2009 changed everything. Ashton Kutcher and his 1 million (now 4 million) adoring fans popularized Twitter (with Oprah’s help). Facebook, a site founded only to serve college students, engaged so many users that the median age jumped to the ripe old age of 33.
As recently as 2008, we were progressive if we had website and were doing email blasts or newsletters. These days if you don’t have a firm website, it’s as if you don’t exist in the eyes in the eyes of potential clients. Now, in 2010 if you are not engaged in social media, it’s as if you are MIA for a major daily networking event where you could be handing out your virtual business card.
If the variety of online social media scare you, you’re not alone. The choices and technology are staggering, but easily surmountable by even the biggest technophobes.
You may ask: With all the new social media, do I still need a firm website? Answer: Absolutely. Below is further explanation, but simply put you need it to be legitimate. Websites work as a virtual “store front” for your office and are a cornerstone to your online presence.
You might also ask: Why is online social media networking important if I already have a website? Answer: social media have been designed to allow you to engage on a direct and instantaneous level that some people are finding attractive. Further, social media allow you to interact with a pool of potential clients regardless of if they need your services today.
So if the two questions and answers seem a bit circular, it’s because they are. You should have both – have a website AND engage in some online social media.
Social media are similar to attending a networking event where the participants have one-on-one conversations. Sure you exchange cards, but it goes far beyond exchanging information. Individuals get personalized answers to specific questions. War stories of life and business are swapped and by the end of the lunch, you’ve connected with people who have needs themselves and who have friends. People are engaged.
To get new clients, people ultimately need the same information – your name, practice area, how to reach you, and some reason to call you or trust you. Spending some time to draw people to your website or engage people through social media allows you to build familiarity and trust with those that are not presently seeking an attorney. As with all networking, the payoff is likely down the road.
Some complain that online social media remove the personal element from seeking prospective clients. That is not entirely true. Social media are tools to enhance a user’s ability to connect with others on a potentially greater personal level. It is a way to invite people to get more information about you by having them interested in what you are saying or posting by building credibility in your field of specialty, and by having an active, open invitation for them to visit your website or call your office directly.
Social media are tools, mediums of communication that invite users to link together. They are not the actual relationships, nor are they the content. Your ability to give an invitation to connect is severely limited if you personally refuse to participate all together.
The [URL="http://picasaweb.google.com/105181672976194443512/OLK9#5467913550070487922">attached graphic[/URL> gives a more comprehensive view of social media marketing tools.
Before you launch your name all over the social media screen, think through the basics that my on-line marketing and communications advisor always tells me: (1) What do you want to accomplish with your marketing time and money? (2) Who is your target audience? A niche practice that targets a small group of potential clients would have a vastly different social media strategy than a highly diversified large practice. However, both can easily employ social media to successfully attract clients.
[B>1. FIRM WEBSITE AND DIRECTORY SITES[/B> – Use as a central part of any marketing strategy.
• [B>Law Firm Website[/B>. Lawyers must have a website to look legitimate. The caveat is that its quality and content must reflect what you want to say about your firm. Bare bones and cheap? Sophisticated, professional, and well established? If you want something along the latter, you should hire your own on-line marketing guru. Some important elements of your site are – what are potential clients interested in and how they can contact you. Most importantly, the site must be useful to your potential client. This includes an easy to use interface, and content written for your potential client (not your law school professor).
• [B>Google[/B>. Because your goal is to get people to call you, you must get your site to pop up on “page one” in a Google search. To do this you must have content, content, content! At a Houston NW Bar Association presentation Clinton Gillespie, an online marketing expert that has a nationwide client list, told us to write: (1) about things that would be of interest to potential clients; (2) about stories that are in the news (see if you can find a hook of the day’s / week’s headlines); (3) with action words (“hiring a DUI lawyer” vs. “the legal process for DUI court”); and (4) with words used by potential clients (“retirement plan lawyer” vs. “Specializing in ERISA”). Remember your goal – page one of Google. You are not writing a law review article or an appellate brief. Keep it simple. Embrace storytelling. And by all means, resist the urge to over plan, over analyze, over write, over edit. Published is better than perfect. For an insightful article on how to get to page one on Google, [URL="http://www.buzzcraft.com/socialmedia.html">browse this article[/URL>.
• [B>Directory Sites[/B>. As a lawyer, you must… MUST… claim your profiles on directory sites. Search your name (not just your law firm name), and “claim” your profile. Then populate it – fill in the details. Tweak it every-so-often. I keep my profiles on different directories updated, maybe every few months. Doing this has brought in many clients and multiple media interviews for the attorneys at my firm.
[B>2. SOCIAL NETWORKS[/B> - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace - get involved with the community, build fan base, connect to potential clients and other professionals, and build your network. These sites are key to staying connected and constantly engaged with your potential client pool.
• [B>Facebook[/B>. It’s like throwing a party, and you control the guest list. It’s a place to invite mostly friends, and usually some friends of friends. Remember, like any party, be engaging, and talk about things that interest yourself AND at least some of your friends. For an entertaining and instructional primer on what not to do, read this [URL="http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/08/20/annoying.facebook.updaters/index.html">article on CNN[/URL>. Some companies are creating Facebook profiles now for their company. This would be a quite different use of the tool, and, in ways, it could almost have the effect of mirroring or replacing a website. The good thing is that it would be more interactive.
• [B>LinkedIn[/B>. It’s more like a business networking event, and you control the guest list. However, it’s not so much limited to friends, and personal conversation. It’s more broad – I have links to people that I do not know, but we have common business interests. Also, the “talk” is generally more professional related, i.e., work projects that may be of interest to others, recent news relevant to your industry, etc.
• [B>Twitter & Microblog sites[/B>. Tips: Be YOU (use your real name if you want people to know your name). Be authentic. Be open and accept everyone as a follower (it’s a means to get information out and engage on a mass level – it takes too much time to analyze every potential follower or put security on your posts). Be familiar with a good URL shortener (so you can use microblog sites to say something short, and insert a link to another site that is your blog, a news article, etc.). Microblogging is like a headline press release to the masses, who will link further if they are interested in what you have to say.
• [B>MySpace[/B>. I think it’s so two years ago, except maybe for some lingering stalkers. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m not convinced of its value to a law firm.
[B>3. SOCIAL BOOKMARKING[/B> - Technorati, Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx - weigh in on major industry or news topics, gather feedback from others, and monitor third party endorsement. Great for aggregation of information so you can provide interesting content in your blogs and tweets.
[B>4. CONTENT (blog platforms, etc.)[/B> - WordPress, MovableType, Blogger, TypePad - generate original blog content and subject matter content, and gather user generated feedback through comments. A better forum for long-form content that won’t fit in a micro-blog; you can microblog a topic and link back to your blog (the microblog being a mini “press release” to the masses of the real story on your blog).
[B>5. CONTENT (crowdsourced, feedback, microblogging)[/B> - Twitter, Newsvine, Wikipedia, Digg, Disquis – learn more or research topics of importance to you, get a reaction on your topics, gather user feedback, understand sentiments, etc.
• [B>Wikipedia[/B>. Warning: don’t create a Wikipedia page on yourself . . . unless you really rock. Not just to your family and friends, but to at least a million strangers. I don’t know what the threshold is, but I know I don’t meet it. One marketing firm said I should do a Wikipedia page. That’s one firm that doesn’t know what they are talking about, and I didn’t hire them. If someone creates a page on themselves, they will get ostracized by the on-line community as “vanity” seekers (such Wikipedia pages are called “vanity pages,” and they usually get taken down just as fast as they go up).
[B>6. CONTENT (documents)[/B> - Scribd, DocStoc, SlideShare - share your ideas especially if they are novel or emerging, distribute your documents to your network, learn from others, etc.
[B>7. AUDIO (Music)[/B> - iLike, Pandora, Indaba Music, YouTube, Last-FM - can be used to record and distribute original content (webinars, podcasts, etc.), gather feedback, etc.
[B>8. PICTURE[/B> - Flickr, Picasa, PhotoBucket - tell a story through pictures of your firm, clients, or issues of importance, etc.
[B>9. VIDEO[/B> - YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler - capture video stories about your firm or a topic, distribute them, etc.
To sum it up: More than ever, clients are relying on Google, directories, firm websites, and social media to find their attorney. If you do not have a presence online through your webpage and in some social media outlets, then you do not exist to a growing number of people.
Online social media are also changing the way that law firms perform their own jobs. Savvy lawyers use social media for research on witnesses, legal trends, publishing our own articles, linking to other experts in narrower legal fields, and getting mainstream media interviews.
As with any marketing, online marketing is in addition to (not in place of) personal relationships and referrals. If you are not online using social media tools, then you are ignoring a vast untapped pool of potential clients and useful tools to enrich your practice. Here are some parting pointers.
DON’T... Forget that what you do “out there” is public and subject to ethics guidelines. Criticize others. Delegate social media engagement. Jump into everything at once and burn out.
DO... Look into the tools for yourself. Be an observer. Talk with friends, in and outside of the legal field, that are using social media. Consider hiring a marketing professional to give you some advice. Have fun.
Taunya Painter is an attorney and member of Painter Law Firm.
Opinions expressed on Painter Law Firm are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of Painter Law Firm. Opinions and comments do not establish an attorney-client relationship.
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Taunya Painter is an attorney and member of Painter Law Firm.
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