Are law firms missing out on the full benefits and uses of social media?
social media is also fast becoming a hygiene factor in business. Can you imagine telling an important contact that you don’t have email—can you visualise their reaction? Many will now react in the same way if aren’t using social media platforms.
How widespread is the use of social media by firms for marketing purposes?
The use of social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter by law firms is now widespread but the quality and effectiveness of that use varies greatly in the profession. It isn’t good if your clients are active on social media platforms and you’re not, so some firms see the use of social media only as something you have to do.
Many approach it solely in terms of communicating press-release style material so their content is poor quality. Others see it just as a means of recruitment and their content is more like a prospectus.
Senior people in firms in particular still often don’t appreciate that social media is now a necessary part of life and must be used well and can be especially valuable for marketing and business development purposes.
Businesses are built on communication and the development of the means of communication is ongoing—we’ve had telephones, faxes and emails and now social media offers an additional and effective way to talk to people. Those firms who are handling social media best see it as a means of having a two—way conversation. They usually combine the firm’s use of social media platforms with their use by individuals in the organisation which can support and enhance their corporate use. They also understand that it can be used for a variety of purposes.
What are the benefits of social media marketing?
Social media enables firms to better understand their clients and communicate with them which is a vital part of marketing and business development. If your clients are using social media, you really should be too and you should invest in understanding how your clients like to listen and engage with their business partners.
The use of social media also enables firms to be part of, and interact with, a broader audience than the use of more conventional ways of communication and marketing. Firms can communicate and make new contacts and strengthen their credibility and reputation in a very targeted, rapid and affordable way and also keep abreast of what their competitors are doing.
Social media is also fast becoming a hygiene factor in business. Can you imagine telling an important contact that you don’t have email—can you visualise their reaction? Many will now react in the same way if aren’t using social media platforms.
However, many people—often senior professional people—are afraid of social media as the communication it offers is often public and happens in real time. But as firms learn to manage it better with experience, they should find that it can prompt business to come to them.
How should firms go about developing a social media marketing strategy?
Firm strategies must be based on a good understanding of social media and how it can be incorporated into the business—as with any other form of communication.
Firms must be clear about what they want to gain from it. In the case of marketing, this is enhancing their client base.
Firms can first find out what people are saying about them on the web by a simple Google search, a Google Blog Search and a Twitter search.
If no-one is mentioning your firm you may like to ask why.
Basic and helpful research can include thinking about the key subjects that reflect your business and considering how your clients may talk about these subjects and searching them. Some specialised sites on various subjects can be useful—those working in family law for example, may like to search Mumsnet.
Looking at what your competitors are doing is useful too.
Having a good website is a sound basis for the effective use of social media. The branded image that you create on it can be used to extend across your social media profiles.
The most appropriate platforms for the firm to use can then be considered—a successful strategy will recognise that different platforms can be used to promote different messages. It’s often best to start with using just one or two platforms and mastering those.
Setting goals is important – this can mean just getting to know and use the platforms then moving on to setting goals relating to increasing your audience. Your goals here should be related to your business goals.
Firms need to plan what content they will provide on each platform and what they want to talk about. They also need to set a policy for using social media and have a plan for its on-going management.
How do firms select the most appropriate media platform for social media marketing?
Firms should take note of the platforms which their clients or prospective clients use.
Different platforms offer the opportunity to communicate in different voices and tone—all of which can be useful in marketing. The three most popular platforms are LinkedIn which is like a virtual shop front, Twitter which is like a virtual cocktail party and Facebook which is like a virtual house party. LinkedIn is the most professionally-oriented platform and very popular in the business world. Other popular platforms are Google + which is now the second largest social media platform after Facebook, Instagram, an online mobile photo and video sharing social media platform which was acquired by Facebook in 2012, and Pinterest which is very visually orientated and not necessarily an obvious choice for lawyers but should still be considered.
Twitter is a very powerful tool for lawyers. It enables users to broadcast short updates on legal and business or firm developments and to step into any conversation on any topic they choose. It is therefore a very good way in which to make contacts. For example, firms often use conferences and seminars in their marketing strategy and Twitter can easily be used to publicise these events before, during and after they happen.
People who join Twitter conversations can then be moved to the Facebook platform. Using live Twitter feeds is also common now and allows you to follow a conference or meeting by joining a tweet stream. This should present lawyers with a very good way of finding clients.
Twitter is also a very effective way of sharing blog posts. Your Twitter posts can send people to your blog which can be like a home base—or a place where people are informed about your firm. Other platforms are good as ‘outposts’—or places you use to reach out to a new audience. It’s very useful when you are considering blogging to create a content plan so you know what you plan to publish in advance and when you plan to publish it in order to spread your message. The content can be directed at attracting a target group.
What kind of internal controls and guidelines are needed and why?
Social media is another way to talk to people so the usual guidelines on communication should apply to its use and it can be another subject to address in training.
What lawyers talk about on Twitter may be subject to the same guidelines as what they say in emails or on the telephone. Some firms do not have specific rules on social media, others do. This may depend on the risk profile of the firm.
Some larger firms, for example, may not want 50 lawyers on a team on a particular matter going to the client asking for a recommendation for LinkedIn.
Regulation can also depend on how much control of staff the firm wants to put in place and how they want to go about that. In 2012 the Law Society issued Practice Notes on Social Media which should be borne in mind and can be helpful in this area.
What advice would you give for the effective implementation of a social media marketing strategy?
Remember that it is a case of old rules, new tools.
Business hasn’t changed—there are just new methods of communication available but they need to be understood and appreciated. So a first critical aspect of using social media effectively is having senior management buy-in for it. For that, and indeed for everyone else, you have to:
- go back to the same issues that are relevant in developing a social media strategy
- you need to understand what the various social media platforms offer, and
- have a good view on how they can best serve your business and marketing objectives
Then you need good training on how to create best practice profiles and use the various social media platforms. People may recall that once people needed training on how to use faxes and emails. Today many people will need some training to become more familiar with the uses of social media. This can counteract the attitude that they are just different ways of delivering press releases.
Considering how it is to be managed is also very important.
In some firms, depending on their size, the use of social media platforms may be managed by the marketing, communications or business development professionals. However, having very centralised control can cause problems as many innovative lawyers will not want to have their use of their social media communications controlled. Law firms have to work with this bearing in mind the risks involved. Consequently there is often some overall oversight for firm-wide communication but individuals are still permitted the freedom to conduct their own communications on social media platforms.
You also need to have a routine in using social media. How much time and effort you want to put into it should be considered. Postings need to be refreshed regularly. Very importantly, everyone in the firm should be involved and encouraged to do their bit—lawyers for example can connect with clients and ask them to re-tweet and re-post your good stories.
Interview by Diana Bentley. The views expressed by the interviewee are not necessarily those of the proprietor.