One of the common mistakes law firms make when setting up social networking accounts is to believe that old Hollywood tagline, “If you build it, they will come.” It may have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it doesn’t fly with social networking and social media.
Creating a social networking presence that will be in any way effective requires careful analysis of your business goals, strategic planning that is incorporated into your overall marketing efforts, diligence, time by you or someone else, and in most cases, money.
Below are several key points to bear in mind when venturing into the vast world of social media and social networking platforms such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and, most recently, Quora.
Develop a Plan
It was Winston Churchill who said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” This is true in business, in social media marketing, and in life. Start by asking some basic questions:
Does social networking fit into your business goals? Define them. For example, “Our goal is to increase website traffic resulting in 300 new leads in the next six months,” or, “Our goal is to improve search listings to the top 20 on Google over the next six months for the two search terms estate planning lawyers and writing your will.”
What platforms are your target markets using? You want to be where your clients are.
Where are your competitors? If you’re a small business owner, did you know that nearly half of your competitors will be using a blog for marketing purposes by next year? If your competitors are there and you aren’t, who gets the client?
Examine Your Options
Not sure where to begin when building your social space? Below are some websites that can help you get started—and some tips to bear in mind when using them.
- Blogging: Several websites make it easy to set up and maintain your own blog: LiveJournal, Blogger, and WordPress.org (self-hosted and recommended)
- LinkedIn: Create an optimized/business-oriented profile that still maintains your personality.
- Twitter: Twitter is a very social platform and moves quickly. This may or may not be right for your firm.
- Quora: This is a new, excellent platform where questions and answers are created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.
Maintain Your Focus
Social network accounts are not a “set it and forget it” effort. You or a team member will need to be focused and dedicated. Posting to social networks and blogs is no different from any other task scheduled throughout the day. Add these tasks to your calendar, and dedicate a minimum of 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to updating statuses, writing a blog or an article, or commenting on other blogs. We have been asked many times, “How much time does social networking require to be effective?” The simple answer is, the more time you spend on social networks, the more effective you will be. For example, we met the owner of a bar/restaurant who uses Facebook and Twitter as his primary means of advertising and promotion. He spends 15 minutes on social networks out of every hour he works during the day. This may seem like a lot, but by doing so he has been able to increase his bottom line by 45 percent.
In addition to such diligence, success in social networking is largely dependent on the personality of the person doing the posting and updating. If you are not in a position to hire a community manager specifically for purposes of maintaining your social networks, be sure that you know yourself or your team members and assign social networking tasks according to personalities, not just schedules.
- The assistant who can’t seem to stay in one place or focus too long on a particular task? That’s your Twitter person. There’s nothing better than a great case of S.O.S. (Shiny Object Syndrome) to make you a fabulous tweeter.
- The staff member who loves to write on and on (and on) in e-mails? You’ve got a potential blogger or article writer waiting to work.
- The take-charge person who plans company events and has a touch of “social butterfly”? Facebook posting and management.
- The researcher? Send them to StumbleUpon or Quora—they’ll never leave.
The goal is to get the right people into the roles that fit their personalities so they will post often and with gusto. Give them a job they love to do, and they will do it well, which is critical in this arena.
Keep Your Branding Consistent
Do you have a website? Don’t even go to the social networks without one. To be known as a leader in your practice area, a very well connected online presence is as important as that first handshake. If your goal in using blogs and social networks is to drive business to your door, you must have a door for the business to come to. Your website is that front door. The interaction between your website and those blogs and social networks must be consistent not only in linking, but also in design. The image visualized on your Facebook page should be a small reflection of your website, thereby keeping the connection and branding consistent.
Setting up a profile on a social network is as important as a business card or a website. Be clear in your description of what you do, and take advantage of any applications that may be offered to make your profile stand out. (Tips for creating an effective profile can be found in my article “Social Networking for Lawyers,” GPSolo, June 2009.)
Spend the Money to Do It Right
Just as most of you would not try to build a website yourself, seriously consider getting help when building your social spaces. The software and platforms are, for the most part, free, but consider this a bonus, not an invitation to dive into an area where you have no experience or training. Find a professional consultant experienced with the setup and nuances of these platforms and who will help you bring your social networks to their fullest potential in the fastest time frame. A consultant can help you navigate the maze of social networks available and steer you in the right direction to maximize a particular platform’s potential. Keeping your focus on what you do best—the practice of law—and allowing others to do what they do best will, in the long run, save you time, money, and aggravation. There are even service professionals who will not only set up your networks and help you get them connected, but will actually do the posting for you. Be careful with such an arrangement, however. You do want to be transparent and let your clients know that you or someone directly connected with your firm are the ones they are communicating with. The person doing the posting should only post material that you provide—and should not be relied upon to come up with the content. The greatest danger is that this person could be seen as giving legal advice in your name or on behalf of your firm. Legal advice should never be given over the Internet; lawyers should use these social networking platforms only to share information of common interest or to point to articles already written.
Remember These Tips
- In “Following” or “Friending,” more does not necessarily equal better. Build relationships with those whom you are truly interested in learning from or sharing with.
- Pick one or two sites that fit your goals and business model and get comfortable before branching out.
- Watch and learn. You can pick up valuable tips by just watching how others are posting, tweeting, and blogging. Make it part of your plan to just observe.
- Set up “alerts” that notify you when your name or firm is mentioned online, and quickly address the comment, if necessary.
- “Engage” your network of connections—always the true fundamental of effective social network participation:
- Answer questions (but do not give legal advice—refer them to the right kind of source for their answers).
- Solve problems.
- Give opinions.
- As a business owner, use your social networks to create community:
- Listen to what your customers want, and give it to them.
- Interact with them.
- Make them feel like they have a say.
- Above all, make FRIENDS: “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends” (Jeffrey Gitomer, Little Red Book of Selling).
My business partner, Chuck Schuele (who also happens to be my husband), made this valuable statement nearly two years ago:
Social media is fundamentally re-engineering the way we promote and sell our goods and services. If you are not making this a part of your business and marketing plan, know that your competitors are. The social media train is picking up steam, and if you don’t get on board, you’ll be left at the station.
If you’re not actively participating on any social networks with your business, you are being left behind.