With bonfire night around the corner, it seems a good time to look at how social media has caused fireworks in the legal profession over the last few years and how some firms have had their fingers burnt. (Image from Flickr under creative comms by Shawn Campbell)
I’ve worked with many and varied organisations, advising them on their use of social media and that of their employees. Ten years ago it would have been easy to dismiss the growing trend as a fad, but today, anyone who chooses not to see the relevance of social media across all that we do is only fooling themselves.
And so, inch by inch and tweet by tweet, lawyers and law firms have been fired up by the potential of social media. In some cases, however, they have done so without reviewing the any of the safety instructions. Let me explain.
Adult supervision required
The adoption of social media in most organisations has been driven from the bottom up. The most professionally inexperienced (read: youthful) have been handed the reins to the company Twitter and Facebook accounts and given exclusive control of outgoing online communication. You can hear the conversation around the partnership table:
The marketing people have said we need a Twitter account or Facebook page or something. I don’t see the point myself, but that’s what FFS & Co have done so I suppose we should too.
That’s all well and good, but I don’t know how to use it/I don’t have time for that/I’m the MLRO so someone else can do it* (delete as appropriate).
Well, I saw that new secretary playing on their phone the other day, let’s ask her.
Good idea. Now, pass the wine.
And so, the secretary who has an Instagram account is placed in charge of all of the firm’s social media accounts. Posting what she is told to once a month and responding to client, press and public enquiries. Or not. It may seem like an extreme scenario, but it happens.
Sometimes worse, the social media account is delegated to the in-house marketing person or outsourced to a third party – typically a junior marketing specialist, fresh from college with great ideas but little experience and almost no knowledge of the law. And, boom! Off they go.
Lawyers have made some high profile social media mistakes over the past year or so. Far from being brushed away, they have lit up the dangers that are lurking in the social media undergrowth. I share a couple of bangers with you, purely by way of shining example and polite warning, but these are by no means the only ones.
Remember the Alton Towers rollercoaster that broke down, injuring 16 people with some losing limbs? Do you also recall the tweet sent out by Sheffield firm Broad Yorkshire Law within an hour of the news breaking? “Been injured in a roller coaster crash?! We’re experts in Personal Injury!! #Smiler #Alton Towers”
Taking ambulance chasing to the next level, you don’t need to be a psychologist to see why the Twitterati were offended. Despite fast action in removing the post, the message had been copied and shared around the internet and made its way into the press, prompting an apology from the firm and the explanation that the tweet had been sent by a junior member of staff.
Baker Small, big trouble
Milton Keynes-based firm Baker Small was an apparently successful firm providing specialist advice to local authority clients. After a series of gloating tweets from the firm following a tribunal success against the parents of a disabled child, the firm was soon on the back foot, having caused a ‘great deal of upset and offence’ and desperately trying to minimise the impact. The tweets, which were seemingly posted by the firm’s sole partner, saw up to eight local authority clients either cancel or review their contracts with the education specialist, which are thought to be worth in excess of £1m.
Apologies can sometimes limit the damage caused by erroneous, offensive or misjudged social media messaging, but given the instant and public nature of the medium, it is better not to get it wrong in the first place.
Social media safety
Social media has the power to inspire, awe and delight, but can be dangerous when not handled properly.
- Think about how you and your firm use social media
- Social media should only be handled by someone responsible
- Stay at a safe distance
- Resist getting involved in any heated discussions
- Be responsible: don’t tweet under the influence
- How not to make a crisis out of a drama - 14th February 2017
- How to stop your social media strategy going up in smoke - 21st October 2016
- How I learned to love social media - 27th May 2016