It’s no secret that managing partners of professional service firms are under-represented on social media. And of those that have taken the plunge and secured accounts on their preferred social platforms, even fewer are active participants.
There are many reasons for this, some more valid than others. Managing partners may be apprehensive of online engagement in general, or sceptical of the return on investment of their time.
Being uncomfortable with technology is becoming a less acceptable (if not embarrassing) excuse. And it is difficult to profess to be a commercially aware business leader if you are not au fait with what has become an integral part of the modern business environment.
So is it time for managing partners to re-evaluate their position on social?
Exerting reputational control
Research has shown CEOs on social media equate to higher consumer confidence in a brand. This means a managing partner’s visibility is critical to client perception of an organisation and its reputation. And reputation is not an optional extra.
The managing partner sets the tone for the rest of the organisation of the importance of building and enhancing positive perceptions among stakeholders.
Social media offers the potential to build reputation, brand loyalty and awareness. It offers audiences a means to access and engage with brands 24/7 – when convenient to them.
Clients prefer brands they know about. As managing partner, your social media activity will be another touch point, another source of information in the complex and sophisticated search and research process as clients make a purchasing decision.
Yet despite these benefits, for some managing partners, there is a fear of saying something out of turn.
Yes, social media is unforgiving. Things can and do escalate (the flip side of ‘going viral’). But as the most senior representative of your firm, you are in the best position to judge what is acceptable and on-message.
Fundamentally, reputation should be deliberately built, using tools such as social media positively and proactively to garner goodwill among stakeholders, as opposed to worrying about damage to existing reputation.
We know that firms need to manage their reputation by engaging with all of their stakeholders, from clients, prospects and employees through to the media. And all of these groups can be found on social media.
While there is no question that managing partners are busy – relentless diaries, back-to-back meetings, business travel – your time and your physical ability to be present is limited. With responsibility for many, you most likely have direct contact with relatively few.
So what does this mean for your stakeholder groups beyond those that are able to secure slot in your diary? Social media offers you a convenient solution.
Social media opens you up to wider audiences and influencers, allowing you to make new types of connections that would otherwise be out of reach of your everyday contacts and activity, such a business leaders from other market sectors or locations.
Increased visibility and engagement with wider stakeholders will lead to other activity. Speaking opportunities, media enquiries for commentary, these are all positive and valuable developments in furthering your profile and that of your firm over its competitors.
Achieve a competitive advantage
Firms need to explore all avenues open to them to establish a competitive advantage, to differentiate and promote the corporate brand.
The pervasive barrier for professionals in attracting new business is approachability. Active participation in social platforms by managing partners is one way of overcoming this challenge. And since there are currently very few managing partners actively engaging socially, there is certainly ‘space’.
Social media has become an important tool for clients and prospects in their pre-purchase research. A strong social media presence is highly influential in supporting the firm’s wider marketing activity and touch points, reinforcing key messages, ensuring online visibility and enabling online conversions.
It also offers additional interaction outside of client account management, reinforcing your brand and profile, which can only strengthen ties.
For many professionals, technical competence is a given among clients and prospects. But trustworthiness – a key determinant in selecting an adviser – has to be earned, in a way that today’s stakeholder groups would expect. Being visible online is an effective way for managing partners to help their firms meet this expectation.
And of course, people are a key differentiator in professional services, as many firms are proud to say. This is no truer than of the managing partner. As the most visible representative of the organisation, there is real potential for managing partners to use social media to nurture advocacy among stakeholders through active participation, being part of the conversation and being relevant in the modern business context.
Managing partners hold an exceptional position. With a unique perspective on the firm, the marketplace, client sectors and the impact of external and internal factors, there is a lot of material to draw from. Here, the brand story offers a smart basis on which managing partners can formulate compelling social content.
Every firm should have an articulated brand story, underpinning your firm’s identity and corporate communications, applied as relevant and appropriate to the channel and audience. The corporate story helps a firm to bond with its employees and creates a position for the firm. This serves to further support and promote competitive advantage.
Leave the legal updates for your practising colleagues. You are aiming to share your personality, experience, and interests, providing a ‘human’ voice and perspective for your organisation. This should be comfortable ground for managing partners; building relationships, influencing and engaging with people.
Social media also offers managing partners with benefits internally. At its most basic level, for employees, social media provides insight into their leaders, ‘Ah, so that’s what they get up to!’
Employees are increasingly active on social platforms for professional purposes, vying for airtime and attention and click-throughs. For the firm’s leader not to be in the battlefield, leading the charge, it sends a clear message.
As a figurehead, credibility naturally comes from ‘do as I do’ not ‘do as I say’. Use social media to convey your passion for your firm, and inspire the same in your people.
The managing partner sets the tone, which reflects also on a cultural level. Are your people open and encouraged to raise reputational concerns? Or is there a fear of rocking the boat? Active participation in social media conveys an openness which is essential for nurturing fluid lines of communication and removing perceived barriers that engender an ‘us and them’ mentality.
Sharing examples of internal collaboration will help to feed this line and demonstrate to employees the value they bring and that it is recognised and appreciated.
You will see a positive impact on employee morale.
Shifts in stakeholder preferences and multi-channel consumption
There has been much talk about the emergence of the millennial generation. They are quickly becoming the largest cohort in the workplace and will soon be rising to hold senior, decision-making positions.
One of the distinguishing features of the millennial generation is their status as digital natives, having only known a world with the internet. They are completely at home with social media and naturally expect to interact on these platforms whether in a professional or personal capacity.
Engaging with this audience, and segments thereof as either prospective clients or potential recruits, demands social presence.
Another consideration is the format of your content. Web users are showing increasing preference for video content. For professionals, videos can help to break down the barriers to purchasing and make you and your firm approachable to prospective clients. Video can also be a hugely compelling element of your storytelling mission, conveying instant personality to audiences.
For many managing partners, as seasoned public speakers, you are probably comfortable in front of the camera. Use this!
There are clear benefits to managing partners making more and better use of social media channels for commercial gain. It boils down to reputation. The real risk is waiting and watching others shape your reputation and drive engagement. Be a leader and help shape the conversation.
Gill specialises in content and social marketing for professionals, including law firms and accountancy practices.
Gill can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile: 07715 414364.
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