Social Media Marketing and the Law: Post or Perish

A leading voice on social media marketing and the law says practitioners are ignoring the medium at their own risk. Author and Survive Law founder, Wenee Yap, says social media is a cost-effective way for law firms to market their business and gain a competitive edge. She shares her secrets to social media success.

Among the generation of lawyers forced to adopt computers in their office in the 1980s, some thought the devices would never catch on – others vowed that they would never type their own letters. Forty years later, social media is the new PC. While some lawyers take to the new media with vigour, for the traditionalists it’s still foreign territory.

Wenee Yap, co-author of Australia’s first book on social media and the law, Social Media Law and Marketing: Fans, Followers and Online Infamy, says lawyers are often fearful of scrutiny, feedback and exposing their firm to comments via social media marketing.

“They also see liability everywhere, making many reluctant to join social media,” says Yap, who is also founder of, the country’s most visited online law student website.

The David and Goliath game

Survive Law has reached half a million visitors per year, more than 18,000 Facebook fans and over 3,000 Twitter followers – all with no advertising budget – proof of the marketing pull of new media.

Marketing is the David and Goliath game, and social media marketing is the great equaliser, says Yap. “You no longer need a million-dollar budget to promote your business. But you do have to change”.

“The persuasive style of traditional marketing doesn’t translate well to social media where people answer you back. It’s also more informal. It makes people like you as opposed to making people feel obliged to know you”, she says.

Risks of ignoring social media

Ignoring the force of social media can come at a cost, actually exposing firms to market-related and legal risks. With many professionals spending up to eight hours on social media throughout their day, it now makes up about half the media space.

So if you’re not tapping into the social media market, your competitor most surely is and you’re missing out.

“Moreover it’s one of the best and clearest ways to engage directly with your client base, if you use it well and know who you are planning to target”.

Social media policy

Yap also recommends insuring your firm against risk with a social media policy.

In a recent case, Linfox Australia Pty Ltd v Glen Stutsel, Fair Work Australia found in 2012 that Linfox had unfairly dismissed a truck driver for his offensive posts about his managers on his Facebook page. He thought his account had the highest privacy settings, but it actually had low privacy settings, allowing one of his managers to see his complaints.

The driver was ultimately reinstated as the court found that he never meant his managers to see his comments. It also held that as Linfox did not have a social media policy, its reliance on its induction training material was not enough to justify the driver’s dismissal.

This glaring need for businesses to develop a policy about employees’ use of social media prompted Yap to work with co-author Geoffry Holland, barrister and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, to write a template for a social media policy, forming the basis for their book.

“If you don’t have a social media policy, you may be liable for what your employees say, you may be liable for what the general public says about your law firm and you have no way to control, sue for or moderate what is being said about you”, says Yap.

A good policy establishes employees’ codes of conduct, responsibility and liability, social media best practice, how to manage feedback from the general public, and who actually owns that partner’s Twitter account with the massive following.

Taking the plunge

For lawyers who are ready to embrace social media marketing, they need to take a strategic approach, says Yap.

First, focus on your marketing goals, and the personality and message your firm wants to convey in their marketing. Then target your market. Become familiar with all the different social media networks available and the breakdown of their users by gender and salary. Then pick just two networks to join.

Yap’s preferences for legal marketing are LinkedIn and Twitter, rather than Facebook. She sees Facebook as a more social space, which lawyers often like to keep separate from their work.

Then appoint a Gen Y lawyer to post as often as possible during key times, at least two days each week, to know what’s trending and respond to any feedback.

“Feedback is great actually, but you have to know how to manage the conversation”, she says.

When posting comments:

  • Don’t be boring or negative.
  • Be authoritative.
  • Don’t give legal opinion, but provide commentary from a legal perspective.

“Think of it as the op-ed in BRW. But rather than 500 words, it has to be 50 words and it has to come constantly!”

If it all seems too hard, you do have a choice. “The choice is to become obsolete”.

Holland G, Crossley K, Yap W Social Media Law and Marketing: Fans, Followers and Online Infamy, Lawbook Co. 2014.

Virginia Ginnane is an author, lawyer and writer, working for more than 20 years for international publishers in the UK, US and Australia. Her articles have appeared in The Lawyer, Legal Week, Legal Business, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald and Hello! magazine among many other publications. She was London correspondent for Time Inc’s Who Weekly and Life magazine, and also feature writer at Australian Associated Press in Sydney. Virginia has worked at Thomson Reuters as Commissioning Editor, Tax Writer and is currently Marketing Content Specialist in Tax & Accounting.

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