1. Recognise your advantage over the traditional power-brokers
Individuals have advantages over law firms using social media as they have actual personalities with which they can use to wow Twitter followers, Facebook friends and Linkedin contacts. A law firm Twitter account is, more often than not, simply a vehicle for disseminating press releases, with the PR staff behind it usually struggling to inject it with a compelling voice. Individual lawyer tweeters can, on the other hand, apply their legal knowledge to news events, while also adding a dash of humour - a far more attractive proposition to prospective followers.
2. Don’t overplay your hand
The danger of showing personality on whatever social media forum you’re using is that you go too far and end up writing something that offends people - and, by extension, damages your career. Jokes that may work in the pub with a select group of your mates often fall flat on Twitter, so be careful about what gags you choose to share.
Perhaps even more risky than ill-advised jokes is getting involved in social media bust-ups. It’s surprising how often this happens, and the media - including the website I edit, LegalCheek.com - are increasingly tapping into public arguments between leading industry figures on Twitter and open Facebook pages as a source of stories.
Before posting anything in the public sphere, bear in mind that even though it’s possible to delete it, anyone is free to take screenshots of what you write - and keep them forever.
The best advice I've heard with regard to lawyers employing caution in their use of social media is from Financial Times general counsel Tim Bratton, who told Legal Week last year: 'There's a tongue-in-cheek, ironic tone to Twitter, but what you write on there has the capacity to come back and bite you and the company you work for. Really, you've got to treat tweeting like writing a business email, and make sure you don't tweet anything you would not be happy to later admit you tweeted.'
3. Engage with the right people
Social media success isn't just about indiscriminate broadcasting of your name to as many people as possible - it's about forging meaningful ties with people who can help your career. To that end, junior lawyers focusing in certain areas of law who are looking to raise their profiles need to look to engage with specialist journalists in relevant sectors. By doing so, they’ll greatly enhance their chances of getting a quote in a newspaper or magazine that flags them up as an expert in their field.
Sit down, spend some time Googling the relevant journalists, find their Twitter profiles, then - gradually and without coming across as a stalker - start '@-ing' them in tweets, referencing their articles and looking to engage in discussions with them.
You won’t build relationships over night, but increasingly journalists are developing some of their best contacts through Twitter, in particular - a trend smart junior lawyers should take advantage of.
4. Tread gently on Linkedin
With its more sober tone, Linkedin is a safer medium than Twitter (and especially Facebook) to use for work purposes, and it has a different etiquette.
While it’s fine to follow or subscribe to anyone you like on the latter sites, hitting strangers with friend requests on Linkedin isn’t a good move - and, if you do it too much, is likely to mark you out as an annoying, headless chicken-style social networker.
Look on Twitter as the place to forge initial ties and Linkedin the place to consolidate them. While it’s possible now to subscribe to the updates of people you don’t know on Facebook, in the UK at least it’s still seen as a social medium principally for keeping track of your friends and, accordingly, junior lawyers would be advised to proceed with caution when using it for work.
5. Stay open-minded and adventurous
When Twitter was founded in 2006, many people sneered, wondering what good could possibly come from using it - especially in a work context. Six years on and it's everywhere.
In the legal community, Twitter early adopters like @CharonQC and @DavidAllenGreen have done very well out of their open-mindedness and willing to try something new before other people. Both now boast significant influence thanks to the many thousands of followers they've built up.
But Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin don’t represent the end of history. Internet trends ebb and flow remarkably quickly (remember Friends Reunited and Bebo?) and there will likely be new social media sites that emerge in the future to rival the current holy trinity.
At the moment, Tumblr (a kind of hybrid between blogging and Twitter) and Pinterest (which is geared towards sharing images) are the hot new sites, although neither looks like it quite has the legs to challenge the hegemony of Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin.
Who knows, though, what groundbreaking new social media phenomena could be round the corner? Look to get in there early.
6. Take your online networks into the real world
Meet-up events for people who have interacted with each other on Twitter are becoming increasingly common, with tweeting lawyers in London now getting together at regular 'Legal tweet-ups'. Entering a room of people with whom you've had only online contact can be slightly odd at first, but once you have recognised them from their avatar photos the conversation often flows surprisingly well.
Certainly, from a networking point of view you tend to get far more out of meeting people you already know a fair bit about, than attempting to develop ties with complete strangers from a standing start, as is the norm at traditional events.
7. Don’t become a social media obsessive
The problem with thorough engagement with social media is that it means you have a lot to attend to - in addition, of course, to dealing with the never-ending flow of emails.
Faced with all those tweets and messages, some recoil and reject it altogether; others become permanently glued to their laptops and iphones, oblivious as their social and romantic lives crumble around them. You can tell who they are because their Twitter feeds are inundated with their tweets even on Christmas day and during family holidays.
It requires discipline to strike a balance, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did.