The Social Law Firm: How to Win at Social Media
BY Brendan Conley
When building your social media presence, rule number one is to make sure you are branding your firm consistently across all networks.
Look at your business card. Now look at your website. Do they look like they belong together? Do they look like they were designed with the same branding in mind, or do they look like they were two separate decisions with no coordination whatsoever? Now think about your social media presence. Your attorneys' LinkedIn profiles, your firm's Facebook page, your blog postings and your Twitter feed should have the same branding as your website, your business card, and your traditional advertising. Branding is nothing more – or less – than focusing everything that your firm does into a single message. When a brand is consistent across all platforms, that message will reach potential clients. A brand is more than just a logo or a slogan. It is a memorable message that clients will associate with your firm, something they can relate to and that will make them think of your firm at just the right time.
Building a consistent brand involves several elements. One is visual design, and your website, business cards, print advertising, and social media pages should all reflect a consistent look, one that is clean, pleasing to the eye, and professional without being boring. The verbal message of your firm must also be clear. Whether or not your firm has developed a slogan that you believe sums up what you do, you should have developed a set of clear “talking points,” or terms that you consistently use to link your firm to the type of business you want to bring in. This is true not only in print advertising or media interviews, but on your website and blog, and in your use of social media. This is especially important for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. When someone “Googles” your practice area, have you ensured that there are many online publications out there which link that keyword phrase to your law firm?
Set social media use policies for all employees
If you do not already have one, your firm needs to establish a social media policy. If you do have one, you should make sure it is doing what it should: promoting and protecting the firm, without crossing any legal boundaries. First, face a simple fact: your firm's attorneys and staff are already using social media, and work is always a topic of conversation. Your social media policy needs to address the communication which is already taking place, and encourage communication that is beneficial to the firm. Your employees should already be aware that sharing inappropriate messages and photos online reflects poorly on them and on your firm. Sharing one's opinions, life events, and sense of humor through social media is what makes it fun, but a law firm needs to maintain an aura of professionalism, and you should make sure that your employees understand that. The personal brand employees portray should always match the professional brand your firm has worked to create.
What if employees discuss the firm through social media, and not always in a flattering light? You may not like it, but you must be careful about attempting to prevent it. Whether the forum is the firm's break room or Facebook, when employees are off the clock, they have the right to discuss workplace concerns, and an overly broad prohibition on use of social media may violate the National Labor Relations Act. The best defense against grumbling workers is the same as it has always been: treat employees fairly and make your firm a great place to work.
Finally, there is the simple fact that the use of social media can sap productivity. While you have the right to prevent or prohibit employees from accessing social media during work hours, you may not want to. People can often find information they need – for work or otherwise – faster through social networks than they can through ordinary online searches. And some research has shown that judicious use of social media at work actually improves productivity, because it relieves stress. Rather than a blanket set of rules, the best approach is to focus on whether individual workers are able to do their jobs effectively.
HOW DO YOU DO IT?
Branding your firm consistently across all networks simply requires a little attention to detail. The result is a professional, trustworthy image.
- Use professional photography. For branding purposes, professional photography is worth the investment. All of your firm’s social network profiles should utilize the same photography, and those images should look current and well put together. If a picture really is worth 1000 words, haphazard, dated imagery that is inconsistent from profile to profile says all the wrong things.
- Customize fonts. Social networks allow a certain level of customization, some more than others. To the extent that you can, make sure that your fonts are consistent from your logo and print materials to your website and social networks. Take the opportunity to customize the areas you can in a way that reinforces your brand.
- Communicate with color. Colors affect potential clients on an emotional and sometimes even physiological level. The colors you choose to represent your firm can help reinforce you brand story. Develop color standards for both print and web, and make sure to use accurate colors when uploading logos or other graphics.
Oversee and organize your firms’ social networking activity
Your firm's attorneys should naturally adhere to the firm's social media policy, but they need to do more. Attorneys should use social media to promote the firm. Encourage your partners and associates to use social media for marketing and networking, beginning with what they are most comfortable with. Then encourage them to try something new as well. Partners and associates may already be using social media, and may already have their own ideas about how to use such outlets to the firm's advantage. The important thing is that these efforts be coordinated. The attorneys should acknowledge that the firm's social media policy applies to them as well, and recognize that a coordinated effort through social media to promote the firm's brand is in everyone's interest.
An ideal way to harmonize individual attorneys' participation in social media with the firm's branding is to ensure that there is one official firm outlet in each medium. Your firm likely has a website, and perhaps an official Facebook page, or LinkedIn or Twitter account. These outlets should reflect your firm's brand in a consistent manner. Partners and associates may maintain their own individual online presence as well, while keeping in mind their link to the firm and their role in promoting the firm's brand. If more than one attorney has access to the firm's website, LinkedIn account, or Twitter feed, make sure there are clearly defined boundaries regarding what should be posted through official outlets, and what is better shared through attorneys' individual accounts.
Remember, as attorneys, everything you do in a personal account helps build your personal brand. This should always follow the story your firm is trying to tell. Attorneys need to keep in mind an additional caution: ethical and legal restrictions apply online as well as offline. Make sure you know and follow the legal restrictions on advertising in your state, and be certain that each attorney knows not to say anything that could be construed as legal advice over social media.
Use each platform to its advantage.
Different platforms exist for different types of communication. While maintaining a consistent brand, you should think about which platforms work best for which purposes. There is no getting around Facebook. The ubiquitous social networking service has more than 900 million users, and over 40% of the U.S. population has a Facebook account. Your firm should have an official account that reflects your branding and allows people to connect with you through the medium they use most often. In addition, blog postings that you publish on your website can be shared by others through Facebook, increasing your firm's online presence.
If Facebook is the social network, LinkedIn is the business network, and it is where many attorneys begin to participate in social media. LinkedIn is ideal for professional networking. Just as an in-person networking event may put you in touch with your colleagues, LinkedIn helps attorneys make referrals, share their accomplishments, and participate in meaningful discussions about their field. Networking, online and offline, brings attention to your firm. Both types of networking should work together to build your overall brand and help bring your firm new clients and new cases.
Love it or hate it, Twitter has emerged as a source for not only celebrity gossip and gaffes by politicians, but serious news and information as well. Your firm's Twitter feed is the best way to share breaking news. You can tweet short summaries of firm press releases and announcements that link back to your website for more information. The more interesting news you share related to your field, even if it does not directly involve your firm, the more interested followers you will gain.
When it comes to marketing through social media, law firms are finally entering the modern era, some more reluctantly than others. With a thoughtful, comprehensive marketing plan that takes advantage of the strengths of social media and avoids its pitfalls, you can ensure that your firm has a modern, professional presence in the online world.
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