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When Tweets Speak Louder than Words

Marianne Reidy, CPA, and Eric Steiner, CIO 05.13.2015 | Practice Made Perfect

The old saying "Loose lips sink ships" has taken on greater significance at a time when an estimated one billion tweets fling themselves out each week. Social media has emerged as one of the most powerful marketing tools at your disposal - simple, economical, immediate, and impactful. Used judiciously, it can deliver the messages you want in ways unheard of a mere decade ago. But like the proverbial doubled-edged sword, it can cut both ways.

The rapid and phenomenal growth of social media has made it difficult for some to grasp how prevalent and widespread it has become. The number of global social network users is expected to top 2.5 billion by 2017.1 Some firms may not have measures in place to lock down or limit the information placed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or the next platform in this ever-evolving electronic universe.

Failing to grasp the growing power of social media and not have instituting measures to place some control over its use can place your firm at risk.

The very existence of social media created new challenges in managing records, safeguarding personal information, and protecting the security of firm information and systems. In thinking about your guidelines, your goal is to strike the right balance between two conflicting purposes:

  • Protecting your firm and its reputation, your professionals, your information, and the interests of your clients; and
  • Allowing enough freedom to be an active and contributing participant in this influential medium.    

Setting Your Guidelines

Nothing is truer than to say that the world of social media is evolving at such a breakneck pace that setting a definitive policy is difficult and potentially futile.  Nevertheless, creating guidelines for the use of social media can, at the very least, give you a starting point. The brave new world of social media is inescapable, and your choice is to either stake your place or risk being sidelined and marginalized. You may want to get input on your guidelines from a variety of sources, ranging from firm leaders and top rainmakers to your IT and marketing professionals to younger members of the firm who are likely to be the most immersed and adept at using social media.

Your goal is to develop clear and understandable security guidelines that both support the use of social media while establishing some rational and practical perimeters in tune with your firm's culture.

You require guidelines on what information individuals may share with the public - and who those individuals can be.  Firm leaders?  Partners only?  Selected marketing professionals?  Consider what settings you are comfortable with for Facebook, LinkedIn, and other platforms that will lock down or limit access to firm information and intellectual property.  Accomplishing this also requires placing some limits on accessing such work product as article drafts, internal memos, and short- and long-range planning documents.

Try to strike a balance with guidelines that might be more lenient on general issues involving highly public legal developments, while holding tighter reigns on subjects impacting your clients.   Keep in mind that if you set up a cumbersome vetting bureaucracy you will encourage delays and, in the long run, nothing will get out in any meaningful time.  Such bureaucracies tend to defeat the purpose of being active in social media - a world that thrives on immediacy. Equally important, if you are to participate in social media, it is something that you must commit to regularly.  You cannot "go dark" for months at a time then re-emerge and expect to make an impact.

Since your social media presence reflects your overall branding, involve your marketing team. They may help in refining the communication skills of your attorneys, including how to avoid jargon and overly detailed analyses, while writing with a client's perspective in mind.

Your security guidelines should be made particularly clear to attorneys who have blogs where opinions are expressed that may or may not reflect the firm's position or might imply or reveal information that is confidential. You can make better use of your blog presence by repurposing articles and items that were previously published and, presumably, previously vetted and confirmed for use. 

It is important to have procedures in place to monitor social media outlets for comments about the firm, so it is prudent to set up Google Alerts or RSS feeds. If there is a swell of negative activity about the firm, these alerts will give you a heads up, as well as source material, should you choose to take any action.

Computer forensics experts are quick to point out that deleted data is not really gone and may be retrieved by a host of methods.  Protect your company's intellectual property by placing limits on accessing your work product - article drafts, memos, short- and long-range firm plans.

Once you have guidelines in place, you will need to revisit them from time to time as your firm evolves, practice areas come and go, and, of course, technology and the overall social media environment stride forward. The work you put into your guidelines now will go a long way in helping your firm distinguish itself and, with effort, be regarded as a thought leader in touch with the latest issues. 

1 Kwikturn Media estimate 2.19.14.

 

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