Social media changed everything in law marketing

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How many clients or prospects see an ad or open an e-flash doesn’t matter; how many engage with the firm – online and in real-time – does. And this only happens if a firm delivers value, something not enough firms recognize.

When I started in law marketing 100 lifetimes ago, I had my firm run a prolonged ad campaign in The Wall Street Journal as part of a concerted effort to build awareness of what our market research revealed was perhaps the least known AmLaw 150 firm in the United States. The agency and I chose the paper because a huge number of CEOs – our target client base – read it every day.

Several years later, after a Toronto firm recruited me to head its marketing department, I advertised in Canada’s key business newspaper as part of a multi-tiered program to accomplish the same goal: Build awareness as the first step in increasing the client roster and annual fee billings.

Back then, the number of eyeballs that saw a marketing message was paramount. And the strategy of capturing attention worked as both firms – like others – saw awareness grow along with a changed perception of why they were unique. Along with other projects in the marketing plan, advertising was credited with helping to triple fees and double per-partner profits in just a few years.

If only law marketing was still that simple.

One, Not Many

Recently, a Toronto law firm co-sponsored an event attended by two or three hundred entrepreneurs, mostly techies with young start-ups. The firm hoped to land a few of them as clients early in their corporate life. But the effort was still-born when a lawyer attending on behalf of the firm suggested that the prospects he met become followers on Twitter.

“Why?” one of the more-blunt entrepreneurs wanted to know. “I looked at your feed a few minutes ago and all you Tweet is about someone I never heard of becoming a partner or some article you wrote or read.”

When he related the incident to me a few days later, I reminded him that grasping the concept that social media is about engaging one person and providing value to them, rather than shouting at many, still eludes most lawyers and firms. It’s clearly evident on Twitter, where the bulk of legal feeds keep proclaiming “look at ME!” at anyone who will listen; it is also apparent here on LinkedIn where too many lawyer profiles barely provide any useful information and do nothing to invite engagement.

It is critical for law firms to recognize that social media has changed everything about law marketing – and change their strategy as a result. It is no longer as important to reach as many people as possible as it is to engage with individuals, one at a time. The sooner law marketing understands – and accepts this reality – the more value a CMO’s department will provide the firm.

New Success Measurements

Traditionally, law marketing has defined success by the number of impressions created with prospective clients: How many came to a seminar, how many times lawyers took a prospect to lunch or a ball game, how many newsletters were mailed out, how many people were likely to have seen an ad.

In effect, the more often a prospective client was contacted by the firm, either through a mailing, via ads or in person, the greater the likelihood a firm could persuade a prospect to retain it. But with social media sheer numbers of people reached is relatively unimportant; having thousands of Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections is all but meaningless.

Now success is better defined by how many followers or connections will engage with the firm or its lawyers. This is influenced by several factors including shared values and building trusted relationships. With social media, the quality of engagement is more important than the quantity of Tweets a firm makes – and some firms Tweet dozens of times a day.

But like social media itself, engaging does not mean trying to pitch new business. It means building trust, and there is only one way to do this in the new world of law marketing.

You Have to Give To Get

The whole concept of “give to get” underlies the basis of succeeding on social media.

By offering value to a crowd of people, and thus become accepted as part of the relevant community, it’s possible to make a connection with a few who might become clients. Or, if they are a current client, they are more likely to give the firm additional files.

Value comes in many different ways.

It might be on a blog, where a lawyer explains how a new regulation or court decision affects businesses and things they need to do to meet the changes. Some firms have found that providing complimentary research into industry or sector-specific issues.

Value has become the new currency of the Internet. It is the most effective way to building an online reputation. But providing a constant stream of content that provides value to the market means developing and adhering to a very different process. To be effective in this brave new world, law firm marketing departments will have to resemble a newspaper or publishing company more than the functional departments of early days.

 

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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