I’m going to keep this short, because I want to you to be able to get back to what really matters – your work – as quickly as possible after consuming this concise, important message: Lawyers should use social media as little as possible, and the time they do spend on social networks should be very purposeful and intentional.
First, social media platforms are engineered to be addictive. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms grow and get paid based on how many people use their platforms and for how long. These companies compete in what’s called the “attention economy” and, as Seth Godin (who famously eschews most social media) explains, we are the products these companies sell. They round up our attention, and sell it to advertisers. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that social media platforms are engineered to be as addictive as possible. And it’s working. Facebook’s head of marketing recently discussed in a speech that the average millennial checks his or her phone 157 times daily. That’s insane, because…
Second, since social media platforms are addictive, they pull us away from what’s most important. We get addicted to quick dopamine hits delivered by likes, comments and push notifications, and get pulled away from our important work to spend time perusing information that could wait for later, or (as is most often the case) is completely irrelevant. As knowledge workers, the most valuable asset that lawyers possess is their attention. To perform at the highest levels, a lawyer must bring undivided focus to his or her work for long periods of time. Time spent on social media is antithetical to this priority. The problem is that lawyers are bombarded with exhortations about the importance of social media. They should mostly ignore these messages because…
Third, the promise of “social selling” has failed to live up to the hype. The way most people use social media as a business tool is with the objective (if they set an objective at all) to build as large of a following as possible. This is misguided and inconsistent with the way meaningful new business and relationships are formed. The goal of time spent on social media should not be to build a following, but rather to build a community. Before you can develop business from someone, you first need to build trust with them. This means approaching interactions on social media with a service mindset. It means giving freely with no expectation of reciprocity. It means sharing wisdom, resources and being of service to others. It doesn’t mean chasing likes and seeking affirmation. Everyone is not a potential client, so the goal should not be to build as big of a following as possible which, unless you’re otherwise well known, requires hyperactivity on social media platforms. The goal should be to build a community of the right type of people and be of service to its members. In order to be of service and to provide value, most of your time must be spent offline generating powerful insights, producing valuable work, and developing one-on-one relationships in the real world.
Many millions of pixels have been spilled on screens extolling the power of social media to help lawyers build personal brands and develop books of business. I’ve been a member of that chorus myself in the past. We sometimes forget that we are in the utter infancy of this new world of social networks. Therefore, because it’s so early, many prognostications about the power of social media are simply predictions about what’s possible on the platforms (the potential upside), and don’t take into account the harm resulting from divided attention (the almost certain downside).
In his excellent book Deep Work, Cal Newport urges readers to “quit social media.” A core idea of the book, Newport explains, “is that most people select digital tools using the any benefit mindset, which claims that you should use a tool if it can provide any benefit.” Newport argues, instead, that knowledge workers should approach social media using “the craftsman mindset in which you only select the tools that provide the most substantial benefits to the things you find most important.” For most of us, time spent on Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn, may provide some professional benefits, but it’s hard to articulate substantial benefits derived from these platforms.
Use it Sparingly and Strategically
In my opinion, the potential downside to more social media use greatly outweighs the potential upside. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use it all all. Rather, the best approach to social media for lawyers is to use it sparingly and strategically. This means resisting the urge to check social media at the first sign of boredom or as a means of procrastinating while gearing up to tackle a particularly challenging task. Social media, especially during work hours, should only be used during short, predetermined and pre-scheduled blocks of time on your calendar. It shouldn’t be used as a form of escapism loosely disguised as business development or networking.
Social media activity should also be very strategic. As a lawyer, your time is too valuable to proceed otherwise. Social media platforms, at their core, are virtually the same as every other form of media (TV, radio, print) in the sense that they are engineered to deliver content. The one big difference social media platforms share, however, is that they rely on user-generated content.
This presents a strategic opportunity for smart lawyers: If you act like a publisher or broadcaster on social media, as opposed to a consumer (i.e., a reader, listener or viewer), then you can leverage social media to your advantage in terms of gaining attention and building a network. Treat social media as a job, and not a form of entertainment. Be a publisher of content, not a consumer of it.
Follow the advice Steve Martin gives to other entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Getting good doesn’t happen by scrolling through other people’s status updates, pretty pictures and pithy quotes. Produce great content. Publish it and then promote it on social media. Automate as much as possible. Then get off, get back to your deep work, and leave the consuming to others.
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