Connect, Engage and Interact with Social Media

March 20, 2012

Two recent reports confirm that finally law firms are engaging with social media. In January, Kelso Consulting highlighted a dramatic rise in LinkedIn usage amongst the larger firms with almost half the personnel having a LinkedIn account compared to under a quarter last year. The report showed that of the 85,000 partners and employees in the top 50 law firms (excluding the Magic Circle) over 40,000 have a LinkedIn account. The number of people following the top 50 law firms is now nearly 50,000. 

A Calista report, however, shows that the larger firms are doing less well with Twitter – whilst there are 284 Twitter accounts with nearly 84,500 followers held by the top 200 law firms, 24% of the top 100 are not using Twitter (37% of the 101+ firms). Of those 284 accounts, 30% are inactive (no tweets in the past 20 days) and only 50% have more than 200 followers. Smaller firms appear to ‘get’ Twitter better. 

Of course, there are plenty of other social media tools, and new ones are arriving every day – Google+ is growing gradually, Tumblr appears to be slowing down while there has been a recent surge in interest in Pinterest (despite its predominantly female base). Facebook appears still to be confined to personal rather than business use in the professions. 

Firm-wide Use 

From a firm-wide perspective, there are some issues to address at the outset before integrating social media into marketing and relationship management programmes: 

1.      Social media policy – Make sure that your firm has a written policy about the expected behaviour of lawyers and support staff. There are recent cases showing the need to address issues such as who may or may not connect and when, what information can be disclosed, what needs to be approved and crisis management. Consider the extent of your IT team supporting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). If you want people to use the firm’s logo, or insist on consistent naming conventions, then provide the relevant guidance. As well as visual identity and branding issues, you should consider style and tone of voice. 

2.      Plans – As your corporate use of social media should be an integrated part of your overall business and marketing plan (target market, key proposition etc) so each team and lawyer should have a plan of action showing where social media might (or might not) be used. 

3.      ‘Corporate’ accounts and pages – Set up the relevant firm-wide accounts, channels and pages so that your lawyers can link to them. Agree who will manage the corporate accounts – some rotate, some have panels of moderators, some ask the marketing or business development team to manage them. Agree too how the accounts will be used – some adopt a news broadcast approach whilst others recycle material from individuals and engage in conversations. 

4.      Reputation monitoring – Ensure that your PR folk have systems for monitoring your digital reputation. While the debate about measuring return on investment rages on, others are looking at monitoring ‘return on involvement’. Using campaigns will move you away from click and mention statistics to focusing on real results. 

5.      Links on web site – Make sure, if you do have blogs, LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter accounts for the firm, that they are shown clearly on the web site for visitors. Some firms allow individual accounts to appear on lawyer biographies. 

6.      Training – Provide training, guides and desk-side support to lawyers who may need help in setting up their profiles in a consistent way and getting used to working with the tools. Make sure that they connect to the firm’s pages and change the text to take advantage of the SEO benefits. Front of camera training is recommended if you are using YouTube and video. 

7.     Sparking and Editing – Some firms provide central resources to assist with identifying topics to write about (sparking) and drafting and/or editing to help lawyers get to grips with the less formal style that is common for blogs.  

Individual Lawyer’s Use 

The extent to which an individual lawyer integrates social media into his or her day-to-day marketing and relationship management activities will vary with a number of factors, not least the nature of their market and clients, their confidence in using the channels, their ability to produce interesting content and their time available to really engage. 

There are detailed suggestions for beginners through to advanced users in the White Paper I produced with e-consultancy a while ago. But here are some headline points: 

1.      Check the firm’s policy and resources – Ensure that you are familiar with your firm’s policies, guidance and training support so that your profile and participation is consistent with others at the firm and that you speed through the learning curve. 

2.      Create a plan – Look at your overriding business development aims – with regards to your profile, existing clients and referrers and targets. Focus on one or two key markets or topics and grade your contacts. Look at how and where social media might be used to supplement your existing relationship development activities. 

3.      Set up a LinkedIn profile – This should take priority. Break the task up and tackle it in sections. Ensure that there are links to the firm’s web site and Twitter accounts (you can make the firm’s tweets appear automatically in your timeline). Think carefully about which clients and referrers to connect to and from where you might seek recommendations. 

4.      Listen to the market – Social media is often overlooked as being a really useful research tool. For example, Google Alerts and LinkedIn company follows can help you keep track of key developments at clients, referrers and prospects. It will also provide a fast update to organisations, individuals and online communities of interest which should be outlined in your marketing or business development plan. Social media is also a great way to learn about the more personal interests of your clients and contacts – what sports they pursue, their family life and their weekend activities – all of which will help in face-to-face relationship development activities. 

5.      Take care of your clients first – Whilst many focus on the new business development opportunities in social media, you should first seek out your clients and show them that you can add value to the relationship by providing them with relevant contacts, retweeting their material and responding to any general queries or requests for information or help.  

6.      Participate in LinkedIn groups – Limit your choice of groups initially – if you join too many, your inbox will be filled with emails about discussions where you have no real interest. It is better to identify one or two groups where you can observe activity for a while before starting to play an active part and get involved in discussions. If you are comfortable doing so, answering legal questions can help raise your profile, build your expert status and get you onto the radar of important prospects (but screen the questioners so that they are in line with your overall plan). 

7.      Create your own Twitter account – If you have a specialist area of focus (a market sector or legal specialism) on which you feel you can make frequent helpful comments and/or where you write a regular blog then Twitter may be appropriate to help you connect with interested people. This will be easier if there are a number of you prepared to offer input and manage interactions. Ensure that whoever runs the firm’s Twitter account is aware of your activity and retweets key items. 

8.      Before and after events – You can signal your attendance at many events online in advance– providing an opportunity to connect with people online before meeting IRL (In Real Life). There are plenty of examples too of people organising events specifically to meet with their online contacts (tweetups). Checking out their social media profiles and activity before meeting will provide a healthy basis for real time conversations and connecting with people online after meeting at an event is an easy first follow up. You can also share presentations and PDFs on your profile which encourages interaction. 

9.      Write blogs – Most lawyers understand the value of providing regular ‘intellectual gifts’ for their clients and contacts and blogging is a fast and easy way to do so. You can also provide comments on new developments in the market to act as a useful news source yourself. By posting regularly on your LinkedIn status, you automatically (via the weekly email and updates services) remain on their radar without having to be intrusive. 

10.   Facilitate online groups – With a niche focus, most lawyers understand the value of creating a forum where people can meet and network. The same goes for online spaces and you can create valuable communities of targeted audiences if you are prepared to invest the time in doing so. 

11.   Integrate – All of your marketing and business development efforts need to be integrated. So promote your social media profiles and content when working in a traditional way and vice versa. 

Kim Tasso is a strategic marketing consultant, a freelance journalist and a member of the SCL Media Board: Twitter: RedStarKim