Often the problem with social media adoption in law firms is the resigned belief among firm leaders that only word of mouth and professional networking contribute to developing legal business. And this is usually further exacerbated by concerns around professional reputation, and the inherent risks of widespread communication, a lack of ownership, and confusion around social media technology and its integration within the firm. And not forgetting the difficulties of proving the business value of social media.
The point is: over the past 5 years there has been a rapid increase in the adoption and use of social media by consumers. Potential and existing clients now engage with law firms in a different way: they consume more information online than ever before, and they have the power to broadcast their own experiences – good and bad – to millions of others. So the reality is law firms risk their corporate reputations by not having a social presence.
But for some firms, social media continues to be shrouded in mystery: what is social media exactly? can it really work for my firm? how does it fit with everything else we’re doing to win business? Until these questions are answered, the benefits of social media will remain elusive and out of reach.
The social media law firm
‘Social media’ covers digital media platforms which encourage social interaction, participation, collaboration and sharing. Social media marketing is a continual business process whereby these social media platforms are utilised by law firms to encourage positive engagement to help achieve marketing objectives. Not only is it about encouraging prospects and clients to interact with the firm’s brand, but it goes much further, reaching out to the wider community.
How does social media help?
If knowledge is power, social media can help law firms in the following ways:
1) Listening: social media helps by giving firms an opportunity to listen
The importance of social media as an opportunity demands that lawyers and law firms listen first!
Social media listening or monitoring is the continual business process of identifying and assessing what is being said about your firm online. Improving the way your firm listens to social conversations will help you improve your market understanding. You can understand those issues that your firm’s prospects and clients discuss, so that you know which topics of conversations are engaging your audience, and which you can stimulate and participate in. These social conversations can also help your firm understand needs for product and service development, and also develop your thought leadership content in-line with trending social chat.
Social media listening and information gathering provides value as a client intelligence tool. Listening creates business development opportunities by identifying leads and opportunities. Listening can also build relationships by allowing you the opportunity to follow up on types of comments to form relationships and participate in discussions. There are many ways to use social media to gain insight, including monitoring client industry forums, using software tools to gather comments from social outlets such as Twitter, and encouraging clients to feedback on recent service experiences.
Social media also gives firms an opportunity to listen to brand mentions and negative comments. With this, your firm can understand how popular your brand is compared to your competitors, and what issues are discussed around your brand. It’s also an opportunity to manage and respond to negative comments about your firm’s brand. Tools such as Google Alerts serve as a simple (and no-cost!) way to manage your legal brand in real time and will ping you each time your brand is mentioned.
2) Client acquisition: social media helps by acquiring new clients through content marketing and engagement
Social media can help with new client acquisition in the following ways:
a) Help create personal relationships online
Many firms’ or lawyers’ social media efforts are about collecting contacts. Social media allows firms to do this, but it’s not until they ‘connect’ that lawyers can begin to build relationships. Social relationships can help your firm land clients, grow business, and take ideas to a more developed stage. If you only collect followers or friends, but don’t connect with them, you will not foster interaction or engagement.
The essence of business development and client acquisition is the relationship between a firm’s representatives and its target audiences. Social media technology can’t drive business development on its own, but it does help to make such efforts more efficient and successful. Social media tools enable lawyers to identify and join self-organising communities that share the firm’s commercial interests. Through online communities, firms are able to improve their targeting of people who are interested in the legal service offering that you bring to the table.
For example firms can:
Use social media as the icebreaker to begin a more in-depth, offline conversation.
Share your firm’s unique style and voice online.
Create social media profiles and personas, with the purpose of providing an authentic inside view of the firm.
Post photos from your firm’s events, provide links to relevant stories and let your firm’s personality shine through. Always search for unique content that encourages users to connect with your firm.
Use tools like Linkedin to create social media groups to target specific industry leaders. The groups can foster productive conversations that users find relevant because they promote the exchange of valuable information.
b) Showcase expertise and share knowledge through content marketing
A firm’s content marketing programme should be about creating and delivering content to attract and retain clients, and positioning the firm as a credible expert and thought leader. But creating content is only half the battle. Getting the firm’s story into the minds of the audience is the other. Firms cannot just rely on content to be traditionally emailed to existing clients or planted onto the website and be ‘found’ by Google. These will only get you so far. The necessity of making your content shareable via social media is evidenced by the growth of audience sizes in social networks like Linkedin and Twitter.
Think about the scale:
LinkedIn. 175+ million members. Promote content through relevant groups. Offers a large B2B audience. Positions the firm. Provides visibility and credibility. Expands business network and contacts. Great source for employees and new partners.
Twitter. 465 million accounts. Build relationships with individuals. Great way to promote content. Expands the firm’s reach.
Google+. 34 million users. Allows firms to promote content through communities. Its relationship and integration with Google makes it a must-have.
Facebook. 955 million members. Large global member base. Considered the only relevant social media site for individuals.
3) Delivering client service: social media helps firms deliver client service beyond the individual matter or instruction
Client service has evolved across the legal spectrum. For larger commercial law firms, client service is not just about the instruction, it’s everything before and after as well. Social media presents an unparalleled means of communicating with clients in between instructions; to share information, demonstrate thought leadership and generally nurture relationships with key individuals within client organisations.
For law firms targeting consumer markets, clients are now typically comfortable sharing their experiences of a firm with the world. This is fantastic exposure where the experience was good, but where the mention is a complaint, social media should be used to turn the angry client into a loyal advocate. Speed is of the essence, which is where social media, being real time, comes into its own. Often a client just wants reassurance that you’re dealing with the problem. And even if the problem can’t be resolved straight away, they’ll be a lot less hostile if you respond promptly with a timeframe for resolution.
It’s important for all firms to consider how social media integrates with their existing client service programmes. If a problem is raised via social media, firms should know when to take discussions offline. Pursuing an issue on Twitter or Facebook may be effective in straight forward instances, and where you’re happy to broadcast the conversation to a wider audience. But problems that go beyond a couple of posts are better suited to email, online chat or even a phone call.
And perhaps the most fundamental benefit of social media for client service is that it is inherently human. Empathy, the personal touch and humour go a long way to foster positive working relationships and pacify frustrated clients.
Without a social presence, law firms miss the opportunity of using unprecedented platforms to put clients back at the centre of the organisation, to listen to audiences and encourage them to engage with the legal brand.
Far too often I see firms making social media mistakes. Little strategy, no goals, no vision. There are often no documented processes of social listening and reputation management response. No metrics. Not enough time invested in outreaching. No social platform for content strategies. No integration with SEO, PR, email marketing and offline marketing channels.
Firms need to:
1) Think about business goals and marketing objectives via social media performance.
2) Develop a social vision supported by a social media strategy to transform your firm.
3) Think about social media in the context of listening.
4) Implement social media and content marketing through social media platforms such as Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
5) Consider how social media law firm can be integrated within the overall client experience.
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