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Social Media for Law Firms

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‘Social media is the term commonly given to Internet and mobile-based channels and tools that allow users to interact with each other and share opinions and content. As the name implies, social media involves the building of communities or networks and encouraging participation and engagement.’ CIPR Social Media Panel

Many of us are already familiar with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, using them for personal purposes such as keeping in touch with friends. 

Social media marketing is the way in which organisations can leverage the power of social media to help meet business and marketing objectives. Social media offers organisations considerable marketing potential through:

  • unparalleled reach and size of social audiences
  • substantial influence of the tools and communities involved
  • unrivalled pace of action due to real time nature of interaction

Why is social media marketing relevant to law firms? 

Ultimately, as part of your wider digital marketing strategy, effective use of social media can improve engagement with your organisation’s brand, and lead to tangible results such as increased traffic to your website and enhanced search engine rankings.

Social media can be an effective marketing tactic for legal service providers, for a number of reasons:

  • An effective listening tool. Effective use of social media demands that legal service providers listen first! Improving the way your organisation listens to social conversations will help your organisation improve its market understanding. You can understand those issues that your existing, prospective and target clients discuss, so that you know which topics of conversations are engaging your target audience, and which you can stimulate and participate in. These social conversations can also help your organisation understand needs for product and service development, and also develop your website content in-line with social chat.

Listening also creates business development opportunities by identifying leads and opportunities. Listening can also build relationships by allowing you the opportunity to follow up on types of comments, to form relationships and participate in discussions.

Social media also gives organisations an opportunity to listen to positive and negative comments about their brand. With this, your organisation can understand how popular your brand is compared to your competitors, and what issues are discussed around your brand. It’s also an opportunity to manage and respond to negative comments about your organisation’s brand. 

  • Word of mouth recommendations. Many clients and prospects still rely to some degree on word of mouth recommendations about legal service providers; the recommendations often coming from trusted and influential peers within a community or network. Before the existence of social media, it was very difficult for legal service providers to try to influence or leverage word of mouth. Social media gives legal service providers a platform to engage with target audiences, and to be part of discussions that could lead to new work. 
  • Helps legal advisers create individual relationships online. Social media also enables employees to develop individual relationships with target audiences and individuals. Social media networks such as Twitter and Linkedin give legal advisers great opportunities to network and engage online with other social users. Social media tools enable them to identify social communities that share the organisation’s commercial interests. 
  • Expand credibility, showcase expertise and share knowledge through website content. An organisation’s should create and deliver website content to attract and retain clients, and position the organisation as a credible expert and thought leader for its chosen areas. 

Creating content is only half the battle. Getting the organisation’s story into the minds of the audience is the other. Organisations cannot just rely on website content to be traditionally emailed to existing clients or planted onto the website and be ‘found’ by Google. These will only get you so far. Social media channels are the primary channels for disseminating website content to target audiences. 

How can you make social media marketing work for your organisation?

 As with all marketing activities, you should consider your objectives before you undertake any social marketing activity. In the main, social media can help legal service providers with objectives that focus on encouraging audiences (including existing, prospective and target clients) to interact with the organisation’s brand.

Managing social media 

Managing social media involves the management of the entire or part of the social media activity for the organisation:

  • developing the social media strategy
  • implementing and monitoring social activity on a daily basis
  • measuring and analysing the effects of social activities and 
  • generating reports 

The process of management includes engagement, monitoring and social metrics (which are ways of measuring social activity). This requires effort and knowledge, and is the primary reason why legal service providers often fail to make social impact.

1) Identification of relevant social media

Social media are amongst the most popular sites on the Internet, along with search engines. 

They cover: 

Social networks.These are the core social platforms where people interact through social networks are Facebook for consumer audiences, Linkedin for business audiences and Google+ and Twitter for both.
Social publishers.All newspapers and magazines now have an online presence with the option to participate through comments on articles, blogs and communities.
Social blogs.Blogs form the hub of many organisations social media strategy and can be tapped into others blogs whether company or personal or through blog outreach. 
Social knowledge.These are reference social networks such as Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers. They can show how any company can engage their audience by solving their problems and subtly showing how products have helped others.
Social streaming.Rich and streaming media sites including photos (Pinterest), video (Youtube) and podcasting. 
Social search.Search engines are becoming more social with the ability to tag, comments on results and vote for them through Google+. 

Social media can be a powerful tool for your organisation to reach out to target audiences. Audiences for social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are growing, and the number of platforms available continues to expand. Where you choose to spend time to engage your target audiences can make a big difference to the outcome of your efforts.

With so many options existing out there, organisations need to carefully identify which social media platforms to use. For legal service providers, the choice of social platforms to use depends on where their target audiences go to online. As with all marketing, targeting is essential. Be clear on you who are targeting online to avoid wasted efforts and resources. 

Remember that online audiences tend to be ‘broader’ than your traditional audiences. Think wider than just existing clients, target clients and prospective clients. Social media has boosted the profile of many individuals who are now considered to be ‘influencers’ for their chosen field. 

You can then research where they ‘go’ online, what sites and forums. Do some Internet research, and spend some time on each of the social media channels to get a feel for them yourself. You are looking to engage with your target audiences in an environment where they feel comfortable interacting with others. So it’s vital to select the right social media, and understand what is appropriate ‘behaviour’ for participants of each. 

If your target market consists mostly of the general public, Facebook may be the perfect option. If you need to reach a business audience, LinkedIn is ideal platform to invest your time on. The most important thing is to continually test. See what works well for your audience and change what doesn’t work. Remember also that what you select has to be managed and resourced.

2) Create your profile and ‘message’ 

Your profile

After identifying the suitable platforms, you need to create your social profiles. Your organisation’s profile is what introduces your organisation on the social media platform. 

Remember that most social media make the profiles searchable by regular search engines, so if your profile describes you or your organisation well, you are more likely to be found by people searching for information on the Internet.

Include all relevant details in the profile: service lines, location, links to relevant pages on your website. Use keywords to describe service lines, as this will contribute to your search engine optimisation efforts. On most sites, the profile page can be customised to reflect your organisation’s brand, logo, colour schemes etc. Use this to make your profile visually engaging and as consistent as possible with your other online assets such as your website. 

Finally, provide your contact details and any other relevant calls to action such as offers, free downloads etc, to entice people to make contact.  

Your message

Your target audiences may include different segments and demographics, for example, you may want to promote will writing services to first time homebuyers or to ‘high net worth’ local business owners. The service may be the same, but the ‘message’ you use to influence will be different. 

You need to create messaging particular to your target audiences and use these as the basis of your interaction with them on the relevant social channels. With a clear picture of the people you’re trying to reach, you can look to engage with them beyond social networks. 

3) Expanding your network

Once an organisation has identified its social media platforms and created its profiles, it needs to expand its social network. The idea is to build an online community of individuals with whom you interact and engage with positively on an ongoing basis. 

A good place to start is with your organisation’s existing clients and contacts. Find them on your chosen social platforms, and aim to connect/link in/follow them. Each of them will have a network of their own, and the moment they join yours, their networks will be alerted to some degree about your presence. This expanded network will help in delivering your message to a larger audience. 

You can make a strong case to gain connections by creating and sharing sufficiently interesting website content via your chosen social platforms. Organisations can also expand their network by taking active part in interest groups/forums. Be a part of discussions relevant to your areas of interest, comment on other people’s views, show your expertise in the subject and make new friends. If you do a good job here you will find people are more inclined to connect with you. 

The idea here is to build a community around your organisation based on its standing as a legal expert its field, and the more people you have talking about your brand online, the more visibility and reach your organisation can enjoy.

It does take time to develop a network and gather a social following. It is an ongoing process that requires momentum and attention, which you can approach by: 

  • Sharing useful content. If you want to expand your social media reach, you have to be writing and sharing great articles, blog posts, tips and tricks that add value to your target audience. For legal service providers, good website content could include generic opinion or outline advice on a specific legal problem that is currently ‘trending’ online. When people find that you are providing insight or adding value to their everyday lives, they are more likely to subscribe to your website blog and follow you for your future posts. They may even share it with their own network of followers and fans, and even talk about you in their blog.

Sharing is the basis of social media, so make sure your organisation is creating content to be shared, and is also sharing good content from people within your network.

  • Being consistent. Consistency is important. You can’t be writing or sharing one day, and disappear for the next month or two. You have to be consistent so that people remember you amongst the mass of online noise, and remember to visit your social media platforms where they know they will benefit from updated content.
  • Guest posting. Guest posts are an excellent way to expand your reach. It helps you to reach readers beyond your network by tapping into new communities. It’s like being invited to speak at a fully packed conference. Prior to the conference, not many people might know who you are or what you do but after your talk, people will know about you and will most likely want to know more about you and your business.
  • Joining in. Take part in online discussions such as Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is like a group discussion, held during a particular time and day where Twitter users ‘get together’ online to discuss a particular topic and share their own ideas, tips, and thoughts using a particular hash tag. It’s also a great way to expand your social media reach and get noticed when not many people know who you are. Following those who are on Twitter chats helps you to follow relevant people in your market too.

4) Engagement

As your network develops, the next step is to encourage engagement between the network and your organisation. It’s about more than just collecting followers. Engage with your network through discussions and conversations. Remember, they are following you or your organisation for a reason, so act on this positively. They can just as easily choose to remove this connection. 

Provide your network with interesting content on a regular basis. Respond to your followers, take care of their concerns, offer advice (where appropriate and always respecting client confidentiality). Educate them or just thank them. But don’t spam them! They need to know that you care, and are not just pushing out content about your organisation. 

Another useful approach is to initiate or find conversations on trending topics – provided it is appropriate for your organisation to comment on. Search engines display trending topics, and searches can pull up web based forums and public conversations on social platforms. For example, a high profile pre nuptial matter may be of interest to a divorce solicitor to make comment.  

If you are joining an existing thread of conversation, be sure to read what has already been said, you don’t want be seen as not listening. Rather, you want to be progressing the conversation. Be ready to respond to reactions. 

 And it goes without saying to ensure you are being accurate in anything you contribute. Online conversations can be found online for many years after, so you want to ensure what you are saying is ‘spot on’.  

5) Social metrics

Many social media channels offer some form of statistical insight for reporting purposes. This could be as basic as the number of followers on your Facebook account, to the number of people who clicked through to a link on a Tweet. You can use these metrics to help understand the impact of your activity, which you can then use as the basis of an adjustment to your activity, eg iffocusing more on LinkedIn if more people are reading your articles there. Social metrics can also be used for internal reporting, so as to keep stakeholders informed of progress. 

There are many tools available to help collate social metrics, including: 

  • URL shorteners eg bit.ly and ow.ly 
  • Google Web Analytics
  • Social media dashboards eg Tweetdeck, HootSuite

6) Governance 

Many legal service providers have been reluctant to participate in social media through fear of the perceived risks involved. While social media can present some risk, that’s not to say this outweighs the benefits. One way of mitigating the risks is through careful planning and coordination. 

Ensure your organisation has a social media policy that stipulates what is expected of employees when engaging on social media, covering both a social or professional capacity because it can be difficult to distinguish the two on social platforms. The policy should also act as a form of guideline, and include direction such as appropriate tone of voice, and identify roles and responsibilities of all involved. It may also be prudent for the person with overall responsibility to undertake specialist training on social media. 

Social media checklist

Gain stakeholder buy-inKey stakeholders such as senior management must be behind what you are doing with social media. It isn’t a free resource, there is an investment of time and resource involved, so there must be support at the highest level within your organisation. 
Understand the social media landscapeUse social media as a listening tool to keep on top of what is happening in the social environment. What conversations are taking place about your organisation, your competitors and your areas of interest? Where are these discussions taking place and who is taking part in them? This is an ongoing commitment, but it’s an important one if you are to be effective and relevant. Tools such as Google Alters are free to use and will alert you of activity relating to specific keywords to help you answer these questions. 
Use the data The data that comes from listening needs to be acted on. You need to spend time analysing it and making conclusions and recommendations to ensure your activities are on the right track.  You will want to ensure you are visible in the relevant places online, have an understanding of what people are talking about online (relevant to your organisation and service lines), what your competitors are doing.
Be clear on your objectivesSet objectives for social media marketing based on your organisation’s wider digital marketing objectives. How will you be using social media to contribute to the organisation’s goals? 
Create an action plan Here you will set the framework of activities. Identify which platforms you will use, how they will be used and how often. Who will have ownership, and who will be implementing the activity? A sensible timeframe would be a 12month plan, but ensure it is reviewed regularly to accommodate any changes. 
Monitor activity As the plan takes action, ensure you have checks and balances in place to monitor activity and of course performance.  Be prepared to adjust your action plan if something isn’t working. 
Using social metrics Use social metrics to measure performance against objectives, and create regular reports.

Summary

For any law firm, social media is a vital strategic consideration. Whether your firm is actively involved in social media or not, your target audiences are to some extent. 

If nothing else, this means that there is market data available to you by using social media as a platform for listening. For organisations wanting to make more impact in terms of engagement with their brand, social media offers unparalleled scope for success. 

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