A question raised by many lawyers who are considering using social media for outreach and client development is, “Which social media platforms should I use?” That question is usually followed by, “How much time should I spend?” And the answer to that question usually results in a wail of, “How much?” As a marketing tool, all social media outlets provide a platform for sharing information and engaging with clients, potential clients and referrals. However, there are ways to target the networks on which to focus your time and attention.
According to the 2012 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, 78 percent of respondents maintained a professional presence on a social network. Of those respondents, the primary reason for participation was career development/networking (72 percent), while client development was slightly behind case investigation, at 42 percent. The majority (68 percent) of the respondents who maintain a professional presence on a social network spent less than an hour a week on social media, and only 17 percent could affirm that they had a client retain their services as a result of their use of social media. While lawyers are exploring professional uses of social media, client development efforts still seem to be in their infancy.
SPEND TIME WISELY
Most lawyers have little time to devote to engaging on social media for client development. Law firm marketing departments can engage on behalf of the firm, but it has been suggested that people hire lawyers, not firms. If that is the case and relationships matter, then there is all the more reason for individual lawyers to effectively use social media. But with limited time, which ones?
Culling through Pew Research Center data, the social media sites themselves and various marketing companies’ information graphics and studies, a broad, nonscientific picture of social media site demographics begins to emerge. (The pace at which technology is advancing means that new numbers are being reported all the time by different sources. This is just a sampling of what can be found when searching for social media statistics.) A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 69 percent of online adults use social media, and Socialnomics, a social media analysis website, indicates that 22 percent visit the sites several times each day. Pingdom, a website performance tracking service, reveals that roughly 2 percent of users on any social platform are over age 65, while Socialnomics reports that the fastest growing segment in social media is 45- to 54-year-olds, and that users who follow brands on social media increased 106 percent in two years, from 16 to 33 percent. Breaking down demographics on the major platforms reveals more useful information.
Facebook’s purpose is to “connect and share with the people in your life.” More than 1 billion people use Facebook across the globe. Facebook offers engagement through status updates, groups, business pages, advertising, promoted status updates and apps. Users are almost equal parts male and female, and the average user is 41 years old, according to Pingdom. The majority of users have some college education and income ranging between $25,000 and $75,000 annually, according to Ignite Social Media, a social media agency. The average time spent on the site is 405 minutes per month, reports Mediabistro’s AllTwitter resource site.
Twitter describes itself as the “fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.” There are 555 million registered users internationally, according to AllTwitter. Users engage by posting up to 140-character tweets, participating in tweet chats and conversations, and creating lists. Fifty-seven percent of users are women, and the average age is 37.3, AllTwitter reports. Most users have at least some college education, and their incomes range from $25,000 to $50,000 annually, according to Ignite Social Media. AllTwitter states that users spend 89 minutes per month on the microblogging site.
Pinterest, an online pinboard for organizing and sharing “things you love,” is one of the fastest growing social networks and drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined, according to web publishing network Shareaholic. Demographically, the site is dominated by female users (68.2 percent, according to AllTwitter), with an average age of 40, according to Pingdom. The biggest user base for Pinterest is in the U.S., and users engage by pinning to boards, writing comments and offering board contributions. Pinterest users spend 405 minutes per month on the site.
LinkedIn is the “world’s largest professional network on the Internet, with 187 million members in over 200 countries and territories.” While the site adds two new members every second, 63 percent of users are outside of the U.S. The average age of a LinkedIn member is 44, Pingdom reports, while Ignite Social Media notes that most members have attended college, and have an income between $50,000 and $74,999. Engagement is made by connecting, contributing to groups, adding company information and services, and updates. Users spend 21 minutes per month on the site on average, according to AllTwitter.
Google+ offers to let users “share the right things with the right people.” The network was opened to users in July 2011 and is listed by AllTwitter to have 170 million users. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Google+ receives 625,000 new users per day. The demographic makeup of the participants is 63 percent male, with the largest number of users between ages 26 and 34, AllTwitter reports. With an international presence, the average user spends three minutes per month on the site. Go-Globe.com, a web development company, states that the Google+1 button is used 5 billion times a day.
FOCUS ON THE AUDIENCE
Looking at the demographics of social media use overall and the individual platforms should offer some guidance when coupled with the target market of your practice area. Do you serve consumer clients or business clients? If your practice focuses on women’s rights and alimony, then Pinterest and Facebook are likely better suited for client development than Google+ and LinkedIn. Similarly, if your practice focuses on representing crossborder franchises, LinkedIn is most likely the best place to focus your time and attention. In some cases, you may find that there are other ways to spend your time and marketing dollars because your clients use different communication methods entirely.
Determining the best social media platform for focusing the limited time and resources of a busy attorney’s client development efforts is the first step. Each platform has a culture, and there are ways of effectively using it to engage and create a positive reputation. For instance, tweeting, “Sickened by recalled cantaloupe? Call us to find out your legal rights” may be direct, but people don’t follow ads. Instead consider providing good information so that you become a trusted source. Instead, tweet “Get alerts on food recalls from the USDA and FDA,” and provide a shortened link.
One final struggle for attorneys who may not have a prolific blog is how to find good content to share on social media. Many sources and strategies exist, including setting up Google Alerts for keywords that email you new results from Google; using RSS feeds to gather headlines from newspapers and blogs; subscribing to personalized information portals like Zite, Flipboard or Pulse; publishing a curated magazine using Scoop.it or Paper.li; and liking/plusing/retweeting and otherwise affirming your social connections.
In the same way that a firm would consider listener demographics of a radio station before placing an ad, social networks have user demographics that can help narrow down which platform would reach a lawyer’s potential clients most effectively. If you have avoided social media as a client development tool because it seemed like too much work, or you have abandoned your efforts due to lack of time, go back and reassess based on your target market and the platforms’ user demographics.