Nowadays most people are familiar with using social media in their personal lives, and we are all warned about making sure our privacy settings protect our private lives from unwanted eyes.
'Social media' means using websites or apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. The continuing popularity of such websites and apps has been attracting the attention of businesses. Facebook has recently made changes to monetise its platform, and businesses have been warned not to underestimate its potential.
Facebook recently announced that it has 1.59 billion active monthly users from 31 December 2015. Twitter has 320 million active monthly users, and Instagram - a much newer player in the market - announced that it has an impressive 400 million active monthly users since September 2015. The increase in users of social media tells us that it's not just a young person's market anymore; digital platforms are reaching a wide audience of people worldwide. Further, the figures also interestingly show that Instagram has overtaken Twitter in active users: a useful insight for the social media savvy.
Social media may not be an obvious marketing platform for family lawyers; the personal nature of our business makes us almost more guarded about our own private lives. I have come across solicitors and barristers who have refused to discuss their own personal lives at all with clients - perhaps understandably - but I think times are changing. We are used to publicly sharing our lives on social media, albeit with our accounts set to 'private' and available only to those given our approval. I have seen the benefit of opening up my personal life on social media and the ability it has to connect me to potential clients and referrers.
While I was on maternity leave I connected via Instagram with a specialist parenting and events agency set up for entrepreneurial and innovative mums to meet with like-minded others. It utilises social media, predominantly Instagram, to connect with its members and publicise its events. Due to the power of social media, it has gone global: it has over 19,000 followers on Instagram alone. Across all channels, the agency has a following of over 30,000. I have attended its events which took the virtual world into the real, and I've made friends, met referrers and acquired clients as a result.
Last month I collaborated with the agency and hosted a unique event for potential clients. The event was publicised by me and the agency via social media alone. The attendees purchased tickets to come to a seminar, hosted at my firm's offices, and I talked through some basics of children's law, divorce, financial issues, cohabitee disputes and domestic abuse. This was an innovative event by the nature of how it was publicised, and also for a family lawyer to be able to directly target potential clients in such a way. Those who were interested were able to look me up, both professionally (in the usual places: my firm's website and LinkedIn) and personally, by searching for my Instagram, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, my Google+ accounts. When the attendees arrived it felt natural: they were at ease, we already knew we had some shared interests (we were all mums, after all), and we connected in real life.
When I say I've opened up my personal life online, I mean that I post photos of my life online for anyone to see. By doing so I show who I am and what I get up to, and I believe that people can relate to me as a result. By getting a glimpse into my life there is a potential for clients to connect with me on a personal level. It can all be done so easily today anyway: a quick Google search of a name and you can pull up a lot of information about someone. By being open about yourself online a relationship has a basis to form, boundaries can be broken down, and common interests determined. Compliance teams need not panic, as long as you are living a life in accordance with the standards expected by the Law Society and any views expressed on social media are labelled as being your own.
Some social media has been successfully used by law firms as a peer-to-peer platform. My own firm's family law department has a top ten legal Twitter account (@DivorceLawUK) with over 8,500 followers. Social media is a useful tool for both law firms and individuals within those firms to market themselves, set themselves apart and make connections with their peers.
The statistics show a change in the use of social media. The surprising overtaking in popularity of Twitter by Instagram shows that people prefer a quick peek into the lives of others. Personality is important. Revealing yourself as more than a lawyer, a human behind the suit, is worth considering. It's not going to be for everyone; I accept that. However, the statistics speak for themselves. The potential of social media is to be ignored at your own peril.
This article was published in Family Law in March 2016.