At first, a tsunami appears as a low level, wide-cresting wave, slowly approaching from an unknown distance on the horizon. The wave quickly becomes larger and starts moving faster, causing everyone in the vicinity to run in a panic toward higher ground.
Let this be the alarm about social media competence.
This post is NOT about lawyers using social media for marketing.
As executives of companies, insiders, and everyday people, your clients are regularly using social media during litigation, divorce, or probate. If you are not concerned about that reality, here is another way to look at it: your clients are using a bullhorn to scream in public about everything under the sun, including private and sometimes highly emotional matters. This puts your ability to achieve success for your clients at risk.
Do you know how to properly advise clients about social media platforms?
From Pinterest to Instagram, clients are finding themselves in hot water when it comes to inappropriate posts on social media. Social media information can be easily discovered and is being introduced as evidence during trials at an alarming rate. The current solution is for lawyers to advise or order clients not to participate on social media networks during sensitive times. This is not a strategy. Simply telling your clients not to use social media is like telling them not to use the phone or email. It is unrealistic.
You may never use Pinterest, and that is ok. But since your clients are using social media, you need to understand some crucial components in order to properly advise them of the risks and liabilities of using these networks.
Step 1: Ask your client what social networks he or she uses.
Create a file for future reference that lists each social channel he or she uses. Depending on how detailed you wish to be, this list can include just the networks used or actual account names.
Step 2: Know the networks that are used most commonly.
There are hundreds of social media networks. The great news is people only use a core group of them: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Periscope. Some networks that are borderline social media include sites like YouTube or Tinder.
Step 3: Learn the terminology.
Each network carrier has its own vernacular. Twitter has tweets, Pinterest has pins, and Instagram uses hashtags. Learning the core group’s common terminology will make communicating about those networks with your clients or during trial a lot easier.
Step 4: When your client shares on social media, know what information is public versus private.
The ease with which clients can post something publicly depends on the network they are using. LinkedIn and WhatsApp are on the private side of the spectrum, whereas Twitter and Pinterest are on the public side. Learning the level of privacy for each network can help you save clients a lot of heartache. Just ask Anthony Weiner.
Step 5: Help your clients understand how to control the privacy settings for each network.
All social media networks offer a certain level of privacy control. For example, you can completely lockdown Facebook, but Instagram becomes useless if you set your account to private. That means that if your client uses Instagram, he or she is not likely to set the account to private unless there is a really good reason.
What does properly advising your client look like?
If there is pending litigation, you may suggest that your clients set their Instagram account to private to prevent people from poking around. When you log into the Instagram app from your phone, click on the right button (the person icon). Then, click the gear in the upper right and select “Private Account” to make your photos private. Remember that “private” on Instagram still allows any followers you’ve previously approved to see your posts.
When the situation is not urgent, advise clients to take 2 seconds to think before posting a picture and ask themselves, “What might other people infer when they look at this?”
This is an example of how to properly advise your client. With even a basic knowledge of social media channels, you can help your clients avoid costly mistakes.