As you all know, I am a huge believer in the power of social media – that it can amplify your brand in so many powerful and wonderful ways, and lead to new business and clients. But it also has a dark side. And we keep seeing how social media can be detrimental to one’s brand, especially when it comes to how we feel about politics or controversial news topics. Individuals can do serious damage to their brands and reputations by publicly commenting on social media about such charged subjects, sometimes even resulting in the loss of their jobs.

Hayley Geftman-Gold was fired from her job as an in-house CBS lawyer for making in 2017 remarks on Facebook that essentially alluded to the fact that she was unsympathetic to  the victims killed in the Las Vegas shooting because they were “country music fans” and therefore likely Republican. It was a very unfortunate, stupid and probably a heat of the moment comment, and someone screenshotted what she said, leading to the end of her career. She was harassed on social media and has essentially disappeared online. I don’t know Hayley, but from her social media footprint, you can see that she is a married mom of two kids, and I imagine that if she could take back what she said in that moment, she would. Although, she never issued a public apology or said a peep online, which I think is a very big mistake. If you make a mistake, own it, apologize, make amends and move on. Her silence was just as damaging as her incredibly hurtful words.

I was inspired to write this post by my good friend Nancy Myrland’s great insights in her article, “You Damage More Than Your Own Personal Brand With Bad Online Behavior.”

She notes, “As a reminder, your personal brand is the way you do business, the way you act when you come in contact with others, and the behavior that is so consistent there is no question in others’ minds what you will be like when they see you online and offline. It is your brand. Whether you are deliberate about its definition and execution or not, you have one.”

Preach Nancy!

My favorite part of Nancy’s blog post is the following excerpt about lawyers and law firms having a serious responsibility when it comes to the tools we can use to communicate information.

  • “You need to let people of all ages, positions, and levels know your expectations.
  • You need to define your firm’s brand, then communicate it over and over to everyone on a regular basis.
  • You need to help them define their personal brands.
  • You need to help legal and business professionals feel comfortable using the tools they have in front of them.
  • You need to understand that being a digital native or a digital adopter doesn’t mean there is a built-in understanding, or lack thereof, regarding how to use social media intelligently. Age is not a factor in determining online intelligence.
  • You need to address the fine line that exists between personal and professional use of social and digital media. That line is fading.
  • You need to be aware and focused on all of this because damage to individual or firm brands is not worth the lack of your attention to these details.”

All of the above is why many firms require their employees sign social media policies. While having a signed social media policy by each of your employees or asking them to offer a disclaimer on their social profiles such as “these are my own personal views and do not reflect those of my employer” does not always stop bad online behavior, it does deter it and it does protect the firm to a degree.

The best thing to protect your firm and your employees against the dark side of social media is to educate, educate, educate. So, offer social media trainings – lunch and learn programs – and do deskside trainings with each lawyer and staff member. Set up Google searches on the lawyers at your firms. Make sure they know the downsides of social media and the potential irreparable harm it can cause to their brands and their business.

There are countless stories of lawyers talking too loudly about confidential client matters on planes, trains, automobiles and in elevators or posting details on social media about where they are for work, and others being able to piece together information on what they are working. Big deals have blown up because of this – don’t ever put yourself in this position. Again, checking yourself into a cool location on Facebook or posting a photo of yourself in a fun bar in a hip city on Instagram is not worth if it you do not have a job when you land.

Lawyers, and anyone who has clients, need to exercise the uttmost care and caution at all times when revealing any details regarding the nature of their work. Do not leave your phone unlocked or papers lying around if you are around groups or if you live with others. Do not take client calls on speaker phone. You need to think about confidentiality every second of every day.

As Nancy says, “Don’t be the next case study about how one of your people blew up in public, tarnishing their name and reputation, as well as your firm’s.” I’m with Nancy. At the end of the day, getting in the last word, or making a comment just to say your peace, it’s just not worth it.