April 01, 2013

iWitness: Winning the Internet

A law firm is a brand, and social media can keep it first in your clients' minds.

Jason Beahm

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It is no longer surprising to find your mother or second-grade gym teacher on Facebook, nor should we be surprised by the population rise in attorneys on Facebook. Bar associations have also become engaged and vocal in the social media world, frequently updating their ethics and professional responsibility rules to address marketing on the Internet and using social media to generate client leads. For example, see the recent amendments to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.18, 5.5, 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3.

A law firm is a brand, and social media can keep it first in your clients’ minds, current and prospective alike. Grow your audience by posting regularly, being mindful not to overwhelm your followers or bombard them with information irrelevant to them. Done well, social media can establish you or your firm as experts in your areas of practice. Given the reputation of attorneys for being dry, boring, and robotic, social media can be an opportunity to show your audience another side of your firm.

Whether your firm should use social media depends on a number of factors. Consider the upsides and downsides carefully. Nothing says you must use social media; it is sometimes better to opt out than to do it poorly and create a negative impression or risk running afoul of your jurisdiction’s bar counsel. If you do choose to speak in the social media setting, impart useful, interesting information that leaves an impression. Ask yourself: What is my objective? To inform? To entertain? To raise brand awareness? To show the human side of my firm? How does this fit into my overall communications and marketing strategy?

Effective use of social media gives you the chance to build a second voice for you and your firm, one that can speak to clients well after the office closes. Use social media to attract clients by starting conversations about things that matter to them. Answer questions that they might ask. Talk about changes in the law. Give them value before they even hire you. Linking your page to material that is relevant, engaging, and informative for prospective clients greatly increases the likelihood that your firm will leave a positive impression on them.

Speak carefully, and monitor the responses to what you say. Ensure that you are compliant with the applicable professional rules, which are constantly evolving. Constantly reevaluate which strategies are working and which are not helping you build your firm’s virtual voice. Learn from other firms, your audience, and from social media marketing companies like Hubspot. Ask questions, and answer those of others. Facebook analytics are great tools for marketing your brand to a specific targeted demographic. This can help you build a better understanding of how people find and use your blog and website, what they are looking for, and what incites them to want to come back.

Creating a presence through social media platforms takes time, dedication, and money. It requires a combination of skills that include communications, marketing, branding, technical knowledge, personality, creativity, and an eye for what your audience is likely to respond to. But if executed well, the rewards are tremendous.

Think of social media as a sort of party bus. You’re not always in control of where it’s going. Sometimes, you do not even know where it is going or who is in there. You might accidentally say something awkward and offend someone. It’s expensive and a bit disorienting at times. There are a lot of ways it could go wrong. But then, if it goes right, it will be an amazing experience. Epic even. And if you really want to win the Internet, social media is where it happens.

Jason Beahm

The author is the president and founder of Beahm Law, San Francisco.