approach. At the end of 2008, when I first signed up for Twitter, one of my colleagues told me to follow O’Keefe. I had not heard of him at the time, but his online reputation had already spread to people I was associated with. Through Twitter and his website “Real Lawyers Have Blogs,” O’Keefe constantly passes along information worthy of discussion. In addition, he is not afraid to act *gasp* like a human. For example, he doesn’t shy away from talking about his beloved Cubs or Green Bay Packers, or sending a picture of a beautiful morning in Seattle where he lives.

4. Get to Know Your Online Contacts in Person.

As O’Keefe emphasizes in Filisko’s article on social media, “It’s just building relationships.”

In early 2009, I knew my e-discovery blog was gaining in popularity among the legal technology world, based on page stats, contacts, and other indicators. Luckily, my job schedule was flexible, so I ventured off to LegalTech in New York in 2009. The meeting for me was a great success. Not only did it generate plenty of content for my blog, but also I met many of the people whom I follow online.

Since then, I have covered several events besides LegalTech, including the ABA Techshow, The ILTA Annual Meeting, EMC Writers’ Summit, and The Masters Conference. Being aggressive about getting out into the field has only helped me establish myself in the e-discovery arena.

5. Measuring Results

So what’s the payoff? That’s really determined by how far you want to go. At a minimum, you’ll have the chance to meet and network with others in your field. From there, you can use social media to further market yourself as an expert or (as the buzzword of the day goes) a “thought leader” in your industry. The article notes that trying to hunt down every stat on who follows you or has looked at your website can be a “fool’s errand.” On that note, China Law Blog author Daniel Harris had perhaps the best quote in Filisko’s piece:

Harris says he’s frequently asked the return on investment from his blog. “I have no clue,” he says. “But I’m constantly getting a ton of business, being asked to write for the Wall Street Journal, and have an unlimited number of speaking engagements. I don’t know how I get all this stuff.”

I have also posted on my blog and ATL about how numerous lawyers have have used social media to enhance their careers:

Two final takeaways

It probably goes without saying, but a sense of humor and thick skin are absolute musts when you start gaining prominence through social media. You would be shocked (shocked, I tell you!) what people will say when they are able to comment anonymously on the internet.

Social Media or Snake Oil: Does Social Media Measure Up to the Hype? [ABA Journal]


Gabe Acevedo is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the publisher of the e-discovery blog GabesGuide.com. His articles on legal technology and discovery issues appear weekly on Above The Law. He can be reached at [email protected].


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