I enjoyed this observation by Seth Godin, in relation to the overwhelming amount of data that's not just available to us, but is directed to us each and every day: "The internet isn't full, but we are."
You can't keep up with the status of your friends on the social networks. No way. You can't read every important blog... you can't even read all the blogs that tell you what the important blogs are saying.That reminds me of advice I see directed at law firms - that they start blogs ("blawgs") and that they can generate clients and referrals through social networking. But that's simplistic.
The blogging advice typically goes along the lines of, "Pick a niche subject, start a blog, post regularly, and make yourself an expert." Blawg of dreams. I'm reminded of Orin Kerr's brief departure from the Volokh Conspiracy to start his own blog. He did all of that, and what? Went back to the much more eclectic, much less scholarly atmosphere of the group blog because it had the traffic. That was two years ago, and the marketplace is now far more crowded. Sure legal blogs can generate business or make people think of you as an authority, but so can a other approaches such as posting online articles, traditional networking, teaching CLE courses, or writing for traditional publications. You may find that, when costs and time are considered, those other approaches offer a far greater return on your investment.
It's amusing to me to read a typical article about the glories of legal blogging, as there seems to be remarkable overlap between the bloggers who are interviewed about their experiences, and they almost always also rely heavily on quotes from people who design and support legal weblogs. You may not get rich mining for gold, but that doesn't mean you can't get rich selling pickaxes to the miners.
Meanwhile, if you look at the ABA's top 100 blogs, how many of them are actually focused on client generation for practicing lawyers? I suspect that if you looked at the blogs that are the most successful at generating business from the public at large, I doubt you would conclude that many of the authors were leading experts in their fields (although they may say that they are on their blogs), and I doubt that you would add many (perhaps not any) to your blogroll. Creating a blog that establishes your expertise to other lawyers such that they refer you cases? That's a lot harder, as you have to get them to notice your blog. And follow it. And, as much as possible, to link to it.
That brings us to social networking. An article I read recently described a lawyer who was active on multiple social networks, and that his combined efforts on his networks generated about $100,000.00 in business for his firm over the prior year. The article conceded that he's an outlier. But it's more than that. It's safe to say he's a younger lawyer, and that his network primarily revolves around younger lawyers. Telling an older lawyer (and no, I don't mean "old" - just old enough to find social networking bit alien) "Find a social network, create a profile, connect to your peers, and learn to use it", will often not be a good use of that lawyer's time, as many of his peers won't be participating in the network, and of those who are many will be passively participating - they will have created a profile that they may or may not check on occasion, and that they may or may not update on occasion, but they're not actively using the network or the service's features.
As for a younger lawyer who is active in five or more social networks, keeps his profile up to date, responds to his friends, and generates referrals, let's not miss this: The emphasis is still on social. I doubt you'll find a person who is that active in social networks who joined and participates primarily for business purposes; but you'll find a lot who participate for social purposes, with a business element growing out of that social involvement. The importance of social networking is likely to rise, as more and more younger lawyers emerge from a generation that is heavily invested in social networks. But unless you're going to be an active social networker, it's unlikely to become a significant source of clients and revenue.
A big part of the problem is the information overload. There are too many blogs (and "blawgs"), and too many social networks. There will be an increasing tendency toward monopoly - just as there used to be many search engines and now there are really only three that matter, one of which is dominant, eventually there will be similar consolidation among social networks. Because even people who can afford to spend hours each day maintaining their profiles on five networks, few of whom work for law firms, will exhaust at six, or seven, or twenty. People who aren't into social networking don't want to be advised to pick between five or more options and hope that their participation leads to more business. They want to be told, "Use this one," and not have to worry about the others. Many would probably perfer a simple, specialized tool - e.g., an enhanced ABA membership that provides simple tools for members to connect to their peers, track practice areas, perhaps follow legal news and weblogs, and refer cases.