Anyone with a law background knows there are potential pitfalls and challenges to using a global communications platform such as social media. What and how you publish online can be fraught with legal implications that are glaring to someone trained in law. Leveraging social media while keeping an eye toward minimizing risk is critical – not just legal professionals but for any business owner looking to market online.
Start with a clear understanding of why you want to use social media, who you want to reach and what you would like your audience to do. Lawyers can use social media tools to build their professional profiles; strengthen their business networks; conduct work-related research; and aggregate and share relevant news through blogs and social communities.
An important thing to keep top of mind is to avoid doing or saying anything that can be misconstrued as forming a client/attorney relationship with your followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks. In any conversation you have in digital form or any content you publish online, make it clear – even by stating it outright – that you are merely sharing information and not dispensing legal advice.
Standard disclaimer language for everything from email to blogs to social networks exists online. If you work within a law firm, check with your human resources department, your supervisor or your firm’s own legal team to verify what conventions to use to limit your liability when posting online. Often firms require that employees use additional language that separates their views from the firm’s as a whole.
Having clear policies and procedures in place for managing your social media activities is paramount. Common electronic documents in addition to disclaimers and disclosures include privacy policies and community guidelines or “Terms of Service.” These are typically published on permanent pages on blogs and linked to from your social networks in prominent ways.
Once you have your disclaimers, disclosures, policies and guidelines set, you can post them in a variety of online locations:
- On a website as a separate page linked to from navigation at the top or bottom of your own site.
- On a blog page similar and linked to from the left or right margin of the blog or in the footer.
- As a blog post pinned to the top of a blog.
- As a link from your bio on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.
- As a landing page on your website that you link to from social networks.
Include these documents as both HTML files for immediate reading and PDF files that can be downloaded, printed and reviewed.
On Facebook, for instance, you can create a custom app that appears as a button on your Facebook Page. This allows you to insert HTML code and links to the PDF documents straight from your Facebook Page. House the PDF documents on your website or blog.
Keeping it Legal
It’s a good idea to insert a disclaimer on your social media sites similar to the one some attorneys on Twitter have used: "Tweets here do not constitute legal advice."
Another way to avoid pitfalls when using social media is to be diligent about keeping your personal profiles separate from your business accounts. If you’re using Facebook on your off hours, for example, set up a page for your professional marketing to avoid blurring lines between personal life and work.
When communicating on social media, keep your messages clear and consistent. You can attract new clients while interacting on your pages; however, most leads will still come from warm referrals from your real life networks. That said, social networks can be very effective for building credibility and showcasing expertise, as well as to strengthen relationships with your contacts.
Disclaimer: This article was written by a social media marketing consultant. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.