Offering Incentive to Engage with Law Practice’s Social Networking Sites
Opinion rules that, depending on the function of the social media platform, offering an incentive to engage with a law practice’s social media account is misleading and constitutes an improper exchange for a recommendation of the law practice’s services.
Lawyer maintains an account for his law practice on various social media platforms. These platforms allow social media users to “connect” with other users, including both individuals and business-related entities, through the use of “likes,” “follows,” and “subscriptions”. Some platforms also allow users to comment on posted content or share posted content on their own social networks.
To increase his social media exposure, Lawyer wants to offer a prize incentive to anyone who connects or interacts with any of his social media platforms. All users who connect or interact with Lawyer’s law practice social media account will be entered into a drawing for a prize. The giveaway is open to all users of the social media platform used by Lawyer.
May Lawyer offer an incentive to all social media users to connect or interact with Lawyer’s law practice social media account?
No. If a social media platform will broadcast or display a user’s connection or interaction with Lawyer’s law practice social media account to other users of the platform, Lawyer may not offer prize chances in exchange for activity on or with his social media accounts.
Generally, lawyers may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services. Rule 7.2(b). Certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow users to connect with or otherwise follow a business or service entity’s social media account by “liking” the entity on the social media platform. Similarly, users may also comment on or share social media posts made by the business or service entity’s account. The user’s decision to “like” or follow the entity and the user’s comments on the entity’s posts are then displayed not only within the user’s social media feed, but can also be displayed on the feeds of other users who have previously connected with that user. Also, when an individual “likes” a business’ social media page, that business’ posts/advertisements may appear in the individual’s social media feed and may appear in the news feeds of the individual’s other “friends” or connections with a caption such as “Jane Smith likes No Name law firm.”
Without further context, other users could interpret an individual “liking” a law practice as a personal endorsement and recommendation of that law practice. If the social media platform broadcasts the user’s “like” of the law practice on other users’ social media feeds, Lawyer’s offer of an entry in a giveaway for a prize to social media users in exchange for the user “liking” the law practice’s social media account violates Rule 7.2(b).
Additionally, a lawyer may not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. Rule 7.1(a). A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading. Id. The purpose behind Rule 7.2(b)’s prohibition on offering something of value in exchange for recommending services is to ensure that recommendations for a lawyer’s services are based upon actual experiences or legitimate opinions of the lawyer’s service, rather than financial incentive. The displayed “like” of a law practice may indicate some prior experience with the law practice or the personnel associated with the practice upon which the user’s “liking” of the practice is based. Similarly, the credibility attributed to a particular social media account could be influenced by the number of account followers or subscribers. When the “like” or follow of a law practice’s social media account is based upon the user’s interest in a prize giveaway, the incentivized “like,” follow, or other interaction received by Lawyer and displayed on social media is misleading in violation of Rule 7.1(a).
This opinion does not prohibit a lawyer or law firm from having a social media presence, or encouraging or inviting other users to like, share, follow, or otherwise interact with the lawyer’s or law firm’s social media account. Non-incentivized social media interactions are not prohibited.