Today, we here at Abnormal Use continue our series, “Abnormal Interviews,” in which we conduct brief interviews with law professors, practitioners and other commentators in the field. For this latest installment, we turn to attorney and social media guru Megan Erickson of Dickinson, Mackaman Tyler & Hagen, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa. Erickson runs the popular Social Networking Law Blog and practices in the areas of commercial litigation, appellate practice and business law. The interview is as follows:
1. As the general public increasingly uses the Internet and social media to communicate, how do you predict that state bars will react to the popularity of this new technology among attorneys?
I’m not sure anyone can predict how state bars will respond, but I do think one of the biggest challenges will be in the area of professional regulation/ethics. In particular, I think we’ve already seen problems arise when the people in charge of regulating others’ online activity are people who are themselves relatively unfamiliar with the technology they want to regulate. Although people are increasingly accepting of Facebook and online networking, there are still plenty of people out there whose attitudes range from “I’m reluctant to use Facebook” to “Facebook is Satan.” As we get more and more interactive online tools and Web 2.0 becomes more pervasive, the division between the tech savvy and the tech not-so-savvy becomes more pronounced. Folks who use these tools find themselves increasingly engaged online and dependent on the technology; folks who inherently distrust the online world feel more compelled to restrict it. Of course, an unrealistically optimistic view of social media is unhealthy, and there should be some rules in place. I just think state bars should make a more concerted effort to ensure those rules aren’t being articulated by someone who (regardless of how well-intended) is ill-informed on the very technology being regulated.
2. How can, and how should, lawyers manage their time between work, more traditional marketing and business development, and the usage of social media?
It depends. (How’s that for a “lawyer” answer?!) I think every attorney approaches client development and marketing initiatives differently, and attorneys also have different demands and priorities at work and at home. To the extent you find online tools a convenient, effective, and heck – maybe even fun way to market, then by all means, use them! Some firms may find it beneficial to experiment a bit. For example, does it make sense to change a quarterly practice group newsletter mailing to a quarterly e-newsletter? The answer will depend on the audience preferences, the comfort level of the attorneys in making the change, and the practical realities of whether they have an effective way to make that transition. Does it make sense for a practice group to give up a newsletter altogether and instead focus efforts on a blog? Again, the answer should come only after thoughtful consideration. Some groups may welcome such a change: it may be easier to start writing a piece when you know you can keep it shorter; it may be more useful to an audience to receive a more concise post than lengthy article; it may be more convenient for some attorneys to try this without imposing a particular schedule or deadline – which may elicit more contributions or make it more convenient for the authors. Of course, it may be a nightmare for others: if the group doesn’t have anyone familiar with blog platforms, learning the technology may be unduly burdensome; some groups may not be able to make a blog work without a particular schedule or deadlines; some may spend an inordinate amount of time concerned with search engine optimization, and let SEO overshadow the substance. If you’re running into too many challenges or you feel like a new technology just isn’t your cup of tea, don’t force it! Some of us are more comfortable with speaking engagements. Some of us prefer lunches with clients. Some want to network at the golf course, while others dedicate themselves to community involvement. Just as we all have different talents and preferences for traditional forms of client development and networking, we’ll all have different approaches to how we implement or supplement our marketing with social media and other relatively new online tools.
3. What advice would you give to lawyers who are consider using blogs and Twitter to market their firms and practices?
Drawing from my prior answer, you may want to experiment, but don’t force something that isn’t working for you. Twitter may seem like the cool, new “thing” you’re supposed to be doing – but only participate if it makes sense for you. If you choose to participate, learn the rules of the road. You wouldn’t take prospective clients to the golf course without understanding the basics: teeing up, how to use a ball marker, the difference between a wood and a putter, what to do when your ball goes in the water . . . (I’m very familiar with that last situation, myself.) Likewise, don’t use Twitter or other online tools without learning basic etiquette and lingo. You’ll do yourself more harm than good if you skip this step.
4. Do you believe that blogs and Twitter are successful independent means of generating business, or are they now simply a necessary part of larger contemporary marketing efforts?
As my earlier answers suggest, I think the role of social media in a lawyer’s client development efforts has to be an individualized choice. My personal opinion is that very few lawyers would be able to – or would want to – use only blogs and Twitter to generate business . . . if for no other reason than effectively using blogs and Twitter itself generates other marketing opportunities. If your blog is popular, you’ll be asked to speak. If you have interesting posts, you’ll be called for interviews. And so on. To the extent lawyers want to use blogs and Twitter, I think most will want to use them to supplement other marketing efforts – not replace them.
BIOGRAPHY: Megan Erickson is an attorney at the Dickinson, Mackaman, Tyler & Hagen law firm in Des Moines, Iowa where she practices primarily in employment law and also maintains a general practice including but not limited to commercial litigation, appellate practice and business law. Megan is a frequent author and speaker on legal issues related to technology and social media. She maintains the Social Networking Law Blog, and has been interviewed and quoted on legal implications related to social media in various publications and websites across the country.