Social media is no new kid on the block. Most professional services firms are using social media platforms to some degree now. Many only took the plunge in 2012, embracing Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks as a tool of communication, still very few integrating social as part of their strategy. I envisage 2013 will see law and accountancy firms continue to use social media as a key outreach vehicle, to promote their offerings and engage their target communities. To do this, professional services need to develop enough content to satisfy their audiences. That’s the challenge. They key to social media for firms in 2013 will be content and story telling at increased levels.
But the more money firms pump into ‘content production’ and promotion through social media, the greater the pressure for those in control of budgets to begin showing a return on the investment. Firms will start to demand positive metrics from social media campaigns. For now, there isn’t a universal metric to measure the ROI, other than – does it bring in work? Does it sell service lines?
In 2013, firms can look forward to expanded returns on their investment as social technologies improve and functionality extends beyond the marketing department. You see, firms are starting to recognise that there are many more benefits of using social media: client engagement, direct client communications, speed of feedback, learning client preferences, low cost, brand building, market research and reach.
So where is social media for professional services heading in 2013?
It will grow in strategic importance. Firms’ management will come to realise that law and accountancy are naturally social businesses. They are heavily reliant upon word of mouth, recommendations and referrals. They exist in the social space whether they like it or not. Firms will continue to recognise that not having a strategy to deal with this area of client engagement is no longer acceptable. Clients will continue to use social media to comment on a firm’s performance and, as with all word of mouth marketing, bad news travels a lot further and faster than good news. Firms will begin to develop solid social media strategies that incorporate both proactive and reactive messaging. Firms will formalise ‘contact centre’ roles and position social media at the heart of client communications, with dedicated ‘social service’ resources. Responsiveness on social media will cease to be considered ‘a nice to have’ and budgets will recognise this. Firms need to move on from “it’s ok to take a break from twitter” to “actually, we need to provide a constant resource based upon the expectations of our audience”.
There will be a continuation along the content marketing vein. For a lot of firms, content marketing has already taken centre stage as they produce articles, e-shots, updates and industry commentary. Firms will start to develop their content into outputs such as white papers, ebooks, webinars, info graphics and video. Strong players that refuse to embrace the change and new ways of thinking will start losing some market share. 2013 will also see laggard firms trying to make up for lost time on the web. Firms will hire ex-journalists, writers and professional support practitioners in an effort to produce blog posts, ebooks, videos and social media content. Frequency, mass and quality will be the name of the game. Clients will be more informed than ever prior to making a purchase. Competition for space and attention will be fierce, which will inevitably lead to firms taking black-hat approaches to SEO and poorly thought out tactics.
Usage will transcend marketing purposes. So far social media activity has been limited to the marketing team and a handful of ‘non-cynical’ legal and accountancy practitioners. But I think social media usage will become more prevalent within firms. For example, HR departments will increasingly use social media to connect with job seekers and graduates, not only to save on recruitment costs through agencies but also to streamline the application process. Some firms will make better use of social media listening and monitoring tools to engage with prospective clients who are talking about legal or accounting related problems – to generate leads and move the client through a sales funnel.
There will be increasing usage for internal communications. More and more firms will start to extend the application of social media from external to internal purposes. Given the potential for relationship building, networking and brand awareness that social media brings, this is hardly surprising. I also see 2013 as the beginning of the end for email. Yes, email is familiar. And it’s easy to use. But it kills time, and is often cited as one of the biggest causes of workplace arguments. Internal social networks like Yammer and Chatter will make further inroads into firms, enabling employees to form virtual work groups and exchange ideas on centralised messaging boards – making relevant content accessible and searchable for the entire firm.
Look out for the growth of Google+. When it comes to pure social, Google+ will continue to be limited mostly to early adopters. However, Google+ will become the ‘online place to be’. Not because of the social elements. But rather because it will become the central hub for managing your firm’s ‘official’ online public presence in the eyes of Google. Google will continue to roll out services and products under the Google+ umbrella, forcing firms to use it if they want to gain the advantages that Google+ offers. Google+ is central to establishing authorship of your writing on the web. Google is also rolling out ‘Author Rank’, which promises to make a connection between content and the author of that content. Authors will then be given a greater or lesser weighting score depending on where their content appears and how they’re connected with other relevant individuals in the social graph. This is yet another example of how a person’s or organisation’s participation on Google+ will have an impact on their ‘findability’ in search.
Consider use of mobile social media. Firms must work increasingly hard to differentiate desktop and mobile experiences. Mobile users are demanding ‘bang for their buck’, with more streamlined interfaces and other functions to enable effective content assimilation. Also, don’t rule out developing viable advertising options for mobile platforms. It’s worth considering and maximising all that these platforms have to offer to meet your objectives.
The emergence of formalised social media policies. Does every tweet represent a potential lawsuit? I don’t see this personally, but I’m sure many a lawyer will disagree! For many sectors, social media is a legal minefield. The good news is that implementing an effective social media compliance process isn’t rocket science. The combination of the right policy and the right technology can render even the most delicate of communications compliant. Everything starts with a firm’s social media policy. The organisation needs to outline how it wants to interact with the world via social media and how it will empower its employees to do so, as well. The best policies are often a collaborative effort: Employees offer input from the front lines; marketing defines the scope of messaging; IT outlines social technologies and devices; and the legal or compliance department ensures guidelines meet the necessary regulatory criteria.
The rise of social media internationally and niche social networks. While many firms are using Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s important to keep reviewing the online landscape for new social media platforms. The difficulty is deciding which are relevant and have a use for your firm and its target audiences. Would Instagram and Pinterest work for you? The future will undoubtedly see new players that will be more niche in purpose. Deeper functionality combined with lower technical barriers to entry mean new social media platforms will be created easily. For example, expect social media management systems to become as common as email clients. And if your firm operates internationally, consider the dramatic growth of social media in China, India, Indonesia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
The Rokman opinion
2013 should see this frustrating gap between social media hype and reality begin to close as social technologies take root, firms institutionalise social practices and improved analytical tools show the ROI on social investments. Each year the pace of social change accelerates and 2013 will be no different. One thing that is certain is that social media will prove to be an increasingly central business tool for firms as they find new and better ways to turn their social investment into bottom-line results.
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