By Daniel Aller
Public Information Coordinator of Social Media
Last year, The Florida Bar Board of Governors Communications Committee created a subcommittee called Social Media and Communications Technology with one ultimate goal in mind.
“Every single way we can get information to our members, we need to be utilizing it,” said John Stewart, chair-elect of the Communications Committee and chair of the subcommittee, which was tasked last year with creating a social media plan and capitalizing on innovative technology to communicate The Florida Bar’s messages through a variety of new platforms. The goal was based on the Bar’s strategic plan.
Nearly 10 months later, that plan is in full swing.
In mid-February, the Bar hired a full-time social media coordinator at its Tallahassee headquarters.
In late March, a unanimous vote by The Florida Bar Board of Governors opened the door for expansion of a limited social media plan.
And today, The Florida Bar’s steady stream of information for its 98,000-plus members is now prevalent across six social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and Pinterest.
“It certainly would not be forward thinking to just utilize Facebook, but all of the platforms going forward. We’ve gone all the way from Facebook to Pinterest, which is a tremendous, tremendous jump,” said Michelle Suskauer, chair of Communications Committee. She was comparing the broad spectrum of social media platforms now offered by the Bar, including the recently established Florida Bar page on Pinterest — an image-based social media site that has been long-known to be heavily populated by women, but has recently become used more by men.
“Given the popularity of social media . . . this is how we all communicate,” Suskauer said. “It didn’t make sense for The Florida Bar to not start utilizing social media and all of its platforms. That’s why we’ve progressed to the point where we’ve expanded our social media to all the platforms, so we’re pushing out information to individuals, and they can receive it in whatever way they feel most comfortable. I think it’s incredibly exciting what we’ve done.”
Each medium has a clearly defined purpose, according to The Florida Bar’s newly adopted plan.
For instance, Facebook — the first account opened by the Bar last year and easily the most popular social media platform, with more than half a billion users worldwide — serves as a way to deliver all Florida Bar-related information to members and direct them to www.floridabar.org, as well as to cross-promote other social media use by the Bar and Bar entities.
The Bar’s Facebook page also aims to highlight Bar News and Bar Journal articles, any item on the “What’s New” portion of the Bar’s website and to share section, division, and voluntary bar news and state and national legal news stories deemed of interest to Florida legal professionals.
The Florida Bar’s LinkedIn group, meanwhile, was established primarily as an online forum for legal discussions between Florida Bar members in good standing, other legal professionals and paraprofessionals, law students, and pre-law students. The Bar’s LinkedIn posts will be focused on creating community dialogue about key Florida Bar programs and issues, Florida Bar Journal articles, recognition of the recipients of Bar and community awards, and legal group projects and initiatives — especially pro bono or legal aid activities.
One thing about all six, however, is the same. Each was seen as a priority that needed “immediate attention,” said Stewart.
“There was no resistance at the Bar level, which is where those decisions are made, to jump right into social media. All the staff, from (Florida Bar Executive Director) Jack Harkness on down, realized the immediate need for us to be a lot more proactive and educate our members,” Stewart added. “Not only so they’re aware of what’s available to them, in terms of social media, but to make sure we educate them and make sure they’re using it the right way. Social media can get you in trouble — because a lot of times you just don’t think about (what’s being posted and how it will be perceived). You’re only thinking about it from a personal standpoint, not a professional standpoint. And next thing you know, you can be crossing some lines that create all sorts of problems.”
The learning curve for some to adopt these new technological marvels into their daily routine can be steep. And Suskauer realizes that.
She also realizes, however, that “the days of the paper newsletter are gone.”
“Sections and divisions are encouraged to begin connecting on social media. And because we understand that everyone is not going to use every platform, they can choose how they want their members to be responsive, how to reach out and better communicate,” she said. “There are LinkedIn groups and so many other ways to communicate better and learn from each other. And, certainly, the addition of our new social media specialist will move us up to a different level, in terms of our communication with our membership.”
The Florida Bar joins its fellow state bars in implementing social media strategies; currently 30 of 50 states are active on at least one social media channel. The Florida Bar did, however, study successful social media plans and policies of other bar associations before creating platforms of its own. And Suskauer feels that because The Florida Bar is one of the nation’s largest legal organizations, it is important not only to be extremely active on social media, but also have TFB serving as one of the leaders in the swift social media movement.
“We’re learning from each other along the way, but certainly people are looking to us to be a standard-bearer in terms of what should be coming next and what we can do to reach our membership,” she said.
The Social Media and Communications Technology subcommittee is made up of Stewart, fellow board members Renee Thompson and Gary Lesser, and public board member Tony Holloway, who is the Clearwater police chief and chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee.
“Renee, Gary, and John have done an amazing job, and Tony’s input has been invaluable as someone who is active on social media and can give us a public perception of our efforts and what we’re doing,” Suskauer said.
The Florida Bar’s Facebook page has nearly doubled its number of “Likes” in the last two months, while the Bar’s Twitter feed is nearing 1,000 followers and the LinkedIn group is over 1,000 — with each growing every day. The Bar’s YouTube channel will continue to share videos of Florida Bar events and the president’s messages, while Google+ and Pinterest were just launched in late April,
Going forward, Stewart and Suskauer agree that The Florida Bar’s social media efforts cannot be advanced without a willingness by its members to learn it and embrace it. After all, social media isn’t the only element of The Florida Bar’s communications efforts.
But it is a new and effective technological tool. And one that couldn’t be ignored.
“I think some are just apathetic or scared of it,” Suskauer said. “I think if we can take away some of the fear about it — some of the, ‘What is it for? Why would I ever need it?’ — and help our members learn how to use it, we’ll see a major increase in the number of attorneys who are on social media. In fact, in just the first year, we already have.
“And that’s really, really exciting.”