Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, May. 10, 2012
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Law Practice Management Tip

Mixed messages: Keep your personal and professional profiles separate on social media

Perhaps the surest sign of the Apocalypse that does not terminate in the number seven is likely that there exists a social networking app called 'Pair,' on which couples can connect exclusively with each other. The Internet: relationship saver. Couple the existing of Pair with Pinterest's near-overnight success, Google's determination to make Google+ a viable social network and old school stalwarts going strong (Facebook, LinkedIn) and not so strong (MySpace), and you can acquire a number of social media profiles, all across the Internet.

Social media wasn't always used for business marketing; there weren't any 'business' profiles, only business people, with business intentions and personal profiles. Now, though, almost every major platform has, or is likely developing, business profiles; and, in that environment, those attorneys who seek to market their practices on social media should segregate their business marketing endeavors from their personal networking. A number of folks start with a personal account, which ends up becoming a mixed-use page, for personal and professional information streams; but, that is not the optimal arrangement. Even on services where business page functionality does not yet exist, users can jury-rig a professional profile with fairly simple workarounds.  

'Don't commingle' is the ancient caveat when it comes to keeping attorneys' operating and trust accounts apart; but, the same warning applies to segregating personal and professional accounts on social media. And, there are some practical considerations for doing so: If you have individual personal and business pages, you can still say what you want on your personal page (with ratcheted-up security settings) while maintaining your business reputation in another space. This method will allow you to insulate your personal account, to the extent possible. Creating a public business profile on a social media outlet is also an easy way to add to your web presence, while cultivating your professionalism in a new medium. With improving functionality, it's also becoming easier to cross-post across platforms, and to toggle between account profiles. From an ethics standpoint, there are certain additional advantages: It's perhaps less misleading to have an up-front business profile; and, it'd be, likelier, clearer to your potential clients that there is a level of formality in place, thereby probably decreasing the chances that said potential clients would end up believing that an attorney-client relationship was created informally, based on access to, posts made on or conversations surrounding a personal profile page. It's easier (and essential, frankly) to be in the attorney mindset/wear the lawyer hat when you're active in your professional account. You can apply disclaimers to your business pages more effectively, as well; these won't appear so awkward, or out of place, as they would on a personal page.

Of course, as you might suspect, none of this is printed in black and white. For example, if you're not a solo attorney, your business profile will likely be accessed/co-administrated by others -- which gives rise to the question of how you personalize the site, other than by making posts from your (still) personal account. Perhaps the end game here is the adoption of branching business accounts (professional-individual and professional-company); but, nothing like this has yet been formally adopted by any of the major social media services. The trick, then, is to work within the existing frameworks (and to apply certain workarounds) to keep your personal and professional online social identities as distinct as possible from one another.

Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published May 10, 2012

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