One of the most well-attended panels of the conference was “Leveraging Social Networking – Real World Applications of Web 2.0 That Have Led to New Business.” On the panel were John M. Byrne, Director of Communications at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and John J. Buchanan, Chief Marketing Officer at ILN member firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. The panel was moderated by Darryl Cross, Vice President of Client Profitability at LexisNexis.
Though the irony of attending a panel on social media at a conference without any wifi for the attendees was not lost on those there, we made do Tweeting from mobile devices and using internet cards on laptops. The panel started by saying that social media is a way to collaborate, and firms should do it to serve their clients and get closer to them. Cross gave some statistics that lend credence to the idea that social media is a “trend” that is not going away: there are currently 400 million people on Facebook, 60 million on LinkedIn, and 50 millions Tweets per day. 91% of the users of social media connect through their mobile devices. Though many lawyers are reticent to join social networks for privacy concerns, Cross pointed out that there is Sermo, an online community of 130,000 physicians who share and deal with highly sensitive medical information thorugh social media. The message was that if doctors can do this, surely lawyers can figure out how to engage with social media. Cross also mentioned Martindale-Hubbell Connected, which is an online network for legal professionals (If you’d like to connect with me there, you can do so here).
There are many reasons for lawyers to get more involved with social media, not the least of which is that corporate counsel surveys show that in-house counsel clearly see the benefits of online networking, and join legal networks on social media to get information that they can’t get elsewhere. Kate Haueisen wondered in a Tweet “how to introduce the soc[ial] media concept to lawyers who pick it apart for liability issues,” and since it seems her questioned wasn’t addressed too comprehensively (due to the difficulty of constantly Tweeting and listening!), I’d be interested to hear some answers from those more involved in social media.
Another important message that came out of the panel was that you cannot be a proxy for someone else’s relationship – the lawyers have to do it themselves.
Next, the panel talked about the ways that legal marketers can use social media in their professions. Buchanan cautioned that these are just tools, not a silver bullet, so it’s critical to have the basics already firmly in place and working well. He added that firms can’t expect 100% adoption of these tools because different people like different tools. Using Howard Rice as an example, he said that the firm encourages the use of LinkedIn, but still only 75-80% use it. However, that being said, they’re asking all new attorneys at the firm to join LinkedIn and expect 100% participation within a year. Howard Rice also encourages their attorneys to blog and gives them the flexibility to write and use these media. Additionally, the firm has a Twitter page that they use as a news aggregator. The firm has a social media policy in place, a LinkedIn group for alumni, and is planning to redesign their website in the next 3-4 months and develop a more robust Twitter page. The panel recommended that to get more attorneys using social media at the firm, it’s important to get a few lawyers to become champions, find some successes and then use those to encourage additional participation. Jon Holden commented via Twitter that his firm has focused on transitioning new associates to LinkedIn and Twitter, and has seen participation in LinkedIn go from 18 to over 200 in a month.
Cross commented that the “last mile of business development is social networking” and then passed the floor over to John Byrne. He said that his job is to work on the firm’s visibility, and his lawyers want to know “why social media?” In his opinion, the vast majority of the AMLaw 100 isn’t doing anything with social media and said that its success depends on how much time and money you want to devote to it. He sees social media as another pipeline for the firm to deliver its brand and gain visibility, and said you have to use the right tool for the right job, so he cautioned against “shiny new toy” syndrome. For Drinker Biddle, Byrne focuses on fan pages, alumni presence, recruiting and events to enhance their visibility through social media.
He then talked a little bit about his experience with legal marketers learning about these new tools and commented that because marketers need to become experts in these new areas in addition to their current responsibilities, it’s stressful to be doing more with less. He mentioned that he’d even seen a Tweet saying “I’m tired of Twitter.” But marketers need to understand that these are tools that everyone can use, and firms are looking to their marketing departments to help them understand social media. As Nancy Myrland commented via Twitter “It’s our job…it’s marketing.” Buchanan agreed that his firm would likely be hiring someone with social media experience soon, and said that this person would need to have their feet both in IT and social media. This new media is another extension of the synergy that’s necessary between marketing and information technology at firms, and it’s valuable for those who understand social media to go into firms and help them understand how to overlay this with their current activity. The person who can implement social media technically and strategically will become very important in larger law firms.
The panel suggested that firms get their feet wet in social media with a listening policy first – read others’ blogs and comment on them. But they, and those Tweeting in the room, cautioned that it’s important to be active, not passive with social media. Byrne commented that because there’s a “firehose” of new social media tools that keep coming out, it’s important to figure out how to use them and which ones work best for your firm. He admitted that he doesn’t fully understand social media, and while this concerned a number of attendees, I would agree that it’s true that because the tools are so new, we’re all still social media students, not experts. And because the tools are so new, the advantage is that you can get away with playing around first with them.
Byrne commented that 31 of AmLaw 100 firms have Facebook fan pages of some type, but only 13 are updating them. Cooley is the AmLaw 100 “rockstar” on Facebook with 426 fans (at the time of the presentation, they currently have 465). However, Nancy later brought up an important point – social media is about engaging, not followers or fans. So a better evaluation would be to look at how many of those firms are engaging with their fans, not just using their pages as a one-way news distribution channel. 426 fans doesn’t mean much if none of them are engaging with the firm, particularly if another firm has only 5 fans, but regularly communicates with them and can leverage those relationships. Sonny Cohen reiterated this sentiment via Tweet, saying “Fans is not a valid metric of success. Interactions is a metric of success.” Melanie Green from another session reminded the group not to limit their social media efforts to clients either, saying ”Don’t forget influencers, amplifiers and thought leaders in your industry. ” Gayatri Bhalla also commented via Tweet that your brand is a big part of social media as well, and that it can be important to speak in your brand voice. This tied into the panel’s next comments on developing a social media policy. Byrne said that his firm’s Tech Committee is working on it, and adapting it from their policy on how to talk to the press. Byrne offered to post a copy of the firm’s social media policy on his blog, at http://thebyrneblog.com/.
Though the social media policy discussion continued, Byrne made a controversial comment at this point that “no one is yet listening on Twitter and Facebook when it comes to lawyers’ use of social media.” Those Tweeting in the room were quick to disagree, with Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog saying that his statement was “very uninformed,” and Adrian Lurssen of JDSupra saying that he disagreed, “our numbers daily show that they are.” Melanie added “I venture the MAJORITY of people on social media networks are JUST listening!” Even Buchanan said that his firm is seeing business as a result of their social media efforts. So although some people may be wondering “who’s listening?” the key is engaging – for those bloggers, tweeters, LinkedIn and Facebook users who are looking to get the most out of social media, it’s important to start by listening and engaging with those influencers, clients and contacts that you want to connect with. Begin to build relationships with them, and in turn, they’ll be listening and engaging with you on your own blog, tweetstream, Facebook page, and LinkedIn group. Like any other business development efforts, you get out of it what you put into it.
Byrne continued to talk about his experience with his firm’s social media policy and commented that the first reaction to employee’s ability to use social media at Drinker Biddle was to “turn it off,” which seems common to many firms. However, it’s more sensible to address social media and its potential issues at the firm than to attempt to ban it altogether. Byrne said that if employees are using Facebook or other social media tools too much, this is a human resources disciplinary issue, and not a social media issue. The firm’s social media policy is “to be nice to each other, and not to be stupid.” Social media policies are like casual Friday policies in law firms, and Byrne said that insurance providers are driving some of these policies because of the liability risks. Nancy suggested that legal marketers in need of a sample social media policy go to Doug Cornelius’ blog, where he has aggregated many SM policies. Sonny asked Bob Ambrogi to comment via Tweet on whether there has every been a disciplinary action against an attorney for answering questions online and I think there are a number of legal marketers who would be interested in hearing his response as well. Jon then asked via Tweet how firms are measuring ROI for their social media, and it would be great to have some comments from those well-versed in social media at their firms as well.
As with all business development efforts, the panel emphasized that social media should be driven by clients. They commented that more than 50% of Facebook’s US members are 35 or older, and used that statistic to say that social media can be understood by Boomers as well as Millenials. Byrne pointed out that someone who went to Harvard should be able to understand Facebook, and added “If my 88-year-old grandpa can be on Facebook, your lawyers can learn to do it.” In terms of using social media in a smart way, the panel cautioned that users should not put anything in writing unless they want to see it on the front page of Above the Law. Even with privacy controls, it’s wise to consider anything you put online as in the public domain. With lawyers becoming journalists through their blogs, there is also a need to proactively train them on how to talk to the media. Because of the immediate nature of blogging, the time period for dealing with the media has changed, but not the nature of the interaction.
Cross then posed the question of where do we start with social media. Via Tweet, Sonny answered “where you have content and an interested client base.” Buchanan said that he had really encouraged his firm’s lawyers to engage with CRM early on, which made it easier for them to get their heads around the technology side of social media. The panel encouraged firms to be strategic about which lawyers they’re engaging. They also emphasized that it’s essential to have the mananagement committee behind any new media initiatives and hopefully have them as evangelists of the tools. The panel finished with a top ten list that firms can do:
1) Stay connected with top clients to retain present business. Buchanan suggested using LinkedIn, while Nancy encouraged everyone via Tweet to use all of the tools for this.
2) Form groups, which can be private/confidential, on LinkedIn and Facebook. This can take the shape of a client team infrastructure and support.
3) Create and maintain and alumni network, which is often done through Facebook, but LinkedIn can be useful for this as well. Get other departments involved in this.
4) Use social media to connect with your existing networks – Buchanan mentioned Howard Rice’s membership in the ILN, which has a LinkedIn group for all of its current member firm attorneys.
5) Use these tools to cross-sell specific practice groups – form groups incorporating more than one practice area.
6) Maintain deal/matter contact groups.
7) Use social media to maintain networks post-events, particularly your own events – ask their opinion, converse, etc.
8) Leverage law firm affiliate networks, like the ILN.
9) Validate and verify laterals/mergers when recruiting.
10) Screen prospects to find an “in” to a company/client.
Nicole Kramer added another tip through Twitter, suggesting that speakers “Monitor Twitter during your panel (ahem) to see what your audience wants covered.” Adrian also commented that there was “a question not asked: are my clients on Facebook? Answer: absolutely. Conversation is one way to connect. Content another.” The panel finished up by saying that by 2015, they see social media having more integration and better tracking. Firms will be creating more mobile applications in coming years, and social media will only continue to grow.