KM Can Assist External Social Media Initiatives

5 Apr

Guest Post by Helena Eldemir, Attorney in Knowledge Management at Littler Mendelson

KM often leads a firm’s initiative to promote the internal use of social media tools by attorneys—a natural fit given KM objectives to facilitate knowledge sharing, collaborate on matters, and identify subject matter expertise. However, when it comes to using social media to reach external audiences—clients, colleagues and thought leaders—KM can find itself sidelined, brought in late in the process, if at all, to develop a policy for regulating attorney behavior on social media platforms. This is a lost opportunity, and can hinder a successful outcome. Being involved at the outset allows KM to influence the overall process, one firmly grounded in principles of collaboration, user adoption and technical compatibility. Below are suggestions for ways in which KM can bring value to an external social media initiative.

Building a cross-departmental team with a shared vision

An external social media initiative will likely involve various facets of firm management. Broadly stated, marketing will bring expertise in branding, reputation building and business development; IT will address security, capacity and burden on systems; firm general counsel will concentrate on risk management, ethical considerations and improper communications; firm Sales & Marketing Executives (SMEs) will outline practice group needs, client perceptions and relationship building; KM will promote best practices in knowledge sharing and leveraging content for target audiences. Each department will have its own priorities, and the social media team will be challenged to reconcile departmental agendas with a shared vision for the initiative.

No stranger to collaboration, KM can help keep the project on track by insisting on a team-defined mission statement. In addition to stating the overarching goal (e.g., leverage social media to increase client awareness of expertise in a specific practice area), an effective statement will spell out narrower objectives that advance the strategy, such as producing related legal content; include a timeline for reaching milestones; and identify factors for measuring success. KM experience in project management and collaboration can provide the group with a process and framework to overcome differences and ultimately deliver results.

Overcoming resistance and misconceptions for better user adoption

KM works closely with attorneys and practice groups, and can voice the unique challenges attorneys face on external social media platforms.  These challenges can be overwhelming and may lead to resistance and misconception about the nature and role of social media in a professional setting. Therefore, it is important to identify attorney concerns, and ensure they are addressed in the overall strategy. Consider the following obstacles to attorney engagement:

  • Is there a lack of attorney knowledge about how external facing social media platforms work and what they are best suited for?
  • How does attorney experience with internal social collaborative tools like blogs, wikis, and enterprise social networks prepare them for external-facing social media activity?
  • What are the perceived risks in stating opinions, responding to posted comments or criticisms, or appearing too casual?
  • Will sharing knowledge provide competitors with an advantage, allowing them to better compete?
  • Is there misunderstanding about the nature of professional versus personal communications on external social media platforms?
  • Will sharing intellectual capital negatively impact business opportunities and actually reduce the likelihood of procuring billable work (i.e., why are we “giving it away?”)?
  • Does making contacts through public social media platforms undermine the firm’s compensation model, where clients are already “taken”?
  • Is time spent on social media platforms a good investment, or will it result in lost productivity (the “waste of time” argument)?

Tackling these issues in advance will help the team formulate an approach to training, as well as the optimal way to roll out the initiative. It may be necessary to create specific guidelines for each platform in order to assuage attorney anxiety. For example, a set of LinkedIn guidelines can address standards for accepting, declining or requesting connections; whether there are prohibitions on soliciting or providing recommendations; what is the appropriate scope of communications; and how to use descriptive words in position titles, summaries and areas of expertise. Making sure that firm attorneys—from summer associates to semi-retired partners—   understand the parameters of professional conduct in a social online setting is a key component in an external social media strategy.

Identifying the appropriate social media platform for the firm’s strategy

Often lost in the process is a discussion about the type of social media platform that will best advance the firm’s strategy. Tapping into experience with internal social media, KM can provide insight into which external platforms are best suited for the firm’s planned use:

  • Blogs are a good vehicle for shared knowledge and expertise, and are a good fit for a strategy focused on promoting firm practice groups
  • Twitter and comparable micro-blogging sites facilitate discovery of shared interests, and is conducive to a strategy that fosters communications around niche areas of laws
  • LinkedIn leverages shared relationships, and can bolster a strategy aimed at  broadening an individual’s reach
  • Wikis are structured for shared information, and could benefit a strategy built on practices that rely heavily on documents, protocols or corporate transactions
  • Facebook is a medium for shared experiences, which may be attractive to a strategy aimed at building a regional presence

KM can shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of each platform, and which is best aligned with the firm’s strategy. Bearing in mind that an external social media strategy may be executed in stages, each platform should be viewed in its context as a short, medium or long term solution.

There are, of course, other ways KM can contribute to developing an external social media strategy. The key is to get involved at the beginning, and help shape the process from the outset. Then, when it comes time to draft a firm social media policy, KM will be in a strong position to support and advance the strategy rather than get in the way–or worse, be left behind.


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