Politics: a topic so controversial it’s become its own third rail. Social media is awash with political posts nowadays. And with mid-term elections just around the corner, it seems politics is inescapable. So how should a law firm navigate social media and politics? Is there danger in mixing the two for your business and digital reputation? The answer is unequivocally yes, as demonstrated over the weekend by a restaurant in Houston, Texas.
GOING VIRAL ISN’T ALWAYS A GOOD THING
On Friday evening, a prominent Houston restaurant chain posted a photo on one of its locations’ Facebook Pages. The photo featured Attorney General Jeff Sessions posing with restaurant chef-owner Domenic Laurenzo, with the following caption:
Almost immediately, the post – and screen captures of the post – went viral, with an avalanche of comments denouncing the restaurant and calling for boycotts. Several of the locations are situated within Houston’s historic LGBT district of Montrose and have been a favorite happy hour and dinner location for many, many LGBT patrons over the years. LGBT advocates were among the most vocal of those calling for boycotts, claiming it was a betrayal of some of the restaurant’s most devoted patrons.
We had the honor to server [sic] Mr. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Thank you for allowing us to serve you. #jeffsessions #eltiempocantina #unitedstates #usa #attorneygeneral #houston
Almost immediately, Roland Laurenzo (father of Domenic and principal owner of El Tiempo) wrote a second Facebook post claiming the original photo and caption was published “without review or approval by ownership.” This seemed to be too little, too late; by Saturday afternoon, El Tiempo deleted the Facebook Pages for all of their locations. As of this writing, a “Boycott El Tiempo Cantina” Facebook event is already planned for Monday, August 13 at 6:30pm…. some 72 hours after the original post went live.
THE DANGER OF POLITICS IN BRAND MANAGEMENT
While political issues seem to dominate social media and current affairs – especially just three months out from mid-term elections – expressing political opinions can be extremely detrimental to a business if done incorrectly, as evidenced by this local Houston news story. When dealing with politics and social media, it’s imperative to keep a few things in mind, including your core demographic, your potential client base, and your digital reputation. Within hours, El Tiempo’s Yelp Page had hundreds of one-star, negative reviews. Whether or not those reviewers had actually been to the restaurant, they chose to use that platform to express their distaste with the restaurant’s political statement. And – for better or worse – most social media platforms don’t distinguish between legitimate reviews and angry voices.
While we are not saying your law firm has to stay away from politics entirely, any individual or business should be careful with political messaging. Individual attorneys can choose to support candidates or causes while keeping the information off of the law firm’s social channels. Firms can choose to purchase tables at political events that align with the attorneys’ views, as well. But ask yourself the following questions before posting photos to your law firm social media channels:
- Who is my core audience? Are most of my social media followers aligned politically with my views?
- Could this post alienate the type of clients we represent?
- Does this post enhance the firm’s profile or status in the community?
- What is the potential backlash from posting this?
While this story should exist as a cautionary tale, keep in mind that social media’s powers can be used for good. A rival Houston Mexican restaurant located mere blocks from El Tiempo took the opportunity to spin the situation to its benefit, using the sign outside to display the following message (which quickly went viral on LGBT social media accounts): Brunch Sessions at El Real are Always Cage Free and Full of Rainbows. The clever play on words is certainly a sly nod to the unfolding situation, and clearly the restaurant hopes to capitalize on the clientele currently fleeing from their long-time rival.
ESTABLISH RULES FOR YOUR FIRM’S SOCIAL CHANNELS
Whether the mea culpa message posted by the owner of El Tiempo was truthful or not, claiming the post was made “without review or approval by management” is an important reminder to make sure you trust the people managing your social media channels. Whether the people posting are internal employees or an outside marketing agency, you should establish clear rules for appropriate content shared to your accounts. The easiest and best way to avoid a public relations nightmare is by clearly communicating the firm’s political stance… or specifying that NO political content is to be posted or shared without a designated managing attorney’s express permission.
Social media channels are oftentimes treated as an afterthought by many law firms, or deemed as “not worth the time” by law firm management, and thus handed over to other employees to handle. Entrusting support staff or young interns to manage a law firm’s social media presence, however, can lead to costly mistakes. Professional services providers like law firms need to ensure their social media channels consistently reflect the brand identity and voice of the firm.
Social media management appears deceptively easy, when in reality any number of factors can tank a law firm’s digital reputation in the blink of an eye. In order to prevent a social media misstep, implement the following rules for your firm’s marketing team:
- Political posts: strict guidelines about if, when, where, and how they get approved and are shared
- Reviews: make sure someone responds to every online review of your law firm – especially the negative ones – in a professional and respectful manner
- Messages / Comments: establish a system for replying to social media comments and direct messages across all of the firm’s social platforms in a reasonable timeframe
- Voice: one of the more complicated aspects of social media management is ensuring all posts reflect the identity of the firm
LAW FIRM SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT
At Stacey E. Burke, PC, we manage social media channels for law firms and only law firms, which means we understand how to project the correct brand identity and messaging across every social network. Find out how we can help elevate your law firm’s social media presence today.