MARKETING YOUR PRACTICE TODAY: HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO NETWORK AND BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Networking and building relationships is a goal near and dear to most lawyers’ hearts, and one for which social media is ideally suited. In this excerpt from their new ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier , the authors discuss the importance of transparency and authenticity in creating an online presence, and how to leverage your presence with other lawyers and potential clients.
The Importance of Personal Presence
Engaging in focused online participation and interaction is the best way to amplify and reap the benefits of your online presence. Of course, an individual’s level of participation and interaction will vary from one platform to the next. The key to effective participation is to be genuine and transparent and provide useful, relevant information no matter what the context. Interact and converse, rather than merely broadcast and boast. Don’t be afraid to occasionally share personal interests in addition to your professional ones. Doing so humanizes you and makes you appear more approachable to potential clients and other attorneys.
It is important to realize that social and professional networking necessarily overlap. Separating one’s professional and social online identities and interactions is a mistake. It is the overlap between the two that makes a lawyer more likeable, more approachable and more human.
It is also important to understand that successful networking doesn’t occur in a delineated fashion. People would rather hire a lawyer whom they can relate to and understand. If you limit your social networking to a circle of people you already know, you miss out on the chance to interact with potential clients on a more personal level. Lawyers who believe that they can or should control and separate their online networks are missing the point. In the process, they’re also missing out on opportunities to connect with others, including potential referrers and clients.
An effective online presence revolves around visibility, relevancy, personality and engagement. Find the forums with which you are most comfortable and put these principles to work.
It’s not difficult to create an effective online presence for a law practice. Targeted social media interaction can be a very effective way for lawyers to network and promote their law practice.
Social Media as a Tool for Networking with Colleagues
In most industries (law being no exception), personal referrals are the holy grail of a marketing strategy. Most likely, you’ve had far more luck converting leads into clients when a contact came by way of a trusted referral. It used to be that the only way to drum up referrals was through good old-fashioned legwork: attending networking events, lunching with clients and participating in bar association activities. Although this kind of personal contact isn’t necessarily costly, it can be time-consuming. Moreover, much of the interaction tends toward the superficial. After all, it’s not as if you’re going to dissect the Supreme Court’s recent Fourth Amendment decision with a beer in hand at the bar or circulate your recent article on landlord tenant law at a baseball outing with colleagues.
Enter social media. Networking with your colleagues is one of the simplest goals that can be accomplished using social media. Online networking allows you to quickly and efficiently connect with fellow attorneys, both near and far. You can choose whether you would like to interact with colleagues in your geographical region or practice area, or even fellow alumni across the country. One of the great benefits of online networking is the amount of flexibility that it offers. Social media allows you to interact with others on your own terms and schedule. You decide where to focus your efforts and when to do so. You can determine what topics you want to discuss and those you’d prefer to avoid. Rather than networking at set times, such as during your lunch hour or after work, you can network at anytime, day or night. There are a large variety of options available if one of your goals is to network with other attorneys. It’s simply a matter of finding a few online platforms that work the best with your personality and with which you are most comfortable and that attract the types of lawyers whom you’d like to get to know better.
One way to connect with other attorneys is to locate and follow blogs in your practice area or your geographical region. It’s up to you to decide where to focus your efforts. Depending on your areas of practice, you may find that regional blogs have the potential to result in more useful contacts than national blogs.
To initiate interaction, leave comments after posts that interest you. Engage in conversation in the comments with other readers and the owner(s) of the blog. If you have a blog or Web site, make sure that you leave a link when commenting, so people will know who you are, while at the same time allowing you to promote your practice and your blog.
If your law firm has a law blog, make sure to respond to people who comment on posts. Link to other law bloggers’ posts, discuss the points raised and offer your take on the issue. In other words, engage in a conversation with other bloggers. You’ll make new connections, increase the number of incoming links to your blog—important for search engine optimization—and, perhaps, you might even learn something new.
You can also participate in online forums on lawyer-specific networks or join forums on more general online networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Many of these forums are very active and a sense of community quickly develops between regular participants. For that reason, online forums are a great place to focus your efforts if one of your goals is to network with other attorneys.
Locate forums that interest you. Respond to posts and create your own. Get to know the other forum participants and participate regularly. Reply to posts from other attorneys if you’re able to offer useful commentary or information. Start new discussions relating to your areas of practice by asking for input regarding a change in the law, soliciting advice as to the procedures in a particular court or jurisdiction, or asking participants for opinions on how to handle a particularly thorny procedural issue. By participating in online legal forums, you’ll gain useful information, increase your reach online and network with new colleagues.
Another option is to network on Solosez, the ABA listserv, or other listservs, such as those sponsored by your local bar association. For those who are more comfortable interacting through e-mail, listservs are a great alternative, even though they are not technically “social media.” And, like online forums, you have the added convenience of connecting and interacting on your own schedule. Listservs can be a great resource, providing lawyers with information and support for their law practice. Local and regional listservs also offer the added benefit of allowing you to strengthen ties with other lawyers in your geographic area, and not just your own practice area.
If you’re comfortable with the medium, Twitter is another social media platform you may want to consider to achieve the goal of networking with other lawyers. Through Twitter you can connect with attorneys in your city (if you happen to live a large metropolitan area) and with attorneys across the country. One advantage of Twitter is that there is no limit to the topics that you can discuss, whereas with forums, there is less of an opportunity to stray from the subject matter of the post to which you are replying.
On Twitter, you can discuss a large variety of topics, ranging from legal issues to personal hobbies and interests. This is because, as a networking platform, Twitter tends to be more informal than forums or blogs. Accordingly, many lawyers will occasionally discuss their personal interests in addition to their professional ones.
The informality of Twitter allows your personality to shine through and your professional colleagues may find themselves relating to you more easily because you share a common interest or hobby. You will find that a sense of camaraderie can develop very quickly through this medium, which helps facilitate your professional networking relationships.
It simply makes sense to expand your professional network using online platforms. It is a simple process that can be done on your schedule. It doesn’t take much time to maintain the relationships and the benefits can be enormous. Your colleagues can act as a sounding board when you are faced with a perplexing legal issue. Your online professional network can also be a great information resource and serve as a regular source of referrals. So, if you would like to expand your professional network, social media is a time-efficient medium through which you can accomplish that particular goal. Choose the platforms with which you are most comfortable, dive in, interact and watch your network grow.
Converting the Online Relationships to Offline Relationships
Let’s face it, while it’s important to have a robust Internet presence and it’s fun to pal around with colleagues and others online, at the end of the day, an online relationship can go only so far. To truly maximize the power of social media, lawyers must, at some point, take their online relationships offline. The beauty of social media is that it allows you to meet and connect with people you would otherwise never have known, and it amplifies your reach and breathes life into connections that have faded. Below are some tips for taking the connections formed online into the real world.
■ 1. Whenever possible, meet your online connections in person. Transition your online connections offline. Strengthen the online contacts that you’ve made and use them to your benefit. For example, after connecting with local referral sources online, arrange to meet them for lunch. When traveling, meet online friends for coffee when visiting their hometown. Attend national legal conferences and network with the colleagues you’ve gotten to know through social media.
■ 2. Use social media as an icebreaker at in-person activities. Social barriers come down quickly once you meet your online connections in person. After just a few minutes of conversation, you will likely feel as if you’ve known your online friend for years. An added side benefit to this phenomenon is that legal conferences can be both educational and entertaining.
■ 3. Pick up the phone. Even if you don’t anticipate meeting a colleague from social media in person any time soon, there’s no reason you can’t pick up the phone and call to introduce yourself. You’d be surprised at how adding a voice to an online image helps make it more robust.
■ 4. Leverage online contacts into future business. If you’ve met someone online who you want to meet in person, use your online connection to set up an offline meeting.
Social Media as a Tool for Interacting with Clients
Maintaining an online identity to network with potential clients and promote your practice should be the crux of any law practice’s marketing plan. People no longer reach for the Yellow Pages when they need an attorney. Instead, they ask friends for advice or seek information on the Internet.
If your firm does not have an online presence that is easily located, you are undoubtedly losing potential clients left and right. Here is advice for connecting with your market.
■ Personal and professional networking are not mutually exclusive. Many lawyers fail to comprehend that separating one’s professional and social online identities and interactions is a mistake. Again, it is the overlap between the two that makes a lawyer more likeable, approachable and human. A person’s interests are not limited to their profession unless, of course, the person is an unbelievably one-dimensional and boring human being.
By way of example, one of the authors regularly posts her dinner menu to Twitter, complete with links to recipes and photos of the end result. At one point, she conducted a poll to determine whether her followers were put off by those decidedly non-lawyerly posts. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the tweets on that topic.
In fact, when she is approached at local networking events and at legal conferences nationwide, the most frequent comment she hears is “I like your dinner tweets.” There is a reason for that—quite simply, people are more than their careers. Social and professional arenas can and should overlap—it is the overlap that makes all the difference.
■ Update your status and interact on social networks. One of the simplest ways to interact online is to engage in conversations with potential clients using the status update features on Facebook and LinkedIn. Use these platforms to engage with others, maintain professional and personal relationships and promote your practice and accomplishments. Post your firm’s most recent blog posts to your accounts on those sites, post occasional updates about your professional activities and accomplishments, link to interesting news stories relevant to your areas of practice and comment on your connections’ recent activities. By interacting and providing useful and relevant information, you are able to keep your law firm on your potential clients’ and referrers’ “radar.”
Another way to connect with potential clients and referrers is through LinkedIn Groups. First, join local and regional groups that are likely to have potential clients as members. Then, interact with other group members, and get to know them and learn about their business concerns. Finally, consider transitioning the online relationship to an offline one by suggesting a business lunch.
For example, if your law practice includes handling real estate matters, then joining a local LinkedIn realtors group would allow you to connect with and get to know real estate professionals in your area, who might then refer business to you. Facebook also offers law firms a unique way to connect with potential clients: Facebook Pages. Facebook Pages are a relatively new concept that allows businesses to create a public profile on Facebook. Using your law firm’s profile, you can then share your business with potential clients by connecting and engaging them.
Note, though, that the utility of Facebook Pages for law firms has yet to be proven. Many law firms have created them, but their effectiveness is unknown since it is such a new tool. One of the difficulties with these pages is that you invite people to become “fans” of the page, a concept that works well for a band, for example. However, for a business that offers professional services, such as a law firm, the concept does not translate as well. (Site redesigns in the works at Facebook may address this issue in the future.)
That being said, given the large number of users and the huge amount of traffic that Facebook gets on a daily basis, many believe that Facebook Pages show great promise for all types of businesses, including law firms. It may just be a matter of a few law firms thinking creatively and figuring out a way to use this tool to their benefit. Only time will tell how useful it will be for lawyers, but it’s certainly unwise to write it off prematurely.
■ Connect and engage on Twitter. Twitter can be a useful social media platform for some attorneys seeking to increase their client base. For those with a national client base, Twitter is ideal. If your potential client base is local and you live in a large metropolitan area, Twitter also may work for you.
The key to Twitter success—or success with any social media platform, for that matter—is to set aside a small block of time each day to participate. When you do interact, be genuine, honest, kind and generous. Take off your lawyer hat. Don’t be afraid to share your personal interests, such as sports, food and wine, or any other hobbies. As discussed earlier, doing so makes you more personable and approachable.
Follow our 50-30-10-10 rule. Fifty percent of tweets should provide followers with links to articles, blog posts and other online content you think might be of interest; this percentage includes “re-tweets,” or reposts of tweets from other users, of relevant content. Thirty percent of tweets should be replies to other users’ tweets—in other words, engage in conversations with others 30 percent of the time. Ten percent of tweets should consist of self-promotion, including your firm’s blog posts and information about professional activities and accomplishments. Finally, tweet about your personal interests and hobbies about 10 percent of the time. Again, doing so will do much to humanize you, make you more interesting to your followers and allow you to connect with nonlegal users who share similar interests.
An effective online presence and the ability to generate new business because of your online interaction revolves around visibility, relevancy, personality and engagement. Find the forums with which you are most comfortable and put these principles to work. Put in the effort and give it some time—it will pay off in the long run.
Excerpt reprinted with permission.
HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA
The newly released book Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier is published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. To order, visit www.ababooks.org .
About the Authors
Niki Black is a lawyer, legal writer and avid blogger. The founder of lawtechTalk, a company that educates lawyers regarding technology issues and provides legal technology consulting, she runs the law and technology blog Practicing Law in the 21st Century.
Carolyn Elefant is the founder and principal attorney with the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant (LOCE) in Washington, DC. A prolific writer and avid blogger, she is creator of MyShingle.com, the first and longest running blog on solo and small firm practice.