Should Your Law Firm Have a Formal Training Process for Social Media Engagement?

In a nonscientific reader poll conducted for SmartBrief on Social Media, leading marketers (of all types) were asked:

Does your company have a formal training process for employees before they’re allowed to blog, tweet or post other social media content on behalf of the company?Social Media Training for Law Firms

The responses were mildly shocking;

  • 70.66 percent said NO,
  • 18.56 percent said YES, and
  • 10.78% replied “not applicable.”

Frankly, I say, NOT training all employees for social media engagement is equivalent to giving anyone in the organization blind authority to speak to the press/public/clients/prospects/partners/etcetera on behalf of the entity!

We Have A Social Media Policy

You’re probably already thinking—“We don’t need training, our law firm’s social media policy clearly states that employees or Partners engaging in social media must never speak on behalf of the law firm without prior permission. They are required to state that views expressed are their own. Further, we require everyone that puts our law firm on their social media profile as their employer to abide by our policy and guidelines. And…we monitor our firm name using Google Alerts. And….”

I have had the privilege of setting up social media strategy, policy and programs in dozens of law firms over the past three and a half years and I can assure you that simply issuing a policy and/or guidelines without MANDATORY training for attorneys and staff doesn’t cut it. There is plenty of room for personal interpretation of guidelines and rules.

PRACTICAL POINTER: In addition, I’ve seen many law firms skip over the FACT that social media is a fluid form of communication. Why is this important to keep in mind?  Because rarely does the user take the time to review the “guidelines” before posting anything, particularly when they have a tid-bit of gossip that needs to get out to their network, pronto or they are reacting to something said by another without thinking! This is often referred to as SMAD—Social Media Affliction Disorder. One becomes so engaged in the medium that it impairs their frontal lobe—that valuable part of the brain that controls impulse.  Look no further than some fine examples of social media fail caused by SMAD in corporations such as Chrysler, Nestle, Red Cross, Ketchum, and Kenneth Cole. In most cases the communications department made these mistakes or the social media staff person responsible for feeding the social media beast, but in other cases it was the CEO (see Kenneth Cole)! No one is immune. SMAD is real.

Training Leads to Better Execution or a New Job?

Long accepted management principles assure us that training employees leads to better execution. Although law firm dollars are being stretched further these days and fewer are devoted to training, much less to something as dubious as social media, some types of training can be vital to the health and welfare of the law firm—social media training is one of them. At the very least your whole marketing team needs to be trained by someone who knows the landscape very well and can tell the story convincingly.  Further, we’re all still in the early stages of defining best practices. So if you had that training a year or two ago, it’s time to refresh the memory as well as update it to keep up with the latest developments.

Not All Training Is Equal.

In my experience there are four core groups that need social media engagement training:

  1. Senior Management/Senior Partners/and anyone that is only marginally engaged in social media but needs to be aware of the mechanics as well as the liabilities.
  2. Partners, associates, law clerks, and paralegals that frequently engage with social media.
  3. Marketing personnel and particularly those whose job it is to feed social media content and conversation.
  4. All other law firm employees, including receptionists, file clerks, HR staff, secretaries, legal assistants and etc.

Each of these groups arrives to training with different perspectives, needs, and precepts. Although I’m often brought in for delivering a basic briefing on social media to key leaders or training on tools for marketers, there never seems to be a priority on training the whole organization. I’ve been preaching it since day one: guidelines and policy tend to remain in the theory stage–stuck in a drawer or the firm Intranet, until they are taught in a physical setting.  I’m not saying law firms aren’t training beyond the boardroom level, in fact, in some cases the marketing staff take my training and share it with the general firm population. This is good. No matter who or where the training comes from, the critical point here is to be aware that there are various levels of training and various messages to be communicated in order to reach those four audiences where they live, work and breathe if the training is to have effect. Still, some training is better than no training. Don’t you agree?

Jeremy Victor, the editor in chief of on this topic for SmartBlog for Social Media says it like this:  (paraphrased)

Though some argue training is an opportunity for employees to gain new skills and use them to find new jobs…“The only thing worse than training people and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” Zig Ziglar

So, readers of the VMO blog: What’s in your training room? Training sessions on appropriate social media engagement? Or, lights off? Share your thoughts, success stories, and challenges to training in the comments. We all learn more from shared insights. Thanks!

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