Becky Simms of Reflect Digital looks at why lawyers need to be aware of Instagram, and sets out a realistic approach to using it. (Updated 13 October 2020)
As a lawyer, it can be difficult to imagine how or why you would use Instagram. Instagram is a visual platform, based on pictures and videos – but law is not a product that naturally lends itself to imagery.
At the same time, it's clear that using images well significantly improves the effectiveness of social media networking. And that's not just true of Instagram, but across all the major social media platforms.
To many, it seems that this is the future of social media, as so many teenagers and young adults consider Instagram their most important social network. With support from parent company Facebook, the total number of active users globally passed 1 billion in 2018. In the UK, in July 2020 Instagram had around 27 million active users in the UK (Statista.com).
Instagram is primarily for sharing photos and video from a smartphone. Just like other social networks, you can interact with other users on Instagram by following them, being followed by them, commenting, liking, tagging and private messaging. While you can access Instagram from a computer, people tend just to use their smartphones.
"A picture of an agricultural lawyer up to his knees in muck – now that's someone I can identify with"
Bill Biddell, farmer, Hampton Estate
It isn't easy for lawyers and law firms to come up with associated imagery, but it's not impossible either. For many law firms, the obvious choice is to focus on their people. Pictures of smiling lawyers literally give the firm a face and help create a perception of approachability.
Take this a step further by aiming for pictures that give an impression of life behind the scenes, rather than the standard posed headshot. Show a picture of your indispensable office manager getting a ten years' service award or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Share a picture of your new associate alongside an old picture of your newly-qualified self twenty years ago.
Here is the Devon and Cornwall firm Stephens Scown, celebrating a charity run with an eye-catching picture on Instagram when the platform was relatively new. The firm now has a gallery of over 1,000 posts, including messaging added to some pictures.
Instagram gives people a peek behind the curtain and personalises, in a visual way, the business of law for people in a way that makes it accessible.
Look for opportunities to take pictures of community involvement. Snap a picture of the speaker at the Chamber of Commerce meetup, or your junior colleague crossing the finishing line at the fun run. Involvement with charities and community groups naturally lends itself to this sort of picture.
Other images might be more directly linked to your legal expertise. For example, you might have a picture of your new publication or a short clip of you starting the keynote speech at a conference. You might decide to tie your imagery to your area of practice, with pictures of landscapes (for an environmental lawyer) or unusual houses (conveyancing).
It's worth finding out whether any of your colleagues maintain an Instagram account or take regular snaps. If so, ask whether you can have a look through and if they would be happy for any useful pictures to be shared by the firm.
"Don't post directly promotional pictures – that's the opposite of what you should be aiming for"
Paul Hudson, marketing director (Europe), Travelers
Using your images
In some cases, an image naturally lends itself to an immediate posting – for example, when a new colleague joins the firm or you attend an event. In others, you can treat Instagram as more of an image archive, looking through to find the right image to spice up a post you want to make.
Every time you add a relevant image or video clip to a post, you make it more engaging, increasing the likelihood that people will see and react to it. Over time, you help demonstrate and develop your personality online, making it easier to build relationships and recruit new staff.
The Instagram platform
If images can be shared through other platforms, what about Instagram itself?
There may be some lawyers whose clients and referrers are particularly active on Instagram. If so, like other social media, you should look to build your presence there. But in reality, most lawyers will see little reaction to anything they post there and even less in terms of business benefits.
If you're using Instagram to create imagery, you'll need to have a profile. It won't hurt if you take the trouble to add captions and #hashtags to your pictures that might increase the chances of people seeing and reacting to them. But you won't want to invest significant time or money in the process.
Instead, take a watching brief. Spend a few minutes each month having a look at what accounts other lawyers are using, the sorts of images they are sharing and whether they are getting a reaction. See if you can find client accounts and whether you share any interests. Learn about how people use hashtags and which ones might matter to you.
If you have key clients who are in sectors such as food, hospitality, fashion, or design, they may be extremely active on Instagram. Even if all you do is 'like' and comment on their posts, you are helping to build and maintain the relationship with that client - which, for many law firms, is a difficult thing to achieve.
So consider having an Instagram account, even if you post few pictures yourself. And enjoy the view.
"I don't expect an immediate return from being on Instagram. But it's part and parcel of our presence on social media, which has boosted our small law firm. And to be honest, it's fun"
Paul Hajek, Clutton Cox
Instagram top ten
- Show people and personality.
- Demonstrate community involvement.
- Look for opportunities to illustrate your expertise.
- Check whether your colleagues can provide content.
- Avoid direct self-promotion.
- Use the Instagram app on your mobile phone to take photos.
- Aim for a relevant image with every social networking post.
- Use hashtags on Instagram to make your images more visible.
- Check what other lawyers are doing for inspiration.
- Keep a watching brief to see how the Instagram platform develops.