Avoiding Ethical Issues When Using Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool to build brand awareness for your firm and help elevate your status as an expert in your respective field. Yet attorneys and CPAs always need to keep in mind when it comes to web interactions of possible breaches of ethics rules.

Due to the rapid growth of social media and the often slow process of drafting new regulations, the American Bar Association and American Institute of CPAs are still behind on formal social media guidelines.

However, that does not mean you have free reign to use your business accounts in any way you please — many state bar associations have already begun adopting their own rules regarding professional conduct on social media.

This should not deter you from tapping into the power of social networks, but should instead invite caution and common sense as you try to capitalize on the opportunities social media presents.

Lawyers and CPAs are well aware of the guidelines that apply to advertising. From the ban of certain words like “advice” and “specialist” or the limitations that can apply to using testimonials, there are countless restrictions about what is allowed and not allowed in legal and accounting advertisements depending on the state.

How these regulations are phrased, however, often creates apparent loopholes when it comes to new technologies. But even when that is the case, certain areas of the ethical code of conduct can still be applied to social media.

If there are not specific rules addressing the professional use of social media in your state, simply demonstrating good judgment and restraint will help you avoid running into future ethics issues.

Here are three potential problem areas that can raise ethical concerns and how you can avoid possible violations:

  1. False or misleading statements — The prohibition against using false or misleading statements in advertising obviously applies to social media accounts as well. If you are not allowed to say it in a print or TV ad, then do not use it in your social profile or posts.
  2. Disclosure of confidential information — If you are not allowed to make public certain information about your previous, current, or prospective clients, then abide by that rule when it comes to social media as well.
  3. Creating an attorney-client relationship — With a large advantage of social media being the ability to interact with potential clients, inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship is a real possibility. Be careful about how you communicate with potential clients online, and make use of appropriate disclaimers when necessary.

Social media can be a powerful tool to help increase brand awareness and build a rapport with potential clients for your law or accounting firm. However, you need to keep in mind that this is a relatively new technology loaded with ethical gray areas.

That should certainly not stop you from leveraging the unique opportunities that exist with social media to grow your reputation, but you should be aware that certain activities can lead to potential problems.