If you have of an extra hour between case loads and client meetings, spend it building your social media strategy, or at least contemplating it.

Before you stop reading, dismiss social media for your practice as “something you don’t have time for” and I go completely “social” on you, ask yourself one question: What is social media?

It’s an easy question, right? Social media is different things to different people. As an attorney, factoring in some stipulations, it may be a tool to brand your practice. Depending on whom you ask, social media is marketing, customer service, a way to stay in touch with friends and family and so on. No matter what your definition or whether you use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, its meaning is evolving and consistently redefined.

In January, LawInfo kicked off 2011 by attending the San Diego Social Media Symposium, presented by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and San Diego State University’s Digital and Social Media Collaborative. The event, held at San Diego State University, ignited a social dialogue among attendees from all walks of business and panels representing a diversity of organizations including Hewlett Packard, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, Life Technologies, the San Diego Zoo and the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. It involved a collaboration of perspectives defining social media, its uses, emerging trends, platforms and emerging technologies within the social media landscape.

While the event wasn’t attorney-specific, it embraced the general concept of how organizations utilize social media to connect with consumers. As an attorney, serving your clients is a top priority. We want to share our key takeaways, which may help you better define and use social media to strengthen your practice.

Here’s a rundown of our top 4 takeaways:

  • Have a clear vision. A clear vision is synonymous with expectations. If you’re fixated on metrics, analytics and ROI, your social media efforts may fall flat.

Keynote speaker, Peter Shankman, whose PR and social media clients are among the ranks of the Snapple Beverage Group, NASA, Sprint, The US Department of Defense and Walt Disney World emphasizes that customer service is social media.

“We don’t know everything, our customers do. If we want to service them better, we have to listen.”

As an attorney, listening could mean using Twitter to monitor what’s being said about your practice, turning an unhappy consumer experience into a positive one and improving communication with your clients.

  • Know how your clients get their information. While you may be head-first into the Twittosphere or prefer email for general communication, you’re clients may consume information in different ways. Perhaps they prefer text messaging. Did you know?

Shankman says the best way to find out about a client’s preference is to ASK.

“We’re a world of fractured media and that means your audience is fractured,” explains Shankman. “You have to be relevant to the way your audience likes to receive information.”

While there are limitations in social media for attorneys, you may be able to text reminders to clients, inform them of schedule changes and relevant newsworthy events according to their preference of communication. The bottom line is to understand how they communicate and adapt. Don’t put all of your social media eggs in one basket.

  • Be top-of-mind. Have you ever received a generic Christmas letter? If you haven’t, you’re lucky.

More often than not, it’s one of those impersonal letters a friend or business sends around the holidays regaling the fabulous things they accomplished throughout the past year. The worst part- the salutation reads something like, “Dear [insert name here.] The lack of connection makes this type of letter miss the mark. Social media is similar.

“We live in an age where we connect with less than 1 percent of our network on a regular basis,” says Shankman. “If you have one hundred people in your network, you connect with one of them. If you have one thousand people, you connect with 10 of them. How is that helpful to anyone?”

Connecting with clients though social media can be as simple as a birthday scan. Daily birthday alerts appear in the upper right hand corner of your Facebook page. A simple happy birthday message to a client without asking anything in return can leave a lasting impression and maybe even lead to referrals through other people’s networks.

  • Engage your clients through content. As an attorney, sharing information requires a little trepidation and balance. Keeping certain restrictions and common sense in-mind, attorneys can share their expertise and personality to engage interested or potential clients through social media.

Share your blog! Engage your audience with insightful or even occasionally witty Tweets and relevant articles.

Good content was a consistent theme throughout the symposium. Providing good content, breaking down complex issues in a language they can understand is a great way to become a source for information and build trust as an authority.

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