06 January 2008

Social networking sites and business

I recently wrote a discussion paper for the Executive team of my law firm on the utility of social networking sites for our business. It seems now that others would benefit from a similar (but much shorter and heavily summarised) paper aimed at a wider audience, so here it is...

I don't think that a law firm needs to worry about being involved in FaceBook, MySpace, Bebo, Orkut or other social networking sites. That's not to say that they shouldn't use them from time to time in limited circumstances, but basically they have no relevance to our business.

I say this for several reasons:

  • it's not an efficient use of marketing resources and budget
  • your firm may end up being associated with advertising and other material that is not complementary
  • unless your client base is youth with time on their hands you won't find clients there
  • the software is inefficient to use compared to email or even instant messaging
  • they are minefields of phishing and spyware and social engineering
  • prospective employees can shoot themselves in the foot by mixing social talk with business credentials
  • There's nothing like meeting people and talking to them on the phone.
My recommendation is that you limit employee access to these sites in the same way you might limit access to, say, Hotmail or Yahoo! mail (whether by policies or software management).

While I know that there are some groups on FaceBook (for example) based on law firms, these are usually very uncomplementary, or there is no clear reason for their existence. One group based on an international law firm has over 800 members - and you can only join using an inhouse email address! It makes you wonder what they're saying in that group that they can't say internally... or perhaps the firm's IT resources are so lacking that the members have to go outside the firm. I trust those people realise they do not own the data, traffic, friends lists or anything else, and it may be retained by FaceBook indefinitely... I hope none of them go on to public office one day and find this material in the press!