How to win friends and followers

Catherine MelisBlake Morgan

Catherine Melis considers how to avoid a social media #fail.

Have you ever searched for yourself on Google (#EdBalls)? You’re likely to find an astonishing amount of professional and personal information, some of which you’d probably like to keep private. A quick Google search can reveal a lot – your Facebook profile, Instagram page, personal blogs – all neatly listed right under your work profile and LinkedIn account.

Many readers will shrug off these real-life examples of lawyers’ online behaviour as foolishness, thinking, ‘it will never happen to me’. While most people will hopefully never suffer the humiliation of an inappropriate post going viral, there are real risks in using social media, even in a personal capacity.

Most of us wouldn’t think it appropriate to describe our jobs as ‘basically f***ing people over for money’, let alone do so on camera. Posting a video on YouTube about the Charlie Hebdo attacks would clearly make you a target for controversy. Bragging about your skills at carrying out a particular sexual act on Facebook is probably imprudent, no matter how private you think your account is.

It is concerning to realise how easy it is for junior lawyers (or anyone in a profession where a degree of decorum is required) to expose their private lives in ways they’d rather not to recruiters, would-be employers and even clients. That photo of you at that party ten years ago could come back to haunt you.

Does that mean we should all leave Facebook and the like in a mass exodus? Of course not.

Some teachers get around the risk of students tracking them down on social media by changing the first letter of their surname. Change the ‘M’ to an ‘N’ et voilà – unsearchable by professional name. Although I like the sound of ‘Catherine Nelis’, I suspect thinly veiled anonymity wouldn’t shield me from public ridicule if, in a moment of madness, I decided to boast on Twitter about having knocked a cyclist of their bike (granted, that was a trainee accountant, not a lawyer).

We can improve our account security, but, essentially, it comes down to content, and realising that online communication is unique. The same comments that people laugh at on TV, or with their friends, could be considered wholly inappropriate and ridiculed if posted on Twitter. It can be a tough line to draw. The safest approach is not to post inflammatory or inappropriate comments.

But let’s not forget the enormous benefits of our online presence. The unique advantage that we as junior lawyers have online is that we ‘get’ social media and we know how to use it. As individuals, we have the opportunity to create a personal brand rather than remain an anonymous junior lawyer at a firm. Perhaps this ability to see and be seen at a junior level, which simply wasn’t possible in the past, contributes to the phenomenon of ‘Generation Y’.

Catherine Melis is a solicitor at Blake Morgan and a Law Society council member for the junior lawyers.

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 17 February 2015, and is reproduced by kind permission.

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