Time-Waster or Business-Builder
How Law Firms Can Successfully Leverage Social Networking
By Robert Tharp
If you thought social networking was just for teenagers and slackers, consider these statistics: U.S. small businesses have doubled their use of social media in the last year, with 61 percent of those users relying on it to identify and attract new customers. What's more, about two-thirds of journalists use social media to research stories and find sources.
While there is undoubtedly a frivolous aspect to social networking—a blanket phrase used to describe the newest generation of networking tools, such as Facebook and Twitter—when properly done, it can be leveraged into a potent business generator for legal professionals looking to raise their profile.
Social networking sites help draw visitors to your firm's main online presence: a welldesigned, consistently updated website that puts your best foot forward to potential clients. They can also help keep your firm and its lawyers top-of-mind with those considering your services.
Currently, there are six main social networking tools for law firms:
LinkedIn has emerged as a consistent and powerful tool for promoting the capabilities of law firms and individual attorneys, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer. LinkedIn may not have the media buzz of Facebook or Twitter, but its pages often score very high on organic search engine queries, including Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Additionally, the LinkedIn format provides practically unlimited space to fully describe a firm's resources and expertise. Firms looking to have a LinkedIn presence should spend time to create a comprehensive firm profile as well as profiles for individual attorneys. Once complete, it pays off to regularly monitor and update these profiles.
Blogging is a proven way to make a firm's website more dynamic and broaden the reputations of its attorneys. A successful blog requires enthusiasm for the subject matter and a consistent commitment to provide updated blog content. A reasonable goal is to create one or two new posts a week. Coupled with promoting blog updates via Twitter (see below), blogging is a proven way to direct traffic to your website and demonstrate your expertise.
Twitter is the current media darling, although a noticeable backlash has developed to its rigid 140-character format, low retention rate, and the aggravations of sifting through piles of messages throughout the day. As a complement to a firm or individual attorney's blog, however, Twitter offers a useful way to promote individual blog posts and direct traffic to a blog. At Androvett Legal Media & Marketing, we've developed a Twitter following of more than 600 journalists, bloggers and members of the legal profession, and we routinely use Twitter to augment our standard distribution of law firm news.
Facebook is a phenomenon in a category of its own. With more than 300 million accounts and growing, an astounding 23 percent of U.S. Internet users visit this site on a regular basis. Facebook can be problematic because it is, in general, a much more personal and individualized network than other, more business-oriented, services. Nevertheless, law firms can create Facebook profiles that balance the line between formal and informal.
YouTube's value also lies in its strong showing with search engines and is a visual component that gives firms an opportunity to more fully differentiate themselves on the Internet. Broadcast media placements can easily be posted on this site and can include keyword-rich descriptions to influence search-engine results. Besides news, content can include appropriate video depositions, testimonials, interviews, and interesting demonstrative evidence to show off a firm's expertise and resources. Content can also be geared to assist in recruiting. Law firm advertising on YouTube is still evolving and represents an entirely different animal compared to the broadcast advertising typically associated with the legal profession.
Wikipedia also scores well in organic search engine results. This site has a format that offers plenty of space to describe any and all facets of a firm and its attorneys, including links back to firm websites and supporting material. Because Wikipedia's open-source format allows anyone to edit and contribute to the content, these pages require some vigilance to ensure that content has not been augmented in a negative or inaccurate way. Nevertheless, Wikipedia is a great way to boost the profiles of law firms and attorneys' professional reputations.
Using social media isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. You don't have to maintain an active presence on all six social media outlets to experience a boost from them. Picking just one or two and doing them well will be far more beneficial than attempting to do several and doing it badly.
For professionals, the best place to start is LinkedIn. Once you're comfortable there, a good next step is blogging, augmented by Twitter.
Before you jump into the social media pond, however, you'll want to consider drafting a policy to govern what can and can't be said, and when, on your firm's behalf. Client confidentiality is obviously the guiding factor, but even when speaking about firm matters or developments in the law that aren't client-specific, your firm's social media representatives will need some do's and don'ts.
Consider empowering more than just your managing partner and marketing head to speak on your firm's behalf. Section heads, associates and staffers can be some of your firm's best spokespeople — as long as they exercise good judgment and are authentic. As to what to include in your firm's social media policy, the online blog Mashable published a list of “must-haves” and IBM and Coke have both published their policies.
Properly executed, a social media presence demands a consistent and disciplined commitment. In return, it's likely that law firms and attorneys will achieve a noticeably expanded online reputation and increased website traffic. Like many areas of marketing, the payoff is not immediate. It takes time to build relationships and a strong presence on these networks, but the value down the road can be significant.
If you are looking to grow your firm's presence via social networking, contact Robert Tharp at Robert@Androvett.com.