How lawyers, firms are ignoring the ‘social’ in social media

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The Harvard Business Review proclaims that “content is king” in digital and social media marketing. Yet many lawyers and law firms remain mired in the past, using websites, LinkedIn pages and Twitter accounts mostly to shout “Me!” to the world.

Used properly, social media starts a conversation. But whether it is LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube, the vast majority of firms and lawyers use the tools – if they use them at all – to simply tout a blog, announce the appointment of a new partner, describe an upcoming seminar, or pat themselves on the back for getting media mention.

This is in marked contrast to the rest of the business world, including other professional services such as accountants and management consultants. According to HBR, everyone else is “publishing (or passing along) relevant information, ideas, and entertainment that (clients) will value … The content marketing revolution signals more than a fad. It marks an important new chapter in the history of business communications.”

Sadly, the social media and content revolution is going largely unnoticed by law firms and lawyers.

Tweeting Like Chickadees

While most law firms of all sizes have active Twitter accounts, most tweet like birds at sunrise yet lack an apparent business purpose for doing so.

“Firms use Twitter like a billboard,” states Gary Wise, a Toronto family law lawyer who’s been doing content marketing for a decade. “It’s not ‘social’ the way social media was intended to be.”

One exception stands out: Halifax-based McInnes Cooper uses its Twitter feed for more than simply promoting itself.

“The essence of our social media strategy is information and education,” says Ray Adlington, managing partner of the 200-lawyer firm with six offices across the Maritimes.

In reviewing law firm Twitter feeds, few bother to send out informative messages.

But the McInnes firm does this often, retweeting news items from other sources that may be of interest to its clients and other followers in the Maritime business community. Occasionally, it sends out “directed” tweets to specific individuals or companies because an item is likely to be of specific concern, or because it is alerting a reporter to a story idea.

The firm has a marketing staffer managing its social media strategy. But Adlington says it is easy for him to keep track of trends, noting “When I want to know what’s hot in social media, I ask my teenagers.”

Not Linking In

While tweeting and videos are radical notions for many lawyers, LinkedIn should be a staple. Yet, for most firms, the strictly-business social media site is a hit-and-miss proposition – a mistake for any lawyer who wants to increase their business.

LinkedIn has replaced traditional directories for learning about lawyers, and its use by prospective clients and referral sources has expanded exponentially over the last five years. Indeed, a 2013 survey by the Corporate Counsel Assn. in the US found that LinkedIn is the most-frequently used tool when a company is researching a firm and lawyer it is considering retaining.

In Canada, an informal survey in September, 2014, of hundreds of LinkedIn pages of Canadian lawyers finds that roughly 60 percent simply name the firm where they practice; only 20 percent bother to list their practice specialty. More than half of lawyer profile pages don’t even use the summary in the introductory section – the part most people read – to explain how they work with clients or what makes them unique. Fewer than 10 percent publish articles or comment on LinkedIn posts at various industry and sector groups.

“A robust LinkedIn profile won’t get you a client,” notes one Calgary lawyer who gives a lot of thought to his profile page. “But if there’s a choice between my page explaining how I collaborate with clients and another lawyer’s page that just lists the basics, they’ll pick me.”

The Value of YouTubing

Still mostly ignored by lawyers is YouTube, despite research by Scientific American showing people prefer watching information rather than reading it regardless of age, education and professional group. But relatively few Canadian firms have a strategy for employing YouTube or online videos despite the fact that video production costs have dropped to almost nothing in recent years. While it’s a bad idea to use a phone to record a video, the cost of a high-quality HD camera and microphone is only about $2,000 or less; hiring a professional is likely to charge $500 or less for a half-day, during which four or five simple videos can be produced.

One marketing director who did not want to be named (because she is still trying to convince her firm to launch a YouTube channel) thinks she knows why the legal community is anti-YouTube: “Too many lawyers still equate YouTube with music videos and they get all squirmy.”

Not so at Toronto wills and trusts firm Hull & Hull, which has around 50 videos on its channel. Twitter-savvy McInnes Cooper also is a leader. Its five minute recruiting video has received more than 11,000 view, a high figure for a firm based in a smaller market.

Likewise, Toronto’s Goodman’s employs YouTube to attract law students and has received 12,000 hits over the last few years; it also has videos of its lawyers who have been selected by Lexpert as “rising stars.”

Among larger firms, Tory’s has more than a dozen videos on its website and dedicated YouTube channel covering everything from M&A trends to lawyers talking about why they chose to work at the firm. However, non-M&A practice areas at Tory’s have yet to adopt the idea.

Still, no Canadian firm comes close to Los Angeles’ Allen Matkins. Videos appear not only on YouTube but throughout its website, often used in lieu of lengthy copy explaining its services. Many of the videos resemble news reports with production values paralleling what visitors see on network newscasts.

Strategy First

Few firms – or lawyers – seem to have a strategy for using social media to extend and reinforce their “brand,” or do much at all besides having a presence.

On the other hand, notes Forbes in a this article on social media, “With a strategy, you can target your time and effort to not only show up to the social party, but build real relationships with your connections.”

Moreover, ensuring that a firm’s posts and updates have a good chance to be seen by clients, prospects and referral sources is an integral part of a content strategy. Social media guru Leo Widrich lays out three rules that include posting five-to-10 times a day on Twitter, doing it between eight in the morning and eight at night, and putting the same information on multiple sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Social media engagement is often defined as the real interactions that happen on these networks. This requires actual interactions. While auto-posting tools such as HootSuite are one way to communicate, more law firms need to understand that engaging with people in real conversations will bring better results and add more value to client relationships.

Photo via bloeise

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Jim Bliwas

Jim Bliwas

Jim Bliwas has been helping law firms with a range of marketing, business development and management challenges for most of his career
1 comments
Bloeise
Bloeise

Hi Jim, nice to see you've found my illustration for your blog. Question: could you forward the link to: http://bloeise.nl ? Thanks in advance!

Thomas Lapperre
Bloeise