Denver Bar Association
February 2010
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Know Thyself and Have Fun. A Few Words on Facebook Etiquette

by Alli Gerkman

 Editor’s note: The Docket Committee asked Alli Gerkman to write this article on Facebook etiquette (not on the emergence of ethics and the law and Facebook).

The Colorado and Denver Bar Associations were the first bar organizations in the nation to have a website, way back in 1995. This cartoon was the front page of the bars’ website in 1997 and it gave members an easy way to conceptualize all the changes going on with information increasingly online. Photo credit: Cartoon by Peter Hesse, supplied by Reba Nance, Director of CBA Law Practice Management.

On Christmas Day, Facebook was the most-visited website in the United States. While it still lags behind Google and Yahoo for overall visits in 2009, 350 million users logged on en masse to share holiday greetings with friends and family.

Traffic to the popular social networking site continues to soar. Facebook’s growth has been nothing short of staggering. And lawyers, like everyone else, are signing on to connect with contacts, both old and new.

For those who didn’t grow up on the Internet, Facebook might seem intimidating. Don’t let it fool you. It’s really no more than a tool to strengthen something lawyers have used to build business for years: a network.

If you’ve recently joined, or are thinking of joining, here are a few considerations to get you started.

1. Be professional but be yourself. Facebook isn’t your diary. Other people can view the posts and photos you upload – that is why we call it social networking. Know yourself, know the image you want to project in social and professional settings, and post accordingly. Years ago, work life and home life were often kept completely separate. Today, technology has made that almost impossible. A simple Google search might tell you that a professional contact loved the John Adams biography, is learning to play guitar, wrote a sports column for a college newspaper and donated $500 to the 2008 Obama campaign. If you’re online, you’re bound to leave a virtual footprint. Might as well make sure it’s one that accurately captures who you are, by being genuine on Facebook and with all social networking.

2. Know your privacy settings. Facebook has received many complaints that its privacy settings are confusing – some even speculate it has done this on purpose to discourage use of the settings, thereby forcing people to be more public. Take the time to figure out where your posts and information are being broadcast – and to establish privacy limits you’re comfortable with. You can control who sees your posts by organizing your contacts into certain groups (friends, family, professional, in-Colorado), if you go to your account settings and "Manage Friends." If you don’t have the time to figure out the privacy settings, you probably don’t have time to use Facebook. The link at the end of this article includes a post from The New York Times blog "Gadgetwise" on how to walk through Facebook’s new privacy settings.

3. Don’t annoy your contacts with self-promotion. Over the last year, there has been no shortage of information about how to use Facebook for business. Facebook experts far and wide can point you to countless statistics promising great wealth to you (yes, you!) if you just follow their advice. Facebook can be used for business, but for lawyers it’s not necessarily a direct link. The business value of Facebook lies in the relationships you have there, so don’t destroy your fragile bonds with posts like, "Looking for a great real estate lawyer? Check out my website!" That said, feel free to talk about articles, videos, or anything related to your industry in a way you naturally would. And do use Facebook as a vehicle to promote the good work of others (assuming it’s genuine, of course). This is part of its fun. Your contacts might not care that you think you’re a great real estate lawyer, but they will care that you think Enzo’s End has the best pizza in town.

4. Untag liberally and use discretion when posting about others. When friends post photos, videos and other content to Facebook, they have the option to "tag" people who are part of the post. This makes the post visible to all the contacts of the tagged person. Isn’t it fun when a college friend tags you in a photo from your first day of class? Isn’t it a little less fun when they tag you in a photo from your first college party? If you’re tagged in an unflattering post, untag yourself. Doing this will remove it from your profile. If the post is offensive enough that you don’t want it online at all, contact the poster privately and ask that it be deleted. Be willing to respond to reasonable requests from others to do the same.

5. You don’t have to friend everyone. Feel free to ignore friend invitations from people you don’t know or even people you dislike. And if you want to connect only with close friends and family, it’s okay to ignore a request from someone who is purely a professional contact, though you should probably touch base with the person to explain your reasons. If you decide to open your network in the future, consider proactively sending a friend request to that person. The flip side of all of this, of course, is that you shouldn’t worry too much about others accepting your friend requests. Send your invitations and move on. Don’t worry about friending everyone you know on the first day. There will be plenty of time for that as you get more comfortable with the interface.

6. A word about applications. Smart developers have created countless "applications" you can use to make Facebook more fun. Some people play Scrabble or Mafia Wars. Others use applications that let them share information on anything from their fitness plans to the books they read. You may like applications or you may hate them. As someone who tends toward the latter, I’ll share a handy tip with you. You can tell Facebook not to show you further updates from applications a friend is using. Simply go to your live feed and move your cursor to the application-related post you don’t want to see. To the right, you will see a "hide" button. Click it, select that you want to hide the application, and you’ll never have to hear another thing from that application from any friend who uses it.

BONUS: Don’t give too much credence to articles telling you how to use Facebook (this one included). There are probably thousands of "how to use Facebook" articles online. Consultants have created whole new businesses focused on telling you how to use it. The truth is, there is no right way. There are guidelines, warnings and suggestions that are good to think about (I’ve compiled several good articles at the link at the end of this article), but in the end you can write your own rules.

Finally, come join us at the Denver Bar Association’s page: www.facebook.com/DenverBarAssociation.

And have fun! Visit delicious.com/gerkmana/DocketFacebook.

 Alli Gerkman

Lawyer Alli Gerkman is manager of online content and development for the CBA’s Continuing Legal Education in Colorado, Inc. She has enjoyed social networking for years. Connect with her on the CBA-CLE’s blog www.TheLearnedLawyer.com.


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