Social media is a great tool to reach new clients, build your reputation and establish authority in your area of law. However if you're not careful, your efforts can backfire if you do not have a definite plan, post inappropriate content or inadvertently cross an ethical line.
 
Here are eight key rules to govern your firm's use of  social media:
 
1. Develop a social media marketing plan. If you're going to wade into the world of social media you should do so with outlined objectives such as whether you want to meet new clients or increase traffic to your website, and a defined message. By having a plan you can evaluate the different social networking sites and determine which is best for you.
 
2. Put social media icons on your business cards. Put the icon for whichever sites you're using on any materials you hand out to clients such as your business card or firm brochure. You can also put them in your email signature.
 
3. Interact with your followers. Make sure to follow back your subscribers and interact with them. Social media is a two-way street, and the more attention you show your followers, the more they will boost your social profile.
 
4. Don't break legal advertising rules. Make sure you look up your state's ethical rules regarding advertising and follow the guidelines carefully to ensure your social media use falls within acceptable parameters.
 
5. Don't solicit clients. All states have defined rules for what constitutes solicitation of prospective clients. In general, you can't contact a prospective client in person, over the phone or through real-time electronic contact if a significant motive of the contact is your pecuniary gain. Contact through social media may fall under this rule.
 
6. Don't post disparaging content. Social media can build or ruin your reputation. An easy rule of thumb to remember is to always stay positives in your posts. You should never make negative comments about other professionals, clients, judges etc.
 
7. Don't give legal advice. You should be careful about the content you put on your social media sites for multiple reasons. If you post anything that could be deemed legal advice you may inadvertently create a client-attorney relationship. You could also be found guilty of the unauthorized practice of law. The danger of the Internet is that it reaches beyond your jurisdiction. Content you posted in Illinois may constitute the practice of law in a state in which you aren't licensed.
 
8. Measure your success. You shouldn't use social media without a plan to measure whether it's been successful or not. Use Google Analytics to record the flow of traffic to your site so you can see if it has increased through your social media efforts. Some sites, like Facebook, offer in-site analytics as well.
 
If you want to use social media to reach new clients, gain traffic to your website and build your reputation, you need to start out with a plan and then track whether your efforts are paying off. Also, by staying clear of ethical violations and remaining positive in your posts, you avoid the major pitfalls of social media that can ruin your reputations or worse, get you sanctioned.