Who Owns Your Social Media Account?

There is definitely value in a Twitter account, but to whom does it belong? Brands have to be careful to maintain control of their messaging, and many work diligently to cultivate their social media profiles. But what about the brands of service providers and knowledge workers? It may be a straight forward to answer the question “who’s account is this?” when a brand account is operated by an anonymous marketer, but what about the situation where a person uses a twitter account identified both with their company and themselves?

In the context of an attorney in a law firm, the firm may have a branded twitter account that is operated by a designated staff member. In addition, individual attorney’s may have their own twitter accounts with their own cultivated list of followers. These “personal” twitter accounts are often used, as in my case, for both business development and for personal interests.

In a recent example, PhoneDog sued a former employee, Noah Kravitz, when he refused to turn over his twitter account to the company. His account had become a very effective means to engage with PhoneDog’s current and prospective customers who were among his 17,000 followers. Kravitz’s tweets were also effective at driving traffic to PhoneDog’s website.

The question in the PhoneDog case is who should control the account going forward? Ownership isn’t really an issue as Twitter asserts, through its user agreement, that it owns the accounts. There are a number of conflicting factors for both sides. For example, while he worked for PhoneDog, Kravitz used @PhoneDog_Noah as his twitter handle, he started the account while an employee, and published tweets during working hours. However, the connections he created were both personal, and professional, posted at all hours of the day, and clearly identified himself as an individual, not just as the brand of his employer.

These conflicting factors, coupled with the fact that the employment agreement was silent about social media, make this a bit muddy. However, this can be an learning moment for both companies and individuals. The lesson learned, in my opinion, depends on an important fact: Content is King.

In the context of social media, your content is king. The quality of the content you generate and/or share will define the quality of the account. Of course, that content may be personalized (if not personal) to an individual employee. If the content is geared towards marketing an individual within an organization, the social media account should be branded as the individuals and feature the content the individual creates and wants to share. If the social account is for the marketing of the organization, it should be branded accordingly. My firm, for example, has a Twitter account and blog, but the individual attorneys also have their own social accounts. It’s always important to think through which account is the more appropriate platform from which to share any piece of content.

For an individual in an organization who is using social media it’s appropriate to put a link to your company in your profile, but you may want to avoid incorporating your employer’s brand in your username. Use a personal email address to register the account or, better yet, use an existing one if you have one. In short, avoid having what should be your social media account look like an extension of your company’s marketing department.

However, it’s the content that determines the value of a social media account. If the content changes drastically when a new employee takes it over, or the account holder leaves their employer, so to will the demographics of the followers. Clicking the “unfollow” button is as easy as clicking “follow.” The account won’t be worth much to anyone if it isn’t maintained.

photo credit: Matt Hamm

Personal Branding and Social Media: Cultivating Relational Connections

Attorney-client relationships are just that – relationships. How can you build relationships using social media? I suppose this is what the people who know much more about social media than I do are talking about when the discuss “engagement.” In some contexts, this is a straight forward proposition. If you build your brand by showing you have expertise in an area, you may get questions or comments from readers of your blog. Other people will follow and retweet you.

Unfortunately for lawyers and other professional service providers, our potential clients may be less likely to be active in social media in these ways. Many people are loathe to discuss their legal issues on a public blog, and they should be. Also, in-house counsel appear to be voracious, if passive, consumers of social media content relevant to their work. If an in-house counsel reads a blog post relevant to a lawsuit they are thinking of filing, they aren’t going to tweet about it. This presents multiple challenges.

One issue is that it may be difficult to use the traditional measures of engagement to measure the reach of your social media efforts. That doesn’t mean that your social media efforts are not important. However, digging into your website statistics may give you a better idea of which topics your readers find interesting than looking to see how many people tweet your blog post.

Another issue is that it is very difficult to build a relationship without the benefit of two-way communication. You want great content, but you also need readers to associate that content with you. One way to do this is to personalize your blog. I post about intellectual property issues that interest me, not just because of the legal aspects, but because the subject may be related to a hobby or other interest of mine. When I do, I want to make reference to the personal connection I have to the issue. This humanizes me as a writer so I am not just a conduit of information.

Prototype logo for my personal brand: ConnollyIP

I chose which cases to write about partly based on the breadth of their appeal, but also because of my personal interest in the outcome or reasoning. I blog about intellectual property issues related to outdoor activities, and I regularly tweet about internet startups and food. The reason is because these are areas of interest for me. This post isn’t being written just to show I have a rudimentary grasp of some social media topics, but also because the way lawyers use social media and blogging genuinely interests me. I want my blog posts to not only show me as a reliable source of information and well reasoned opinions but also as the type of person others would want to do business with.

In the process of writing these three posts I’ve started to crystallize in my own mind what my social media strategy is. I want to provide interesting content that differentiates me and demonstrates my expertise. That, I hope, will generate more readers. I also want to create a sense of relational connectedness with the people who read my tweets and blog posts, even if we don’t directly interact. That, if I’m lucky, will help convert consumers of content into clients when they have a need I can satisfy. If it doesn’t work, at least I get to spend the time writing about what I want to write about, not what I think I have to write about.

I don’t think this is anything new and is really what a lot of people are doing, especially consultants, and tech types. However, I don’t see many attorneys using a strategy like this. I would love to read others comments on this, and while I’m a lawyer and write from that perspective, I think this applies to many types of service providers. What works for you?

Personal Branding and Social Media for Attorneys: Establishing Expertise

Lawyers and other professional service providers are looked to as experts in their fields and clients have to trust that we are doing a good job for them. That means they must believe we are competent. In short, our reputations are our most important asset.

Social media can help an attorney build a favorable reputation with current and prospective clients. However, many attorneys seem reluctant to differentiate themselves via social media. While there are some wonderfully insightful blogs out there, many blogs run by practicing attorneys appear to serve more as news digests and simply post links to recent cases or provide summaries of practice developments. Though useful, these blogs don’t provide a distinct voice or feature one skill that is important to an attorney – critical, strategic thinking.

These practice area news blogs can be great for targeting other attorneys as a source of referrals, and if that is your strategy, more power to you.  However, if you want to directly reach out to potential clients, be they entrepreneurs or in-house counsel, I think the best pitch you can make via social media is one based on your expertise.

Of course, within a firm, taking a position on legal issues can be difficult. Other attorneys may not share your opinion, or clients may need to argue a contrary position in the future. The result has often been to avoid providing personal opinions about the merits of a decision or proposed statutory change. My solution has been to take my blogging out of my firm and put it on my own website. The views here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other attorney in the firm. I am also cognizant to avoid positions that may be contrary to the position a client of the firm may need to argue. When writing on legal issues, I mostly comment on decided cases and provide my opinion of what the law should be, not an argument about what the law is.

I strongly believe that the best way to show you have expertise in an area of law is to put forward strong, cogent opinions. Blogs aren’t the place for full law review articles, but you can articulate an opinion and provide some support for it. You can also link to other sources easily to let your readers view other opinions on the issue. What this does is give your readers a sense that you have a command of the subject matter and can be relied on as a knowledgeable source of information and, potentially, counsel.

In the next post, I’ll share my thoughts on how we can use the social media to personalize our message and create relationships with the members of our networks.

Personal Branding and Social Media for Attorneys

Prototype logo for my personal brand: ConnollyIP

I’m a patent attorney, and I work in a law firm. like many mid-level attorneys I’m trying more and more to transition away from doing work for other attorneys’ clients and doing more for my own. Not only is it more financially rewarding for an attorney when they have their own clients, but it is also more emotionally rewarding to be an active participant in a client relationship.

Of course, this begs the question, “how do you get clients?” I know there has been a lot written on the subject, and I am clearly not an expert. While it’s clearly not the whole story, I think social media can play an important role.

Social media isn’t really a whole new world. It has just given us ways to scale the types of interactions we had before the internet age. There are still crucial aspects to the relationships we develop by using social media that have always been needed in any relationship. In the context of a professional trying to market there are still two major needs.

First, you have to cultivate a sense of expertise. The reader must feel that the professional who is providing content is knowledgeable and reliable in the fields for which they provide original content. A big part of any professional relationship is the trust that the service provider knows what they are doing.

Second, you have to develop a relational connection. At the end of the day we are all replaceable by people with similar skill sets and experience. It’s the relationships that we develop that make the difference.

In the next two posts, I’m going to lay out my personal thoughts on how I hope to cultivate a sense of expertise and relational connections with current and prospective clients through blogging. There are unique challenges to doing both of these things in the context of social media, especially for lawyers.

I’m definitely not an expert on social media but I’ve put some thought into this and would love to read comments from others on this road.