Earth to FACEBOOK…automatically generated fan pages? Are you kidding?

Just as I started to breath easier—Facebook rolled back the ridiculously complicated privacy settings that were causing chaos for those who care—alien generated community pages started showing up. In the tunnel vision of FaceBook

“Community Pages are a new type of Page that enable you to see what people are saying about the things that matter to you, and discover the friends and people who share these connections with you. They are similar to any other Page to which you can connect, although they won’t generate stories in your News Feed, and won’t be maintained by a single author. Where available for the relevant topic, they also show content that Facebook has licensed from Wikipedia. We think your experience on Facebook will improve as your profile is turned into a living map of all the connections that matter to you, instead of a static list of your interests”

Wow…Facebook knows what matters to me? Facebook thinks my experience will improve by turning my profile information over to a “living map” that I don’t agree to or want? After baiting us with connectivity to people we choose to friend, they switch us to fit into their deal with Wikipedia?

Hey, I’m all for new ideas, but this one is a bit of stretch considering that most people on Facebook have REAL jobs. They just might care that Facebook is associating their lighthearted comments to a page dedicated to their employer—like they might want to have a say in that?

If I chose, “Only Friends” it’s supposed to be only friends, right? A Facebook robot sent to glean my keywords and create a fan page for my employer is NOT MY FRIEND? In fact, it may be an enemy and make me lose my job….. 

As a law firm leader, what’s your take? Like?

Clearly this feature that creates pages based on what your employees are saying on their Facebook profile is creating a real problem for law firms who have employees, lawyers and partners with “zippy” profiles on FB. Here’s how it works: where a law firm is identified as the place of employment on a user’s profile, Facebook grabs a topic or experience that is “owned collectively” by others with the same employer in their profile and automatically generates a fan page using those key words. As playful as Facebook may be for some unsuspecting users, it now plays out rather awkward for some of their employers, including law firms.  As reported in yesterday’s The National Law Journal...

Bimbos at Baker & McKenzie. Slaves at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Whipping boys at McDermott Will & Emery.

These groups — and dozens of others for virtually every major law firm — now have their own Facebook pages.

They’re not the product of disaffected employees — at least not directly. Instead, they’ve been automatically generated by the social networking site itself via a new feature called community pages.

For brand-conscious law firms, Facebook’s latest “innovation” is a bit mortifying. After all, does Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe want to be known for its porno stars? Shearman & Sterling as paper-pushers extraordinaire? Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman as ticklemasters? DLA Piper — well, we won’t even print the one about DLA Piper.

Amusement value aside, the newest Facebook pages illustrate the perils that law firms — not the most avant garde marketers to begin with — face as they navigate the world of social media.

I have to agree with Rob Kahn, director of business development at Mountain View, Calif.-based Fenwick, who according to the NLJ…

“dismissed the page as “a nonissue” but said that the community pages could be “confusing for businesses and consumers and clients.

“It’s not likely anyone would take Fenwick’s sex page seriously, just as most people probably won’t believe Perkins Coie has a jester or O’Melveny & Myers has indentured servants. The pages may not reflect well on the firms, and certainly don’t bolster images of dignity or seriousness, but they’re unlikely to cause genuine confusion. However, the pages centered on the firms themselves just might.

“At Fenwick, for example, Kahn maintains a well-developed Facebook page for his firm, filled with news updates as well as fun asides (Jan. 15 — “OMG. Snoop Dogg is in the Fenwick West conference room right now for event.”).

“But now, there’s also a Fenwick & West community page created by Facebook, complete with Fenwick’s blue logo. The page features the firm’s Wikipedia entry and links to other Web pages and posts in which Fenwick is mentioned.”

I’m a bit more dramatic in my outrage….. how can “they” circumvent the privacy settings they now have taken the pains to simplify only to expose our deepest sentiments we thought we were sharing with our friends, not our employers? And even straining our employer’s good will and brand? What’s UP FACEBOOK? Have aliens infested Mark Zuckerberg‘s brain in his attempt to show a profit? This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some of us….So what is this new “community page” feature supposed to do for users except get them into trouble? Turn us into a map of living connections? Not my idea of a good time. Your reaction?

The bright side.

Calming down now, I’m thinking how good it is that Rob is taking the high road, I’d expect that from him as he has great professionalism and years in the technology trenches. His example is one all law firms would do well to model….maintain strategic presence on all social media sites. Better to be proactive than reactive. For example, in the 2009/2010 recall of Toyota vehicles, Toyota used social media when the public relations crisis hit. Shiv Singh, vice president and global social media leader for claims that “their use of social media helped them” and there appears to be little significant damage to the company’s rep in the short run on the social websites. Of course there is more to it than just having a Facebook page. Law firm leaders, marketers and their representatives need to stay current on trending social media spaces AND know their audience. According to Lauren DeLisa Coleman writing for the Huffington Post, you want to do your homework to make sure you’re reaching the right audiences, know who is using what and where. I would add AND educate and train employees in best practices.

What should law firms do?

As Rob points out, most clients of his law firm would not be phased by some silly Facebook play that created these automated communities. That’s probably true, however, I believe law firms should include in their strategy an education based policy. The best approach is to educate employees in the best practices of participation on the social Web.

Most law firms now recognize that guidelines or policy are necessary. I suggest they not stop there. Circulating a policy or guidelines to employees and attorneys and partners is not enough. You need to add education. Face it, policies are skimmed and filed away. There is no direct association between the guidelines and the users’ behavior until the law firm says….”we’re serious about this.” Serious enough to invest the time and resources to add an educational component to the mix. When they do this they communicate that they understand the impulses associated with the freedom of voice and the balance necessary to maintain the firm’s well being. It’s not about taking away the individual’s voice. Employees and partners need to understand that everything they do on the social Web has a direct or indirect effect on their paycheck! When a law firm adds the educational component they say “we care about your professional development and here are some tips to help you stay on track.” If people want to add funky stuff to their profiles or associate with non-professional themes or persons then they should not add their employer to their profile. It’s that simple.

For more ideas on Social Media Policy check out my earlier post. Meanwhile, if your firm needs some training, that’s what we do at LawGravity. We’re in the trenches and know the law firm environment. We’re ready to help you.

Jayne Navarre

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