It’s unAmerican to say something about social media that has even the faint whiff of negativity. We’re a “go get ‘em” type of people, closing our eyes, holding our nose, and plowing forward into the abyss. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. Well, you get the idea.
When news of the Practicing Law Institute’s full day program, Marketing-palooza, hit the twitterwaves, it caused an involuntary reaction compelling me to check it out. On the bright side, no CLE credit was offered to lawyers to learn how to strut appropriately in high heels and satin hot pants. On the dark side, it was full day of hugs, kisses and cheers. No jeers in sight. Not a cloud in the sky.
My buddy, Kevin O’Keefe, was chairing the event, which was good news. Despite his curious fascination with marketing, Kevin also preaches lawyer competency, which sets him apart from most of the social media gurus who wouldn’t know competency if it bit them in the butt. They mouth the word sometimes, but then they also think every kid with 12 minutes as a lawyer can honestly call himself “highly experienced.”
But then, Kevin offered this teaser for his program.
We have a real rockstar kicking off the program in Steve Rubel. Steve is the EVP/Global Strategy and Insights for Edelman – the world’s largest independent public relations firm. He’s done as much for blogging and social media as anyone I know. He’ll be speaking on Thought Leadership in the Digital Age.
Rockstar? Thought Leadership? Aw, geez. I was kinda hoping that the other Steve Rubell had come back to life, but chances of that weren’t very good. The program was going to hype the new age of social media marketing for lawyers, start to finish. There was no segment, no speaker, no curmudegeon, who would throw cold water on the enthusiasm.
But perhaps one of the speakers, maybe one who was actually a lawyer, would at least mention that social media is not a truth-free zone. Maybe someone would mention that manufacturing credentials and faux expertise was frowned upon. Maybe somebody would say, “we’re still lawyers.”
Nope. As Kevin and Bob discuss, during an interview by Kevin’s son Colin (who just happened to be hanging around with microphone and camera in hand, how fortuitous!), there was no mention, none, of the “perils and pitfalls” of social media. The word “ethics” was never spoken.
If you don’t find the video as a whole enlightening, as Bob Ambrogi apparently does Kevin from that soulful gaze, skip to 2:15.
Understand, guys like Kevin and Bob are the best social media has to offer. There are a broad array of goofballs, non-lawyers, disbarred lawyers, faux lawyers, who pass themselves off as social media gurus because they have nothing else to do all day long and it’s easier than getting a job at McDonalds. Fortunately for them, there are enough hungry, desperate and tech-ignorant lawyers who will follow their advice because they know no better and have no intention of answering another email from Nigeria. They’re not that stupid (twice).
I gave Kevin some gruff about this program in advance, questioning why there was no room for a voice explaining the ethical implications of deception in social media, the pitfalls of marketers and the perils of deception. Kevin responded that lawyers should know their ethical obligations, to be truthful and accurate, and why is it that I couldn’t just let them have a happy day, a day of unfettered positivity, toward social media happen without trying to spoil it all. Why must I always ruin their fun?
That’s me, a spoil sport. A buzz kill. The voice of gloom and doom, of pitfalls and perils. Ruining the fun by singing off key and throwing a wet blanket on the beach party bingo. If I’ve left out a cliche, let me know. But the impact of marketing and social media, the compulsion to distinguish oneself from the thousand other lawyers showing their thighs below the dainty satin hem of their shorts, leads inexorably to ever-worse marketing. We delude ourselves to believe that lawyers know better. We see the evidence of this constantly, and to our shame.
No, there can be no legitimate conference to teach lawyers to exploit social media for their marketing benefit that does not include, expressly and deliberately, a discouraging word. New lawyers enter social media, overnight players with marketer-prepared websites and SEO specialists trying to sneak linked comments across the internet, gaming Google to snag whatever low hanging fruit they can find. Some will disgrace themselves. All will disgrace the profession. Some, hopefully most, never intended that to happen.
No matter who throws cold water on the enthusiasm of the social media cheerleaders, there will be lawyers whose will ignore ethical proscriptions and the minimal dictates of integrity for a quick buck. We’ve done an awful job of vetting the profession of those who care about dignity. But some, and maybe even most, lawyers who engage in social media desire to avoid the ethical pitfalls and perils. Some want to function online without falling into the abyss without having the slightest clue that they are standing on the edge.
Give them a chance. Mention ethics. Mention the perils and pitfalls. Say a discouraging word. It just might save a lawyer from becoming an overnight internet sensation.