Social Media and the Law Society guidelines
The Law Society has recognised the importance of social media as a tool to engage with a new audience but is also aware of the risks of this approach. In an attempt to help practitioners they have offered some guidelines that are not obligatory but a standard of good practice. This leaves the practitioner caught between following these guidelines and breaching the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2011.
It is a difficult dilemma for professionals trying to run their firms to the highest standards but also needing to use modern marketing methods rather than be left behind. Some firms have already replaced email with social media. Some think that email will in time become obsolete.
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One of the key problems with the use of social media is the blurring of the boundaries between personal and professional use. This is compounded by a failure to understand how the wrong privacy settings can leave those drunken photos you would rather not let your partners or regulator see in a public forum.
What is Social Media?
Social Media can include the following:-
- Forums and discussion boards- such as the Trust Discussion Forum
- Blogging-Corporate and personal blogs for example on your company’s website
- Micro blogging-Twitter
- Video and photo sharing-You Tube, Pinterest, Flickr
- Online wikis-Wikipedia
- Social Networking-Facebook, LinkedIn and Legal On Ramp
The Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct key principles that you must have in mind in connection with the use of social media are the following:
- You must act with integrity
- You must not allow your independence to be compromised
- You must act in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.
In addition you should consider the need to ensure that you do not breach confidentiality.
It is always important that firms keep up and modernise to reach the audience they need and these social media sources do offer an opportunity to raise profile and to demonstrate your expertise.
However where they are designed to be interactive and quick to react to news and events as they unfold there is a risk that you or your colleagues will post in haste and regret at your leisure!
The biggest difficulty with these outlets is going to be control. All firms must have policies for using social media which are monitored and enforced. If in trying to control your firm’s use of social media, you place this in the hands of an experienced lawyer, who does not understand the nature of social media then you may appear slow and unreactive to news and events. However a younger member of the team may lack the insight to consider the different ways a quick tweet can be interpreted. A simple “Let’s meet in the pub at X” may give away the identity of the client that you are working for.
If you add a client as a contact on LinkedIn are you breaching their confidentiality? You want to have lots of contacts and recommendations but how? Is seeking consent or having them agree to be added as a contact the best way to do this to ensure they are comfortable with the comments you have made?
Then what about Facebook? Your staff may be told to keep their settings ‘private’ but to what extent can you control what they do in their personal time? This is going to become an increasingly difficult dilemma. In addition what control do you have over the privacy settings of their friends on these social networking sites? Your staff may have done everything you ask but if their friends have a relaxed attitude to privacy then you can hardly discipline your staff for activities outside their control. The classic example is you put up the funny photo of you at the Christmas party on your private page and your assistant copies it onto a page they share with their friends. So far, reasonably harmless, but then one of their friends thinks it is really funny and posts it on their public page with the caption “Boss Hard at work”.
Regrets, I have a few……
Social media is hard to control due to its instant nature. In the computing industry they have the concept of the ‘Oh No! Second’ defined as the time it takes between hitting send or enter and the realisation of the impact of what you have just done. With social media once you have posted something it is there for good and unfortunately this could lead to a whole load of ‘Oh No! Lifetimes’ with potentially serious impacts on your business. On the other hand Social Media is too pervasive to ignore.
Certainly in terms of your marketing it is very important to realise that most under 20s live their lives totally through social media and consider other forms of communication really old fashioned.
Managing this balance is going to mean the difficult task of drawing a line between personal and business. One good place to start might be by reminding your staff that social media is a conversation the whole world can over-hear forever.
If they wouldn’t shout something in a crowded street they shouldn’t post it on Facebook.
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