Law firms need to participate in electronic social media in order to reach potential clients. The massive popularity of these networking tools means that millions of potential clients are using such forums to make connections and talk about what is important to them. Having an authentic voice helps you connect and build relationships.
When these talks turn to “I think I might need a lawyer,” your firm's name should be part of the conversation. That is a common-sense principle of marketing. What may be less clear is how participation in social media differs from using other media. How exactly should your firm participate in these platforms?
The key principle that separates social media participation from traditional marketing practices is group interaction. Rather than directing a one-way marketing message to the public, you are joining a conversation. Your message should be appropriate to the medium. Let's look at how law firms can best participate in two of the most popular social media: social networking websites and Twitter.
For law firms, the two biggest social networking websites to pay attention to are LinkedIn and Facebook, the former because it is geared toward professional networking and the latter because it is so popular as to be nearly ubiquitous. Your firm should have profiles on both, and individual attorneys should be encouraged to participate within the limits of your firm's social networking policy. Your firm should also have a Twitter account and individual attorneys should participate according to their interest. An important distinction is that with Twitter, finding your voice is mandatory, as the function of the network is to exchange 140-character messages. With Facebook and LinkedIn, it is possible – though not recommended! – to “participate” more passively, building connections without saying much. On Twitter, your message is all there is, so you must focus on content. Of course, needless to say, LinkedIn and Facebook will be more effective tools the more your firm participates.
In crafting your message, strive for authenticity and try to avoid a marketing tone. Social media are more personal than traditional marketing avenues and your fellow participants are expecting a more “human” approach. People follow each other on Twitter for a variety of reasons, including news, entertainment and personal networking. Tweets that sound like advertisements will not win you followers. Be a giver, not a taker. Share information that helps people learn about the law and current events, and more people will listen. Whether on Twitter or on other social media, try joining a conversation that is already taking place, not by inserting a marketing message, but with an authentic perspective that adds to the exchange. As with face-to-face networking, a sales-y approach will not win you friends and may work against you.
Avoiding a marketing tone does not mean you are not doing marketing. Social media are an excellent way to engage in one of the most effective types of marketing: positioning yourself as an expert. Just as your attorneys should make themselves available to speak at public events and provide comments to reporters, your firm should be using every opportunity to communicate with the public through social media. Whether you are providing a legal perspective on current events or helpful information about your field, you should keep up an active dialogue with social media users. The marketing aspect is implicit: your firm is the one that is informing the public, so you are the experts. Then, whenever someone is looking for an attorney in your field, your name is already part of the conversation.
By now, law firms have figured out that they ignore social media at their peril, but many firms are still trying to cram a clunky advertising message into media that are much more conversational, a bit like holding up a billboard at a cocktail party. With an authentic, human tone, your firm can participate meaningfully and make sure that your firm's name is part of the conversation.