How Social Media Can Hurt Your Brand and Conflict With Bar Advertising Rules

BY Roxanne Minott



In just half a year, the number of businesses using Facebook Pages rose from 40 million in April 2015 to 50 million in December 2015. Today, that number continues to climb. More than 72 percent of internet users regularly access social networking sites, and in the United States, people spend an average of 16 minutes per hour using social media. By 2017, the global social network audience is expected to reach 2.55 billion.

Such a widespread attraction of social media for individuals as well as firms has the potential to both enhance and disrupt the ways people interact and firms grow. While social media can provide spaces for lawyers to participate in conversations with peers and industry leaders, as well as generate leads through engaging with prospects and clients, it can also present significant risks if the platforms are not used carefully.

The biggest issue that arises from the increased popularity of social media usage for law firms is that traditional risk management policies and procedures were not made with social media in mind, and do not necessarily address issues that arise with the ever-expanding advances of social media sites.

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For example, Facebook recently implemented a new feature for Pages in which businesses can more easily communicate with customers and clients using an instant messaging feature. The page now displays how quickly the business replies to messages: either within minutes, hours or days. While some firms may easily reap the benefits of this type of interaction and openness of information, some may use the feature in a way that will actually be detrimental to their brand. The feature makes the firm accountable for online customer service, and if it is not prepared to fully engage with the feature, then users may question the firm’s commitment to its clients.

With so many rapid updates and advances in social network features, how can firms’ risk management procedures keep up, and how can risks be mitigated?

Social media risks
Traditional risk management policies were not built to address the minute-to-minute use of social media by customers and employees, resulting in an increased difficulty for businesses to identify and prevent brand, strategy, legal and market risks. Other risks connected with social media usage are negative exposure that can cause a decline in trust and a loss of revenue, as well as reputational risk. In the event such risks are not eliminated or diminished, they can cause severe ramifications, such as fraud, loss of intellectual property, loss of privacy and lack of compliance with laws and regulations.

Use of social media can be a profitable source of marketing and an effective client outreach strategy for attorneys. But it can also be dangerous when an online comment goes against the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

Read the ABA's Rules of Professional Conduct.

Both inexperienced and veteran lawyers can find themselves in unfavorable circumstances for inappropriate postings on social media. Recently, the ABA Journal reported that a Minnesota Senior Judge was publicly reprimanded for posting comments on Facebook about trials he was overseeing. The Chicago Tribune also reported a story involving an experienced attorney who posted pictures of exhibits in a federal court case on his Twitter account, accompanied by his analysis of the evidence. Although he removed them from his Twitter, the attorney still faces possible sanctions.

Although these cases may seem extreme, social media has opened the door to many other possible situations that can hurt a lawyer or their firm. In order to reap the benefits associated with social media usage, companies must find ways to recognize, monitor and manage its risks before any harm is committed.

Solutions: Social media risk management
Social media governance involves the creation of novel ways of handling the risks associated with social media. A management consulting services company called Accenture emphasizes the need for using responses, policies, procedures and technologies to address traditional risk management. Social media governance can include well-defined roles and accountabilities in a company and within areas that have been exposed to such risk. It can also refer to cooperation among business units, policies that concern the use of social media, risk tolerance levels, escalation pathways and a model for handling crises as they arise.


Infographic from PwC

Processes involve the modification of operations in order to proactively evaluate and monitor social media risk. They consist of identifying social media risk for reputation, prevention of fraud, business interruption and intellectual property. Social media governance also pertains to the reduction or shifting of risk in a way that is practical and efficient. In order to perpetually monitor risks, communication with those in senior management must occur often enough to effectively handle social media risk.

Part of the process of identifying risks is recognizing business opportunities. For instance, in light of the company’s strengths and weaknesses in using social media, the law firm should consider the potential for discovering new services through the suggestions of clients online, as well as partnerships that come about through conversations on social media.

The human element in risk management
A large part of risk management is reliant on people; thus, human behavior must be effectively managed. Employees of a law firm must know the risks associated with having an online presence, and understand that they have a part to play in lessening them. Law firms should strive to produce a risk-aware culture in which employees learn to recognize the exposure of the firm to social media risk, and know what they should do to assist in mitigating those risks. Employees at every level of the firm should be made aware of the rules and regulations set by the firm, and be held responsible for their behavior.

Tools to monitor risks
There are currently technologies in place that can expand the monitoring of social media risk by humans. Companies can use web crawlers to locate references to a company, determine whether the reference is positive or negative, and provide a report. In this way, reputational risks can be identified and responded to faster.

Companies can also use technologies to monitor activity on social media by their employees. For instance, Actiance Inc. offers a platform that assists firms with the management of social media channels by controlling access to applications, observing social media content to safeguard the value of the brand as well as data security, and capturing online conversations to offer more complete information as to how interactions are occurring.

Additionally, data mining and analytics can put some order to the confusion caused by millions of posts and tweets to provide guidance to those who are concerned with business strategy and marketing.

Use social media governance to protect brand identity
Be strategic about your law firm’s use of social media in order to reap its benefits without harming your brand. In defining your policy standards, your firm should make certain that its social media accounts are representative of your brand standards. Pay attention to the look and feel of the accounts, the usage of tone, voice and language.

First, decide who will be responsible for managing the company’s social media channels. Having one person or a small team of individuals manage these channels will help keep behavior and voice consistent. Then, determine a strategy for using social media channels to accomplish business objectives. Next, develop a policy that addresses employee behavior online in abidance to the firm’s brand identity. The policy should provide clear rules and boundaries concerning the actions of employees both online and outside the workplace.

How lawyers can benefit from social media policy
Lawyers can benefit greatly from having a social media policy in place to prevent them from making inappropriate comments about their cases, as well as disrupting the consistency of the brand’s voice or identity. Although lawyers are encouraged to have a strong internet presence by actively participating on such social media accounts as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, attorneys should act responsibly while engaging on social media on their professional as well as their private accounts to avoid violating any Rules of Professional Conduct. Some lawyers choose to implement rules of thumb to remind themselves what is appropriate for online posting, such as only posting something that they would not be ashamed of appearing in a news headline. They should also discourage clients from creating posts relevant to their cases that can be used as evidence by the opposing party.

Read the New York State Bar Association's Social Media Ethics Guidelines

It can only be beneficial for lawyers to implement a social media policy that protects them and their clients from the risks of taking too casual an approach to the use of social media. By engaging responsibly, lawyers will enjoy the advantages of an increased internet presence without harming their profession.[/s2If]

Roxanne Minott

Roxanne Minott is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and legal content writer for Custom Legal Marketing.


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