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Social networking is not just social anymore and not just for techies and young people. It is about professional networking, visibility, marketing and staying current with the times.

Of course, some networks are more important for professionals than others, and it can be difficult to know which ones are worth the time investment and which may be ignored. Read on to learn which of the most popular social networks are right for your firm.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is all about professional networking. It has over 350 million users, including over one million attorneys. For a company of any size to be completely absent from LinkedIn would be akin to foregoing a website — unwise and unprofessional.

If you are not already on LinkedIn, getting started is simple. Create profiles both for your firm and yourself. Feel free to start with just the essentials — a logo or photograph, contact information and website address. This is far better than having nothing at all.

Soon, though, you should focus on making your LinkedIn profile a reflection and extension of your website. Tell about your firm’s strengths, story and mission. List job openings. Link to your blog posts or to news articles that interest you. List your awards, certifications and the organizations to which you belong. Once your presence on the site is fleshed out and compelling, you will want to take advantage of LinkedIn’s unique professional networking features that can directly increase your business.

Relationships, called “connections” on LinkedIn, are the heart of any social network. Look up attorneys or other professionals with whom you have good relationships in real life and add them.

Some of your connections will list skills on their profiles. You have the option of “endorsing” them for one or more skills, and they may return the favor. Some people place more importance on endorsements than others due to their impersonal nature. Recommendations are a more personal alternative to endorsements. A recommendation includes personalized text explaining why you hold the person in professional esteem. Consider endorsing or recommending a few connections. These can lead to valuable referral relationships or strengthen existing ones.

Introductions are another useful LinkedIn tool. Suppose you have a good relationship with a non-competing local attorney. On the attorney’s profile, you notice a client who you know has legal issues that match your skill set. This client’s LinkedIn profile will present a badge saying “2nd” — he is a second-degree connection. You could reach out directly to him, but that might be seen as inappropriate to both him and your friend. Instead, use LinkedIn to request an introduction through your mutual connection.

LinkedIn Groups are places where people can post articles, links and discussion threads on a variety of topics. They bring together people from a particular industry or people who are simply interested in a particular topic. Look for groups for your local bar association, for attorneys in your practice area or groups in which you could expect to find prospective clients. Look at fellow attorneys’ profiles to see which groups they have joined.

Facebook

Facebook is by many measures the largest social network in the world. It boasts well over a billion users, including individuals, businesses and organizations of all kinds. Facebook use is so widespread that, just like with LinkedIn, a business’s complete absence from it might be regarded as odd or unprofessional. A basic presence with up-to-date logos, contact information, and website address is a necessity for your law firm.

Your firm’s Facebook page will have a “Like” button. Users who click this button have a chance to see anything you post to the site. This is perhaps your most valuable asset for online outreach. Whether you make a concerted effort to persuade people to like your page is up to you. But you should absolutely post links to your blog entries and press releases, because those who do like your page are also likely to click those links.

Connect with and follow your clients and colleagues if you wish, particularly if they initiate the connection. But as a business owner, do not be overly concerned with the “networking” part of this still largely social network.

Google+

Google+, or “Google Plus,” is a complex and sometimes controversial social network for several reasons. By some measures, it has more users than even Facebook, but the number of active users is much smaller. Some users swear Google+ fosters richer discussion and better content discovery than other networks, and that is likely true in some fields. Others call Google+ a “ghost town.”

To further complicate matters, the sites and tools that business owners use to manage their profiles on Google’s various services have gone by several different names. It is currently called “Google My Business,” and it presents a unified way to manage your presence on Google Search, Google Maps and Google+.

Maintaining complete and up-to-date contact information on all Google services is imperative — more so than with any other social network. Search for “Google My Business” and make sure all of the search giant’s information about your business is accurate.

Once you have completed that task, your firm will have a Google+ page if it did not already. From this point, you may regard the site as a sort of “Facebook Junior.” Posting links to new content at your site is productive, but not essential, and building a network of connections does no harm, but is far less important than on LinkedIn.

Twitter

Twitter is a network on which posts, called “tweets,” are very brief; they are limited to 140 characters. As with Facebook, tweeting links to blog posts and press releases is a good idea, and can be automated with third-party tools. The impact of your Twitter posts is likely to be small, so the time investment should be small as well.

For most attorneys, Twitter has more value as a tool to gather information than to disseminate it. One notable subset of Twitter users is reporters. If your practice area involves breaking news such as injuries, accidents or disasters, follow the best reporters and broadcasters in your area. You can also stay abreast of developments in your field by following the writers, power-brokers and lawmakers shaping your industry.

Many of your clients probably have some presence on Twitter. Following them is an easy way to understand them better and keep up with their lives. If your clients have high public profiles, they probably have many tweets directed at them from the public. These are called “mentions,” and you can find them with a search of your client’s Twitter handle.

Instagram

Instagram is a fast-growing network that is very popular among young people. It is focused on pictures and short videos. Every post must include one or the other, and may include a caption. You might consider an Instagram account if you or an employee has a penchant for photography. Or, if your practice involves public relations or representing artists and entertainers, your colleagues and client pool might already be present on Instagram in large numbers. In that case, a presence on the network is a great way to stay connected, even if your own posts are limited.

Any law firm can have some fun and get some exposure on Instagram by posting pictures of its offices, logos and attorneys, along with brief biographies. But unless others in your professional network use the service in such large numbers as to make your absence conspicuous, you can safely regard Instagram as completely optional.

About Author

Ryan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and a legal content strategist for U.S. based law firms.

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