Guest Blog: Social Media And Pro Bono

Pro Bono Shareholder Lisa W. Borden of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

Considering my 20+ years of law practice, I might be an old fogey, but I’m also an “early adopter” – not a techie by any stretch, but I enjoy using new technologies. I’ve been on Facebook forever, and I’m closing in on 2000 Tweets.

I first used social media for personal fun – keeping up with old friends, fomenting minor revolutions with political rantings, but began to realize how social media could be a powerful tool. Everybody needs a website – people tend not to be interested in any organization without one. When my firm got involved with the fabulous Homeless Experience Legal Protection (HELP) program, which uses volunteers to staff homeless shelter legal clinics, lack of a website was one of the first things I noticed, and soon corrected. But websites are, in general, kinda dry and rather static. There’s important information, but not much excitement. Once you’ve visited a website for a law firm, business, or pro bono program, you’re not likely to return often. Shortly after getting HELP’s website up and running, I started its Facebook page, and soon had more than 200 fans. Hmmm . . .

Those of us who direct law firm pro bono programs know that we have many different interests to address. Among them are the firm’s interest in not having its good deeds go unnoticed, and our own interest in attracting more diverse and interesting pro bono projects for our attorneys. So how can social media help?

Unlike a website, social media is not a one-way street. It’s interactive and dynamic, and that helps bring attention to what you have to say. Sure, you can post pro bono news on the firm’s website and issue press releases, but neither of those is likely to be forwarded around the web like wildfire. When I want to let the world know about pro bono accomplishments by my attorneys, I often start with a post on our pro bono blog, One Good Turn. When I finish posting on the blog, I hit Twitter and tweet the link to my post. My tweet goes automatically to my Facebook page . . . and we’re off! The firm retweets, our followers retweet (weird having “followers,” isn’t it?), my Facebook friends comment and share with their friends. Each medium builds upon the next, and your post is read and discussed by people you never dreamed of.

A few tips:

1. A blog is flexible. Twitter is limited to 140 characters, and Facebook to 420 (who really reads those notes?). Your blog is your own, allowing you to develop a story. That said, be mindful of your readers’ time and attention span. Link your blog post to bios of attorneys involved, websites of pro bono organizations with whom you partnered, related news stories, and more. Once your blog is launched, keeping it fresh is vital! Post often, lest new readers wander away.

2. Twitter whizzes around the internet quickly through retweets, and lets you fire off quick news updates on the go – “Congrats to Lawyer John Doe of our Center City office on victory in asylum case! #probono” The hashtag (#probono) means your update will be read by people searching for pro bono news whether they follow you or not. Be sure to mention other “Tweeps” who are involved. Include a link to your blog or your firm’s press release about that great victory to get it read more widely. There are an awful lot of blogs out there, and chances are people won’t just stumble across yours.

3. Facebook is great for its higher level of interaction. You probably know more of your Facebook friends personally (or at least feel like you do), so they have a more personal interest in what you have to say. They’re more likely to comment on your post, and share their thoughts about it with their friends. Make it easy by setting your Twitter updates to post automatically to Facebook.

Lisa W. Borden is pro bono shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.*  She also blogs for the firm’s pro bono blog at One Good Turn.

Are you blogging or using social media to strengthen your pro bono program?  Do you have additional tips to add to Lisa’s?  We’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below.   And be sure to follow the Pro Bono Institute on Twitter and Facebook — and tell your friends!

*denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project