Style, substance and social media

Harnessing the power of “social” to enrich your practice and fuel meaningful connections

Alexis Gamliel
2021 November

My philosophy about social media mirrors my philosophy about litigation: A cookie-cutter approach simply won’t cut it. Just as each case is unique, so too is each attorney and law firm, making each one deserving of its own customized approach for the most effective social media strategy – a strategy that is tailored, thoughtful, and intentional. The not-so-secret recipe? A refined blend of impressive content, curated images, and – the most important ingredient of all – genuine messaging.

Growing up with a paintbrush in my hand and tap shoes on my feet, I have always loved art and creative expression. As lawyers, we can tap into our creativity by adopting an involved approach in our social media branding and activity. Even if we employ a social media manager in-house or an outside agency to manage our social media, it is important for us as attorneys to take an active role in our firm’s content creation process and to consistently provide ideas and input.

Let’s face it: Social media has become an important way, if not the way, to communicate with the broadest audience – one comprised of our fellow legal professionals, friends, family members, and connections from various chapters of our lives. It also goes without saying that, through social media, we can even scale the reach of our communications beyond our local geography. That is why it is, arguably, essential to maintain a vibrant social media presence. If we leverage the special tools and technology available to us, we are truly limitless in the scope of our reach.

But, one principle to keep in mind as you develop your social media presence is this: You don’t have to be an influencer to make a positive influence. While it may be alluring to participate in the rat race of getting the most “likes,” or gaining the most followers, or obsessing over other metrics of social media, the real litmus test of a successful social media strategy is whether your presence authentically reflects your identity as a firm or a lawyer, and whether you are seeing returns on your investment in your social media activity. Such returns can come in a variety of forms, such as: igniting relationships with new connections or potential referral sources; growing your relationships with existing connections; creating visibility for your firm in the legal community; becoming a thought leader within your practice area(s); and/or ultimately paving the path for someone who needs legal assistance to find you.

Over the years, I have been able to leverage social media to establish and develop strong connections, which not only enriches my life, but also my practice. (See @gamliellaw on Instagram; and https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexisgamliel/). Here, I share my recommendations for building a fruitful and meaningful social media presence. These tips will empower firms of all sizes to engage in social media in a way that is tasteful, professional, and personal.

Curate a cohesive image

Of course, a law firm’s reputation should be built on substance – that is, quality legal work and effective advocacy. But style plays a critical role when it comes to your firm’s presence on social media. Visual appeal is crucial. An eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing appearance will draw eyes to your firm’s content and will stimulate the kind of engagement you seek. By combining beautiful imagery with substantive content, your firm will grab viewers’ attention, hopefully sparking meaningful connections.

In order to create a robust social media presence, start by curating a captivating visual appearance. That visual appearance is comprised of, inter alia, your firm’s logo, color scheme (or “color story”), font choices, photography style, and other creative elements. These elements should be consistent across all of your firm’s branding and marketing deliverables, including your website, letterhead, business cards, email signatures, swag, and more. Invest time and resources in thoughtfully deciding the elements of your firm’s visual appearance; after all, these aspects form the image that comes to mind when people think of your firm.

Consistency is key. Whatever you choose for your firm’s branding – from the logo to the color palette and beyond – this visual appearance should carry across all platforms and deliverables. This will help you build a credible brand that upholds integrity. Whether you are working with a creative agency or creating your firm’s branding from the ground up yourself, use it as an opportunity to express your unique self. Feel free to break traditional molds and paint outside the lines – as long as you stay consistent. Be as bold as you want or as soft as you want – as long as you stay consistent. Choose dark, dramatic, and angular; or choose light, airy, and inspiring – as long as you stay consistent.

One way to ensure that your colors match exactly (across all of your firm’s content) is to know and utilize the precise color codes for the hues in your firm’s branding palette. Beyond the color scheme, a significant part of social media consists of photography and video content. Because visual appearance reflects the integrity of your firm, it is worthwhile to invest in high-quality photography so that when you do post, you are equipped with professional content. High-resolution photography is a staple of a compelling social media profile. However, occasionally, more casual, or less “produced” photography or video content can be used; it is effective to frame that type of content with a polished border or other elements that speak to your firm’s branding and package it well.

Remember that your firm’s visual appearance is an extension of yourself. Social media provides us, as lawyers, with a canvas for presenting who we are with words and images. Building trust through social media begins with powerful visual appeal.

Pick your platforms

At this time, a number of social media platforms are available to us as forums for creating brand awareness and for engaging with our community – platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Most likely, by the time you are reading this article, a new social media platform will have emerged on the scene. Some of the platforms listed here may even be antediluvian by then. This concept presents both the challenge and the beauty of social media – it is ever- evolving. As attorneys and law firm owners or managers, that means we have to learn to adapt and pivot based on those changes. The more we stay on top of current trends and platforms, the greater return we will see on our social media investment.

Each social media platform has its own character and culture. For example, the culture of Instagram is completely different from that of LinkedIn. While Instagram primarily serves as a photo- sharing and video-sharing platform, LinkedIn serves as more of a virtual resume and platform for sharing professional news or articles. As far as social cues, Instagram tends to feature more day-to-day updates while LinkedIn channels the bigger picture milestones or publications. Copious other platforms can also garner success for your firm; Instagram and LinkedIn are simply the two that I have selected to fuel my firm’s growth. To adopt a manageable and successful social media presence, try focusing your energy on a narrow set of platforms. This will allow you to meaningfully engage with your online community. Take stock of the social norms of the platforms that you select. While you should stay true to the individuality of your firm, understanding your environment and the framework will help you position your firm as a leader. A sophisticated approach requires knowing your audience.

On a more technical note, if you are utilizing different types of social media platforms, it is wise to tailor your images or video content to fit each platform’s sizing standards. This aligns with maintaining a professional appearance with visual appeal. As is further discussed below, you do not have to be a career graphic designer to put together a professional-looking post, and re-sizing images to suit various platforms is relatively simple if you use the right tools.

Law firms should soul-search, too

Take a deep-dive into the soul of your firm’s brand before putting together any concrete content. Ask yourself deep questions, and answer them – in writing – to formulate your identity and appreciate it in narrative form. Who are you as a lawyer? Why did you become an attorney? Who is your firm as a business? What are your core values? What are some of your most formative experiences as an attorney? What are some of your most formative life experiences? Who has played an essential role in your development as a lawyer? Why did you choose your key practice areas? What makes your team unique (if you have a team)? Why did you start your own law firm (if you started your own firm)? Who are those clients who have left a profound impression on you?

Answering these questions might seem like some intense homework early on, but this experience is a worthwhile exercise, as the answers will form the basis for your firm’s social media content. You can draw from these stories in the images and language you choose to post on your firm’s social profiles. Consider this exercise as writing your law firm’s “personal statement.” You will be able to look to it for inspiration when crafting your messaging for social media. When I launched my own firm, engaging in this exercise early on truly helped me gather my thoughts, reflect, and solidify the type of content I wanted to share.

Drawing from personal life experiences in your messaging will help members of the community relate to you and your firm on a deeper level. Engage in sincere soul-searching up-front; it will pay dividends.

Like any formidable trial lawyer, prepare

A successful social media presence does not just happen; it requires preparation and planning. The best way to plan, other than committing to soul-searching at the outset, is documenting law firm milestones and moments as they come up. This can be done in the form of something as simple as a “Note” in your iPhone. Keep a list of new accolades or activities, and diligently update the list on an ongoing basis. Your list may include, for example: leadership positions; case results; speaking engagements; published articles, books, or other writings; and community service or law school outreach. If you keep a list like this up-to-date, when you sit down to plan your social media content, the task will be far from daunting.

Much in the same way that documenting moments in a written list is helpful, so too is keeping an album of photo and/or video content for future use on social media. Dedicate an album on your phone for this purpose, so you can keep a living, breathing catalog of moments you would like to feature on your firm’s social media. Just as with the written list of milestones, this photo/video catalog will make the content-planning process much more streamlined.

Carefully craft your social media content

Each post is an opportunity to present a creative blend of words and imagery – to capture the personality of your firm. As discussed, the imagery should be professional and consistent with your firm’s branding. Ideally, your firm’s imagery and branding should be so specific that someone could readily discern which firm posted a given post without seeing the firm name. Your posts should be readily recognizable and distinguishable, based on your colors, logo, and style. In terms of constructing each post, graphic design tools and applications make it simple to arrange shapes, text boxes, photos, and other objects to put together a well-produced graphic. You can also tinker with pre-existing templates and customize them to match your firm’s branding. In addition, these tools allow you to easily re-size images for posting on different platforms. Certain applications can also be used to visually map out and plan posts. For example, for Instagram posts, you can easily see what your firm’s “grid” will look like when you put draft posts in a particular order. Further, these tools can be utilized to schedule posts for certain dates/times. “Batching” your social media content is an excellent way to prepare your posts, including captions. That means sitting down and planning out multiple posts in one batch.

Concerning the words (in the caption of a post, for example), the diction and tone you adopt should be congruent with the imagery. In other words, the message should match the visual. Staying genuine is vital; staying truthful is non-negotiable. Importantly, all posts and messaging should comply with all applicable ethical rules, laws, and guidelines, including, but not limited to, the California Rules of Professional Conduct, rule 1-400, et seq.; California Business & Professions Code sections 6157.1 and 6157.2; and the Ethics Opinions promulgated by the State Bar of California.

Always make sure to proofread your posts and use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Your brand’s credibility is at stake with each post, so each one should be given detailed attention.

When considering the imagery and language you use in your firm’s posts, consider your target audience. Do you have someone specific in mind you want to reach? If so, speak directly to that audience; use the same diction and tone you would use when speaking to that audience in person. It is also worth considering how your audience evolves over time so you can appropriately adjust your content and messaging.

Engage with your community

Just as much as we talk, we should listen and respond. During everyday, in-person conversations, we do not speak at people; we speak with people. On social media, we should not make noise through our posts and fail to engage in real conversations with others. Actively respond to the content that speaks to you, and you will see the fruits of that labor. That type of approach will demonstrate that you are listening, and people will appreciate it. Staying engaged will allow you to develop a rapport with your followers and with those you follow, too. Celebrate the victories of other members of our community, and congratulate your peers on positive news they share. Contribute to social media by not only sharing, but also by engaging with your community.

Take civility to heart, and take it online

Civility is important in every aspect of the legal practice. The same rings true as it applies to engaging on social media. Everyone is (conceivably) watching. Act like everyone is watching your every move on social media – because, in theory, anyone could be. Assume that judges, mediators, opposing counsel, the defendant(s), your clients, potential clients, and colleagues see the content you post and the way you engage on social media. This is all the more reason (just in case the ethical and moral reasons were not enough) to comport yourself with dignity, class, and professionalism. Along the lines of civility, remember to stay humble with your firm’s social media posts.

Focus on organic growth

Social media is a dynamic organism that is constantly morphing. If we want to stay relevant, we must adapt to the changes in our modern world. By keeping your finger on the pulse of social media – and by contributing to the social conversation – you will position yourself and your firm for enriching growth. Put the time and energy into a hands-on approach to your firm’s social media presence, and you will reap the benefits.

Combine style with substance on social media; engage meaningfully with your online community; and above all, stay authentic with genuine messaging. Organic social growth will help fuel your sustained success. Plus, building community – whether through social media or otherwise – is never bad for business; it adds value by making your career even more rewarding and fulfilling.

Alexis Gamliel Alexis Gamliel

Alexis Gamliel is a trial attorney at AlderLaw, focusing her practice on catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as employment matters. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Downtown Los Angeles Bar Association and is also on the Board of the New Lawyers Division of Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC).

Copyright © 2021 by the author.
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