carl-heyerdahl-181868Does this sound familiar?

  • “I wrote a blog post, but no one called me to give me a case, so blogging must not work for business development.”
  • “LinkedIn is just a rehash of your resume, so it can’t work for business development.”
  • “Twitter is full of people talking about what they had for breakfast, so there’s no way I’m spending any time on there.”
  • “People only use Facebook to see what their friends and family are up to.”

Raise your hand if you don’t think social media works.

If you’re a long time reader of Zen, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of social media. I’m not here today to tell you that it’s the right tool for everyone – any more than I would tell you that public speaking or writing articles or attending networking events is the correct tool for everyone. But I AM here today to tell you that you’re asking the wrong questions about it.

All the time, I hear from my own lawyers, from marketers, and in the industry, people wanting to know whether anyone is “really getting business” from this “social media stuff.” 

The short answer is, yes, they are. But it’s rare that a direct line can be established between someone writing a blog post, for example, and someone getting a call about a case – most of those anecdotes are about being in the right place at the right time. For example, I can tell you from personal experience that I was in a Twitter chat a few years ago, when several of us were introducing ourselves and what our companies do. I said that I facilitate relationships for a network of law firms in 67 countries, and almost immediately, someone reached out to me with a request for a matter he had in a jurisdiction where he didn’t know anyone. And I did – I was able to source a referral for one of my firms on the spot.

But that’s rare.

Just like speaking at an industry association conference, and having someone come up to you after the presentation to say that they have a matter that requires your exact expertise, at that exact moment is rare – the stars really have to align.

But it doesn’t mean that you don’t participate in speaking engagements, does it?

So why have social media tools gotten this bad rap?

Well, for a couple of reasons – they’re unfamiliar, and so the new-ness of them makes it feel like it can’t possibly work better than the tools that you’ve been using successfully for your entire career. Plus, kids use them, and people who aren’t engaged in using them for professional reasons, so maybe the channels can feel muddled. They also have a reputation for being a time-suck, and this is an accurate one, if you’re not diligent about your management of them – which, by the way, can be true of anything you engage in that you end up enjoying.

What question SHOULD I be asking?

The question that I hear most often, as I mentioned above, is whether lawyers can actually get business from social media. And while the answer to that question is actually yes, it’s not really the question you should be asking. That question is:

Can the use of social media tools affect my business development?

And the answer to that is a strong and resounding YES. In a moment, I’ll dig a little bit deeper on that, but let’s talk generally for now. I think regardless of your position on social media, we can all agree that the majority of your work is going to come by word of mouth. Someone needs a lawyer like you, and they ask someone they know for a recommendation. That person gives them your name. Comfortable so far?

What happens next?

In today’s connected world, that person Googles you. Yes, they trust the person from whom they got the recommendation, but they also want to know more about you. What does your website say? What do other people online say about you? And what’s more:

  • Do you have a robust LinkedIn profile that shows how long you’ve been with your firm and some representative work? Perhaps it also includes a description of the type of work you handle, some LinkedIn posts you’ve written that further emphasize your expertise, and other shared articles that reflect that you have your finger on the pulse of the industry. Your connections list may show that they share some additional contacts in common with you, who they can reach out to for some more feedback, or it just reinforces their feelings on hiring you.
  • Do you have a blog that covers the subject area that they’re interested in, which is updated on a regular basis and gives them the highlights of what they may need to know in an easy-to-read manner?
  • Do you have a Twitter feed that shows thoughtful engagement with the industry leaders, both in the legal space and in their industry, so that they know that you know how to solve their problem?
  • Does the online persona that you present match up with the type of lawyer that they’re expecting? Are you tough or friendly or engaged or thoughtful or thorough, etc?

All of this contributes to the overall picture that someone puts together of the type of lawyer you are, and either reinforces their decision to hire you or gives them pause. If your firm website claims that you’re a cutting-edge lawyer in your field, but your LinkedIn profile only has the briefest of information about where you went to law school, and your current job title, the client seeking you out might wonder whether the lawyer matches the claims.

So yes, social media can directly lead to you getting business. But it’s MORE likely that it will impact your overall reputation and contribute to the picture that you’re presenting to potential clients and clients, and THAT will impact your business development efforts.

But, it depends

But, like any good legal professional, when advising on the use of any tools for business development or marketing, when we dig a little bit deeper, the answer of whether or not you should use a tool will always be “it depends.”

As we said above, not every tool is right for every person. Just as everyone shouldn’t run out and seek speaking engagements, not everyone needs to be running out and building social media presences yesterday. I advise everyone to consider them (and we’ll get to why in a moment).

With any decision to use a tool, you have to start with your goals. What do you want to achieve? Your goals should be specific and measurable.

Perhaps you want to move into a niche area within your practice, and become known as the go-to expert for that type of law. Or you want to grow your practice by 15% by the end of the year. Or you’d like to get 5 speaking engagements in the next year. Perhaps you’d like to have 10 media mentions in major news outlets over the next year.

Whatever your goals are, identify them, and then figure out who your audience is for those goals – and really dig deep, because it might surprise you. For example, you may think that for those speaking engagements, you should be focused on attending the events and networking with the organizers. And while that is an excellent plan, you should also be targeting the organizers through their social media channels (if they use them) and promoting the events to be a good citizen, as well as engaging with other related influencers and identifying ways to show yourself to be the ideal speaker candidate.

As you consider your goals and strategy, and look carefully at your audiences and where they are, if they aren’t found on social media, then you don’t need to concentrate there. If you’re not comfortable using social media, then maybe it’s not for you either (though it’s also an awesome research tool, so you can always get someone who IS comfortable with it to assist you with that side of it). If you DO choose to use social media, ensure that you’re well-versed in the ethical restrictions for your jurisdiction, so that you don’t run afoul of them, and that you can post and engage with confidence, just as you’d be well-educated about what you can and can’t say in articles and presentations.

Social media may not be for everyone, but just as you can’t automatically rule out networking events, speaking engagements, media mentions, etc.,  you can’t automatically rule out social media either.

Social media by the numbers

Although we’re quick to endorse activities like attending a networking event or speaking at a conference, the numbers for social media are staggering, and show that it cannot be ignored when it comes to considering it as a tool for your marketing and/or business development arsenal. From HubSpot:

  • 72% of adult internet users use Facebook. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • Facebook continues to have the most engaged users — 70% log on daily, including 43% who do so several times a day. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • Facebook sends 82% of social media traffic to longer stories and 84% of social traffic to shorter news articles. (Pew Research Center, 2016)
  • 63% of Facebook and Twitter users say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • 73% of people say they use Facebook for professional purposes. (HubSpot, 2016)
  • 25% of adult internet users use LinkedIn. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • LinkedIn is the only major social media platform for which usage rates are higher among 30- to 49-year-olds than among 18- to 29-year-olds. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • In the past two years, content consumption on LinkedIn has increased 21%. (HubSpot, 2016)
  • Twitter has nearly 4X as many users internationally as in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 2016)
  • In the past two years, content consumption on Twitter has increased 25%.
  • Twitter has 313 million monthly active users. (HubSpot, 2016)
  • Nearly one-third of the world uses social networks regularly. (eMarketer, 2016)
  • More than half of marketers who’ve been using social media for at least two years report it helped them improve sales. (Social Media Examiner, 2015)
  • 90% of all marketers indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses. (Social Media Examiner, 2015)
  • By spending as little as six hours per week, 66% of marketers see lead generation benefits with social media. (Social Media Examiner, 2015)
  • At least 61% of those investing a minimum of six hours per week in social media marketing saw improvements in search engine rankings. (Social Media Examiner, 2015)

Some other statistics about LinkedIn specifically:

  • There are now 433 million registered Linkedin users.
  • LinkedIn is used in 200 countries and territories, with 70% of LinkedIn users being based outside of the US.
  • Asia has the most LinkedIn users, with over 109 million registered users. This is followed by Europe at 104 million, the UK at 20 million and the Middle East with 18 million.
  • LinkedIn is currently available in 20 different languages.
  • 41% of millionaires use LinkedIn.

Because of these numbers, whether you’re actively using your profiles or not, these platforms will come up high in the search results when someone Googles your name. So if you’re hoping that your very limited LinkedIn profile will somehow be buried on page five of the search results because you haven’t visited it in a while, think again. Google loves LinkedIn, and it will likely be in the top three results for your name. If you’re considering using these tools, or not, conduct a social media audit to see where your social strengths and weaknesses lie, so that you can shore up any holes.

The bottom line?

Rarely, if ever, are we going to conduct any type of business development activity that will be a one and done event that results in business, whether it’s networking, presenting, or social media. In general, what you do online, and off, supports a narrative that you’re telling about yourself that you want clients and potential clients to understand so that they want to work with you. Don’t assume social media isn’t part of that storytelling because you’ve never seen someone directly handed work.