January 01, 2016 Feature

What to Do about Your Hapless Social Media Presence

Scott MacMullan

Are you having trouble understanding how to use social media to help your practice? It might help to break down the phrase “social media” itself:

  • Social: For our purposes, this means seeking or enjoying the companionship of others.
  • Media: For our purposes, this refers, first, to the various platforms where you consume information, and second, to the traditional “news media.”

So the key to using social media effectively is to seek or enjoy the companionship of others on platforms where you can consume information and where the news can also be found. (The “news media” part is crucial.)

Your mere presence on a social media platform isn’t enough. You need to engage on that platform. Passively being “on” a social media platform is like going to a networking cocktail hour and just sipping a Seven and Seven against the wall, twiddling your thumbs. To get any results, you have to insert yourself into conversations. You have to look around the room and find people you want to talk to. The same applies in the world of social media. Have you ever been “LinkedIn requested” by a salesperson? That salesperson likely did her homework on you through LinkedIn research and decided that it would be wise to engage with you. As an attorney, you can do the same thing.

“Listening” on Social Media

How exactly do you go about listening to and researching your potential clients on social media? Below are suggestions for staying engaged on some of the most popular platforms: Twitter, Periscope, Blab, Vine, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Twitter. Twitter is one of the truly social media platforms because the vast majority of people on it make their accounts public. Therefore, it is possible for you to listen to and reach out to almost anyone on the network.

The first way to listen on this platform is via Twitter search. Twitter search is like Google search. People put a lot of weight on the use of hashtags to find people and to be found on social media, but the fact is that Twitter search will find any word whether it is hashtagged or not. The value of the hashtag is that it signals to others in the conversation to use the hashtag so there is some uniformity and a way to track the conversation.

To listen on Twitter I also like to look for what my geographic area is doing. I practice in Annapolis, Maryland, so I simply search for the term “Annapolis.” This allows me to keep abreast and share with my local network what else of note is going on. And I make sure to comment and engage with people on the content that I enjoy. Because I live near these people, these Twitter conversations have led to real-life coffee meetings, referral sources, and friendships.

Another good way to listen in on Twitter is to follow helpful “influencers.” For example, I not only follow ABA President Paulette Brown on Twitter, I also receive notifications when she tweets something so I can respond or chime in. This is a very effective way for me to get to know President Paulette Brown! (She is very active and engaging on Twitter—you should follow her @brown4lawyers.)

Twitter lists enable you to organize the groups of people you are following. Unless the people you are following on Twitter become obnoxious and vulgar, there really is no reason to drop followers. You can simply mute them, which means you will not see what they are posting on your timeline. Then when you want to see them again, you can use your Twitter lists to pull them up. For example, when I’m interested in keeping up with my “ABA Peeps,” I just go to that list—or to my “Annapolis” group or my “criminal defense” group.

My new favorite way to use Twitter is to respond to people’s (potential clients’) tweets to me via Twitter video. This personalizes the message. Consider giving someone a video message in lieu of a handwritten note. The video message is personable like a note, and it shows you are on the cutting edge of technology.

Twitter connects to apps such as Periscope and Blab. You can use these platforms to bulk up your engagement with clients, potential clients, and client referral sources.

Periscope. Periscope is a livestreaming video app that “lets you see the world from the eyes of somebody else.” Lawyers can use it to host their own legal-oriented show and further engage with their particular client base. Periscope videos can be saved, so lawyers who make a periscope video can subsequently post it to their law firm’s YouTube channel or website to further promote their firm.

Blab. The Blab application is a way lawyers can “watch live conversations.” The platform looks like the set for the game show Hollywood Squares, with a group instant-message board on the bottom. Lawyers can host shows, answer questions, build relevant followings, and become an authoritative voice in their niche through the use of this powerful video platform.

Vine. Vine is a six-second looping video app. You can edit short movies in a program such as iMovie and then post them on Vine or directly on Twitter. Can you sell your practice in a six-second video? People’s attention span is said to be about nine seconds now, so at least you know you will have their attention for six seconds.

Facebook. Despite being the biggest “social media” network, Facebook is less social than Twitter. Let me explain. Because Facebook became so big, the network has changed its algorithm so that we don’t see everything that is posted from our friends in our newsfeeds. We only see what Facebook thinks is relevant to us. Often, we don’t see Facebook posts automatically in real time; as a result, we miss out on that immediate back-and-forth conversation. My work-around for this problem? Make sure you are “following” your friends whom you want to see in your time line. So it is a two-step process: First, you must be friends with someone to interact with them generally, and second, you must actively follow them to make sure that their posts show up in your time line right away.

You also can follow the conversation via the Facebook search box and use hashtags. Hashtags are just ways to index and flag your post as similar to other posts.

Here’s a good way to interact on Facebook: If someone posts something, you could “congratulate,” “like,” or “comment” on that post, and then also start a dialogue with that person via Facebook’s direct messenger app.

Facebook groups are replacing town halls and city squares. These forums are great ways to engage with your local community or with your particular industry or ideal clients. Create and join Facebook groups and start commenting on posts. Once you have made a reputation for yourself, direct-message a person and meet for real-world coffee—or, perhaps, “the new coffee”: Skype video.

Facebook “likes” on law firm pages hold less weight than ever before because Facebook now shows fewer and fewer posts from businesses on pages people like. We are in a “pay-to-play” world now. Facebook has hypertargeting marketing opportunities, including targeting Facebook posts/ads to specific groups and demographics. This is a very cost-effective way to market to specific people you want to get in front of. Whether you want to market your law firm to a CEO or to a regular Joe, Facebook can get your message in front of them. Facebook advertising is like parking-lot flyers on steroids: In a parking lot, you know pretty much where people are located (or at least where their car is located that day); in Facebook advertising, you know where people are located and what kind of person is driving that car.

LinkedIn. The power of LinkedIn lies in its groups and the engagement in these groups. One of my favorites groups to use is the “Annapolis” LinkedIn group. (There are many Annapolis-related groups.) Another relevant one might be the ABA GPSolo Division’s LinkedIn group. As an attorney, it may be wise to get a professionally made photo.

LinkedIn is the perfect platform for lawyers to stay in touch with their contacts. When contacts get a new job, be sure not only to congratulate them via LinkedIn but also to send them a personalized e-mail congratulating them.

One little-known feature of LinkedIn is that, once you are friends with someone on LinkedIn, you also can access their e-mail address. You can export your LinkedIn contacts list.

Social Media Etiquette

On social media, be yourself—your authentic self. Automating your posts shows you are being fake. This might be a controversial comment, but it is true. If you automate your posts, you could schedule something like this: “Scott MacMullan Law, LLC, hopes you and your family are having as good of a day as we are!” But what if you were to automate this and it went out right after some national tragedy occurred, like another 9-11. Yikes. The power and influence of social media is not in the posts themselves, it is in the responses to others’ posts.

So be yourself. The same etiquette rules apply on social media as they do everywhere else. Don’t be pushy in person, and don’t be pushy over social media.

Scheduling Posts

Many consultants will push a social media calendar or a social media schedule on you. I would suggest they do this because it fits their agenda. Remember, the power in social media lies in genuine interactions with potential clients, not in using it as a billboard for your firm. It’s social media, not robot media.

An effective and genuine way to leverage your contacts from social media is to use online platforms and systems like Contactually, which systematizes your follow-up with clients, potential clients, and referral sources for your practice.

Meetup

Meetup is a great site for lawyers to network online for off-line relationships. According to the website, “Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.” Meetups are really popular. Sometimes the groups are your target niche, sometimes they are not. (I haven’t yet found a Meetup group called, “People Who Are about to Get Arrested and Can Pay for an Attorney.”) Find your target niche or target customer through a Meetup group, engage with group members online through the site’s social aspects, and then engage with members off-line. It is easy to stay in touch with people after the meetups.

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to leverage social media to help develop your law practice. Like in-person business development, social media takes time. Try to devote a small portion of your day to social media. Pick a couple of the above platforms and spend some time, money, and effort on them. You will see results. Engage with traditional media about your practice area on social media, and you can further leverage social media to get a presence in traditional media sources. Social media is how people are communicating these days, and it is only getting bigger. Be focused in your business development approach, and you will find that social media is a wonderful way to develop your business and reputation. Now get social!

Scott MacMullan

Scott MacMullan is the principal of Scott MacMullan Law, LLC, in Annapolis, Maryland. Engage with him on Twitter @smacmullan.