Last week, Kevin O’Keefe (@kevinokeefe) caught my eye with his post "Social media for business development by lawyers is a big lie?" It was written in response to Conrad Saam’s (@conradsaam) post "Every Social Media Consultant is Lying to You."
Regular readers here will know that I’m a big fan of social media, for lawyers and other business professionals. So I know you’ll expect me to refute the points in Saam’s post and support those in Kevin’s (and I will…maybe).
But I want to start with this statement – I do not think social media is the be all, end all of business development or marketing tools.
I never have.
I even tell my attorneys: the likelihood that you’re going to start using a social media platform (like Twitter) and immediately get a client – or ever get a client – is incredibly small.
Social media is just part of the full package of tools that are available to lawyers for business development, to support the relationships that they’re building. If I need an attorney, am I going to run to Twitter or Facebook to look for one? Of course not. Unless I know the attorney because I’ve been connected with him or her for a while, and trust them to handle my issue.
But what I AM likely to do is to ask friends or colleagues with the same type of needs for a recommendation. When I have that list of recommendations, my next step will be to Google them.
And that’s where social media comes in.
If I Google an attorney, and all that comes up is his firm bio, I’m going to wonder if it’s true that he’s really the "go-to" lawyer for that issue I need help with.
But, if the search results come up with a well-written, thoughtful blog that covers the issues that I’m facing, a Twitter account that shows that he regularly shares his content and that of others in that same area, so that I know he’s familiar with the most up-to-date information in the area, a LinkedIn account that shares recommendations from other clients in the same field I’m in and projects that the attorney has worked on, and a Facebook account where the lawyer is engaging and likeable, I’m going to be more convinced than ever that he’s the right lawyer for me.
Will I hire someone only because they have a great LinkedIn profile? No, that would be silly. But would I hire someone because all of their online presence shows that they’re intelligent, engaging, on the cutting-edge of the latest legislation and cases? Yes. Social media rounds out the information you have on your bio, and gives me the full picture of who an attorney is.
Is it possible that attorneys with just a firm bio are actually excellent and talented attorneys? Of course it is. But I may not know that, or I may not believe that reputation because I can’t locate the supporting information myself.
Now, on to some of the pricklier points of Saam’s post:
With few exceptions, legal issues are extremely private. I’m more likely to publicly ‘like’ my anti-herpes medicine than my DUI lawyer. It’s not because I hate my lawyer – in fact I love her – its [sic] that I don’t want anyone to know that I need her because I’m facing incarceration, divorce, arrest, unemployment, deportation, or the IRS. And if I need a lawyer for one of these private issues, there is no way on God’s green earth I’m initiating that search on anything remotely public like social media."
You may be surprised to hear that I don’t disagree with this. He’s right – if I need someone for one of those reasons, I’m definitely not going to be tweeting out "hey, does anyone know a good lawyer for…?"
But that’s not the market we’re talking about here. Many of the social media naysayers I’ve seen in legal don’t realize that we’re talking about business lawyers. While there will still be business lawyers who don’t want to share the type of attorney they’re searching for, to avoid giving away an issue they’re facing, there are others who have built relationships online with people they trust, and so they would be happy to go to them with the question.
Truthfully, there’s no client who’s likely to announce on social media that they’re looking for a particular attorney. But I don’t know any social media consultant who’s going around saying that (not the respectable ones anyway).
But, as I noted earlier, after going to friends and colleagues for recommendations, they WILL do an online search. And if that search reveals that an attorney is regularly discussing and engaging in conversation about the very topic that the client needs assistance with, that will reinforce the recommendation to hire. That’s the utility of social media.
Another of Saam’s points is this:
Classic social media marketing – chasing likes and fans and pluses and followers simply does not apply to the legal marketplace. Let’s go back to the classic social media marketing strategy – identify key influencers and leverage them to broadcast your message and shower you with likes, pluses etc."
Although I’d argue against this definition being "classic social media marketing," otherwise, he’s spot on. Trying to get likes, followers and connections through social media is an absolute waste of time for lawyers and law firms. I would never suggest that, and the social media consultants in the legal field that I know would also eschew it.
But that’s not how I see social media marketing, and never has been. For me, it’s about engagement and finding the RIGHT people. It’s better to have 25 followers on Twitter if all of those people are journalists for publications in your area of expertise, conference organizers, other thought leaders in your practice area, and maybe even a potential or current client, than it would be to have 5,000 followers (the majority of whom would likely be some kind of spammer).
Yes, you need to identify key influencers. But not because they should be "liking" your posts or sharing them – because you should be engaging with them, to have thoughtful conversations around the hot topics in your area of expertise, so that you can stay up-to-date and also become known with those influencers. It’s relationship-building.
Further, if you’re engaging with influencers such a journalists and conference organizers, when you show them that you’re a thought leader on your area of expertise, you’re more likely to be sought for quotes in articles on the latest topics and as a speaker for conferences. How else would you have gotten in front of these influencers to get that kind of press and visibility?
As Kevin says in his post
The best lawyers get their best work from relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. Not advertising or overt marketing. It’s always been the case and always will be the case."
And I see social media as providing just a platform for developing those relationships. Not a platform to be used in a silo, but as part of a larger proactive marketing effort. You wouldn’t just go to networking events, or just write articles, or just speak at conferences.
You start with doing good, solid legal work. As part of being a good lawyer, you’re reading the latest information about your area of practice (which you can find easily online, using social media and other sources). You’re sharing this information with your clients, with your thoughts on how it may impact them (why not do this with a larger audience by sharing that information through a blog, with your comments?). You’re going to the events and conferences that your clients and potential clients are going to, so that you can see them face to face and talk to them. Why not also talk to them online in between seeing them face to face? Why not engage with the influencers who could get you quoted in the publications your clients read and speaking at the events they’re attending?
Social media never will, and should not, replace face to face contact. But it can augment it. It’s just another tool that can serve as part of a larger relationship-building effort.
Social is all about relationships and reputation. If you’re not not nurturing relationships online, you’re going to lose opportunities for business. If you’re not building a reputation online that’s the equal of your offline reputation, you’re not getting that reputation in front of a lot of people that matter."
It’s all connected – social media, in-person networking, writing, speaking – all of it.
And is it the right tool for every lawyer? No. But it’s worth considering for every lawyer. Look at the type of clients you have, and the type of clients you want. Identify how you want to get them, and consider how they source their legal work. Do you need to have a strong online reputation (as well as a strong offline reputation) for them to think you’re a legitimate expert? Then it’s worth taking the time to build it.
Another of Saam’s points that I happen to agree with is this one:
Even if social media were effective in legal . . . it is simply impossible to outsource the joining of conversations, and demonstration of thought leadership."
Yes, yes and yes. If you want to build a reputation for yourself online using social media, YOU have to be the one building it. Again, the point is not to get a bunch of likes or follows – it’s to engage with people. And you have to be the one doing the engaging – you wouldn’t send someone else to impersonate you at a networking reception, so why would you do it online?
If done properly, social media can help to boost your offline reputation online in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. A commenter on Saam’s post described success that he’s had professionally as a patent lawyer thanks to social media, and summed it up beautifully by saying
The last few years have turned into a golden period for community interest in patent law, for a variety of reasons both good and bad. I now have over 1100 followers on Twitter, about 6000 unique vistors each month to my blog, and 500 subscribers on my email list. My blog has been cited in academic articles and submissions to government consultations. Most importantly, from a business perspective, I receive regular enquiries and leads from people who have found me, either directly or indirectly, as a result of my social media activity. I could never have built this kind of profile by traditional means."
And that’s the key – when social media first showed up on the stage, I was telling my attorneys that it levels the playing field for law firms in a way that no other medium has – and this holds true today. Sure, you have people trying to game the system, but now, you have access to excellent attorneys online, at all size firms, who you might not have been able to be exposed to because they weren’t with a BigLaw firm. But through their smart use of social media to boost the good work they’re already doing (that part is key), they get exposure that would have been almost impossible to achieve through traditional methods.
Kevin commented on Saam’s post, with much of what he reiterated in his own post, and one line from Saam’s response hits the nail on the head:
What you describe is relationship marketing facilitated by social. Not the other way around."
But that’s how I see all good marketing for lawyers – as relationship marketing facilitated by some tool, whether it be social media, or otherwise. That’s why having a plan in place is so important, because you know what your goals are, and then you’re just using the tools available to you to meet those goals, and not just jumping on the latest bandwagon that everyone is talking about.
So while Saam’s analysis is right in many cases, I disagree with him on two fundamental points, that all social media consultants are lying, and that social media doesn’t work for lawyers.
Those social media consultants who tell lawyers that social media is all about getting likes and outsourcing your content and relationships don’t understand the legal market – but the social media consultants that I know and like aren’t doing that at all. They’re advocating Kevin’s position, that social media is used to facilitate relationships.
And clearly, social media does work for lawyers, when used as a tool, and not the answer to all of their marketing concerns. We’ve seen it prove true again and again. For those lawyers not finding success with it, they either don’t understand how to use it, or it’s not the right tool for their area of law. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, simply because it’s not the right thing for everyone.
Agree? Disagree? Add your comments below!