- Paralegals and Online Social Networking
Paralegals and Online Social Networking
An Archive Article
Paralegals and Online Social Networking
[Orginally published January 25, 2010] Recently, I’ve received correspondence from many of ParalegalGateway.com’s site visitors regarding online social networking and how it may or may not impact them professionally. Realizing that the internet is constantly changing faster than most of us can blink, I felt this is a subject that welcomed some cogitation specifically regarding Paralegals.
Before we dive into how this ever growing medium may help or hurt Paralegals, let’s first review the basics. Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups who are looking to meet others to develop friendships and business relationships. When it comes to online social networking, websites are commonly used and are known as social sites. Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users and, depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share a common interest. An example of this would be ParalegalGateway.com’s sister site that launched in 2007 called MyParalegalSpace that has grown to over 1600 members nationwide. Once a person has been given access to a particular social networking website, they may begin to socialize. This may include reading profile information of other members, contacting them, participating in surveys, connecting with old friends and much more.
Although there are a number of social networking websites that focus on particular interests, there are others that do not. The websites without a main focus are often referred to as “traditional” social networking websites and usually have open memberships. This means that anyone can become a member, no matter what their hobbies, beliefs, or views may be. Once you are inside these communities, you can begin to create your own network of friends and eliminate members that do not share common interests or goals.
Now that we have an understanding of the medium, let’s discuss how the same my impact the Paralegal profession. As you may have guessed, there are both positive and negative implications.
Education: Some social networking websites have embedded seminars or teleconferences its members may register to take. Such educational tools are both career boosting and convenient allowing individuals to attend many programs as often as they like. Also, many firms will pay for or reimburse their employees for taking continuing education courses. Additionally, many of these sites’ members have 20 years (or more) of experience under their belt and openly assist those just beginning in the field with any questions they may have.
Employment Search: With the state of the economy many of our colleagues are searching for new employment secondary to layoffs or as a result of just graduating. Some social networking websites have affiliate relationships with third-party companies who host job boards within the social networking website. This allows members to post resumes, search for available opportunities and receive guidance on their search. The most valuable advantage however is the ability to directly network with others who work in a law firm or company that may have available opportunities. This obviously would offer a “leg up” in any job search giving the seeker inside information and possibly a way to get their resume in the hands of the firm’s hiring manager. ParalegalGateway has our very own career website and we encourage members to join and create an online resume.
Community: Social networking websites have literally opened the flood gates to providing a sense of community even to those who do not have much time or ability to travel to a physical location where traditional social networking may have occurred (i.e. association meetings, etc.). Just to emphasize how huge these relationships can be, the members of the groups that I am personally affiliated with have become like family to me – even though I’ve never met many of them in person!! We share everything from responses to interrogatories to the health of our family. Community can be so important to an individual who may otherwise feel very isolated. Think of a Paralegal in a small solo firm who doesn’t have any other Paralegals to talk to or from which to obtain advice. Knowing a familiar person is just a click away can make or break someone’s success on a particular day.
Now that we’ve pointed out some of the positive aspects of social networking websites, let’s visit some things that should be avoided. I’ll try to touch on these as they come to mind and I hope I don’t leave anything out.
Profile Pictures: While social networking websites are just that – “social” – it is important to remember that more and more employers are “Googling” prospective employee’s names in an attempt to discover more about them via the internet. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND WHEN POSTING PHOTOS OF YOURSELF!! If I must spell this out – no bikini’s, no thongs, no underwear shots, no photos of you funneling alcohol at a party 5, 10, 20 years ago, no displaying obscene hand gestures, no intimate photos of you and whoever else, etc. Get the picture? (No pun intended). When considering if a photo is “okay” to post ask yourself if you would “strike that pose” in front of your employer. If the answer is “no” then, don’t post it.
TMI (Too Much Information): I am the first to admit that I’ve opened my mouth only to shove my size 6.5 foot into it on more than one occasion in my life. Sharing too much information in the company of others when not appropriate is always embarrassing. On the internet, it’s also out there for all to see unless deleted. So while it may be fine to “Tweet”, “Sitting at the doctor’s office for over an hour now” you don’t have to go into specifics i.e., “Sitting with my legs up in the stirrups waiting for my annual exam. Man that speculum is cold!” See the difference? Remember potential employers may come across anything and everything you post in a public forum. The same should apply to any information you include in your profile summary. This also includes profanity. Especially profanity!!! However sociably acceptable it may be, it is not professional. Ever.
Gladys Kravitz: Remember Gladys Kravitz? She was the fictional character on the situation comedy Bewitched (1964-1972) portrayed by two very talented actresses named Alice Pearce and, after Pearce’s 1966 death, Sandra Gould. Kravitz was extremely nosy, thought she knew everything and was beyond annoying. Nobody likes a know-it-all. Don’t be one! Social networking websites are for the equal exchange of information so be sure to listen as much as you speak (or read as much as you type).
Shameless Self-Promoters: We all have occasion to celebrate once in a while. A promotion at work, an “atta-girl” received from the boss, recognition for an essay you’ve written, etc. Once you have established meaningful relationships within the social networking websites, it is perfectly acceptable to share good news with others in that group. However, a word of warning to those I have come to label the Shameless Self-Promoters. People within the networking websites realize you are only there to promote yourself (or your product) and they resent you for it. The end result will be at the very least poor sales of whatever it is you may be promoting but also a reputation that says all you care about is getting ahead even at the expense of the time of others who don’t really know you. Advice? Take the time to truly build meaningful relationships with the other members of the social networking site. Not only will you be blessed with some of the best friends you’ll ever meet, you’ll also probably see professional success as well.
In closing, the subject matter discussed here is merely the tip of the iceberg. I know I’ve left out many other important points. Basically, online social networking is an excellent way of meeting other individuals with your interests as well as to professionally network. As with any other experience in life, use common sense along with good advice as you begin or continue your journey with this ever-changing medium. You may make some mistakes along the way and that is okay. Ultimately, it can be very rewarding personally and professionally.