Google Plus for Lawyers: A New Professional Networking Platform?

Cue music. (Hint: this is when you click play below and max the volume on your speakers.)

Lights. Popcorn. Aaand (think James Earl Jones): just when you thought it was safe to dip a toe into The Social Media Waters and build a law firm Facebook page, comes…

Google Plus for Lawyers: A New Professional Networking Platform?

These past few weeks we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our test run of Google Plus, the latest social effort by everyone’s favorite search giant. Early feedback during this “private beta” phase seems largely to be positive, with notes of caution on one side and wild euphoria on the other to keep it… interesting.

As the service opens up to more people some of us in the legal community have been asking: is Google+ a suitable venue for professional networking for lawyers?

Here are my early thoughts on the matter – certainly not an all-inclusive summary of the platform (too soon for that), but a place to start.

I think it helps to evaluate your online networking efforts against three standards: 1. connections, 2. communication, and 3. reputation. So good, early questions might ask: how does G+ stack up against those three?

1. Will there be connections on Google Plus?

Undoubtedly, yes. One frustration in these early days has been the occasionally myopic and self-referential stream of updates from the early tech adopter scene (one can only read so many news items from and about Robert Scoble in a single hour), but that’s changing. I’ve seen reports suggesting that Google Plus may very well be the fastest-growing platform ever, already at 10 million users, with 20 million expected by the end of week.

One can assume the user base will grow. In my experience, many lawyers have been reluctant to embrace Facebook for its inability to separate the personal and the professional. One terrific innovation over at Google is the concept of the Circle – which really is just a way easily to compartmentalize what you share and with whom. (This legal analysis with my colleagues, this picture of a cat on a treadmill underwater with my fellow stamp collectors.)  In my estimation, the Circles innovation is superb – truly a great way to determine who hears and sees what from you. Reason enough to make me feel G+ will be my first platform of choice in the near future.

For now, I give Google Plus a 7/10 for Connections. I’ve met new and interesting people there already, and connected with a number of old friends from other platforms. I fully expect that at some point a critical mass of people (for lawyers: your clients and your colleagues) will be on the service in some fashion.

2. Is it easy to communicate on Google Plus?

On communication, I give Google Plus an 11 out of 10. The stream of updates is so spectacularly real-time that in the early days I equated it to freebasing lab-grade cocaine. Might feel amazing at the time, but you aren’t sure your body is going to survive.

In reality, Google has some work to do in this regard. Several times I have been in the midst of commenting on someone’s post when the latest explosion of updates have bumped me off the stream. Additionally, in some sessions I’ve barely had time to read the first few words of an interesting update before it has been replaced by new updates by others. Indeed, this one goes too 11. I wish it went to 8.

However, we can all expect Google to fine tune the real-time stream – and provide us with more tools to fine tune it ourselves.

Besides, at launch, I already see terrific communication opportunities for lawyers on Google Plus. Not the least being Hangouts, an interesting blend of Skype, video chat, and mini-webinars. I imagine a time in which tech-comfortable attorneys might run law-focused “Hangouts” for the same reason it makes sense to produce videos, group chats, or webinars. An estate-planning attorney might host a Hangout in which she fields questions on essential trust documents for families. A business lawyer might host monthly Hangouts with tech entrepreneurs, answering questions to do with incorporation, protecting IP, workplace policies, growing internationally, etc.

The privacy screens on Google Plus are good enough that that same lawyer could be posting pictures of their kid’s latest karate tournament for family and friends to enjoy, and neither “Circle” would know about the other.

With regard to communication, Google already allows: status updates, comments, sharing, email, chat, video hangouts … what else am I missing? … all in easy proximity.

Google Plus is not a broadcast channel. Don’t expect to connect your blog to your profile and auto-feed every new post. It will be interesting to see how that grows.

3. What about reputation and Google Plus?

A handful of random thoughts. There are few ways this might manifest:

First, to be on Google Plus is to have a Google profile. Google profiles do well in Google search. Therefore, to be on Google Plus is to take possession of one more node on the Internet in which you control your professional exposure/visbility/brand … call it what you will. File that under: reputation management.

Second, I think Google has an advantage over Facebook and Twitter in terms of brand perception (correct or not) by many lawyers. Risk averse to begin with, I have encountered many in the legal profession who (reasonably) aren’t that keen to align themselves with brands that, for some, bring to mind college beer parties or pictures of the sandwich you had for lunch. We can argue the silliness of that point of view forever, but the fact is: LinkedIn and Google have different brands. As a consequence, as with LinkedIn, I imagine that many more lawyers will be willing to trust Google Plus with their online, professional reputation. Just a guess.

Third, Google Plus is already shaping up as a terrific place to meet, engage, converse, share content, and network. A lawyer who feels comfortable in that environment can easily showcase their expertise – build their reputation – in much the same way we see it happening daily on the holy trio of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

We’re intrigued by the platform and are certainly looking forward to seeing in what ways Google Plus will open up for third-party development. We already have some ideas about how we might bring value to JD Supra contributors on G+ as we have on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

My early sense – willing to be proven wrong – is that LinkedIn will likely remain the first platform of choice for lawyers and firms — and that those lawyers who feel at home on on Twitter and Facebook will take to G+ like fish to water.

There will be a critical mass of folks of all kinds on Google Plus – at which time you can guarantee that the people lawyers want to meet (other lawyers, media, referral sources, other professionals in related fields, prospective clients) will be on the platform. Then it will be silly not to be there.

In the meantime, Adrian Dayton offered this in a Google Plus update of his own, which deserves a chuckle:

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 9.33.28 AM.
pngI’ve been collecting a list of Lawyers and Legal Professionals on Google+. Add your name to the list as a comment.

What are your early thoughts on Google Plus? I’d love to hear. Take it to the comments>>

Related reading:

– Nancy Myrland: Google Plus: It’s early But Interesting (impressively written in what felt like hours after invites starting flowing)
– Heather Morse: Why should we connect on Google Plus when we already follow, connect, friend…
– Jay Fleischman: Google Plus for Lawyers: Some Essential Resources
– Doug Cornelius: Compliance and Google