Q. Bill, everyone’s talking about lawyers using social media for marketing. I’m on Facebook to keep track of personal friends, but that’s about it. Is there really any advantage to social media compared to making good old-fashioned in-person connections?
A. Not many people doubt the business development value of in-person networking. But here’s another way to look at it. For years, at least since it was legalized by the Supreme Court, lawyers and law firms have spent a lot of money on advertising, as well as other marketing and public relations efforts. Combined with that, though, lawyers have continued to use the “old-fashioned” approach to business development—speaking at association programs, serving on the boards of nonprofits and religious groups, joining country clubs and the like. They do it to separate themselves from the pack and establish their identities in the marketplace.
All of these activities have been incredibly time-consuming. Why? Because lawyers can’t establish their bona fides in a community just by joining a group. They have to actively participate and lead—which means attending breakfast or lunchtime committee meetings, evening board meetings, speaking events, weekend retreats and so forth—and they have to do it all at the same time that they are practicing law. It’s no surprise that lawyers end up working day and night to become well-known enough to generate sufficient referrals and do the client work they get from all their efforts. That, at least, is the traditional way of doing things. Then came the Internet. Every practice was able to put up a website, with bios of its lawyers, explanations of its service areas and stories of its victories for clients. But having a website doesn’t mean that lawyers don’t still need to do all the personal marketing and relationship building that they’ve been doing for years. On the contrary—lawyers still need the personal touch, to get to know the right people and establish a reputation in their fields. By and large, a website alone isn’t going to do that.
Enter the Social Media Sites
With tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, lawyers can move beyond a static site to build a social network and become known as an expert. Now every lawyer—even the most-junior one—has the tools to create an identity and drum up new business for the firm by cultivating a reputation in a targeted online community. Sure, there have been other online networks before—going back to CompuServe and AOL groups—but nothing that changed the landscape in the same way that social media has.
Many people initially joined sites like Facebook to see what their friends were doing personally and socially. But nowadays a lot of folks are also using Facebook to let others know what they are doing, what kinds of activities and resources they recommend, and even what they are buying. As the prolific bloggers and law practice management experts Jim Calloway and Tom Mighell both put it: “Advertising and marketing are changing and evolving to where paid advertising won’t be important.” For example, “If I am thinking of buying a scanner, I will go on Facebook and find out what scanner my friends are talking about and buy it.” It may be hard to believe, but that extends to recommending and selecting service professionals like lawyers, too.
Of course, a lot of people in the business world may be more interested in what people are saying and doing on LinkedIn, because of its appeal to professionals. Jim Calloway, who’s director of the Oklahoma Bar’s Management Assistant Program, describes LinkedIn as being his “Rolodex.” But in the view of Tom Mighell, who’s the incoming chair of the ABA LPM Section, Facebook is the place to be for lawyers who have a “consumer practice”—who represent regular people—because 400 million or so of those people use Facebook.
Both agree, though, that lawyers need a “home base” or an “anchor” online and that a good webpage serves that purpose. Tom says your Facebook and LinkedIn posts, and your tweets on Twitter, should ultimately lead people back to your website (which may even be a simple blog). Both also point out that whenever you post something new on your firm’s site, you want to mention it on Facebook and LinkedIn and in a tweet to drive readers to the firm site, where they can find that post and ones on other topics. But always remember, if you are going to be interacting with your network (or community) to establish your identity as a practicing lawyer, you need to have something to say that has relevance or value to your target audience.
Twitter Start-Up Tips
Jim and Tom both believe that Twitter is drastically underused by lawyers. “Twitter,” Jim says, “is the PR firm that many lawyers can’t afford to hire.” But what do you tweet about? As an example, he suggests you could start by doing a press release about a jury verdict or business deal and post the release on your website, then use Twitter to get the word out to people who might not otherwise visit your site. Jim predicts that the people who follow you on Twitter may well “retweet” your news about the big verdict, which will increase your visibility.
A key to that, though, is to first decide who you want to follow. Jim and Tom recommend that if you are going to tweet about your criminal law practice, you should begin by following people who also practice criminal law. The same applies to personal injury or family law or bankruptcy. Once you start following those people, they will likely follow you in return. As Jim and Tom point out, many people who publish blogs or are active on Twitter are looking for things to post and don’t always have new content, so they will post or retweet things that they get from the people they follow.
Both of them also acknowledge that establishing and maintaining an active social media presence can be time-consuming. And ultimately, we all agree, it shouldn’t be your only business development tactic. So, as Jim wryly observes, it may be a mistake to stay home from the county bar holiday party to work on your blog. Person-to-person contacts still mean a lot.
Send your questions for Ask Bill to Bill Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.