Social media and business development in law firms is here to stay
1. The truth
Social media are here to stay. The profitable future for law firms will belong to those able to harness the power of social media while effectively managing the underlying risks. Such firms will thus establish a strong presence built on trust, compliance and quality service, while remaining approachable and open.
The sooner law firms understand and accept this new reality, the better the business results that social media can provide. Those which fail to adjust will be offering their portion of the market to digitally savvy competitors.
The benefits of using social media marketing for law firms are diverse and include:
gaining access to the latest news and industry trends;
increasing brand recognition;
identifying new opportunities and prospects;
limiting marketing expenditure when compared to traditional methods;
providing opportunities to highlight the firm’s values and extend the firm’s brand online;
establishing thought leadership by showcasing expertise and becoming a go-to expert in your area of law;
humanising the brand (people hire lawyers, not law firms);
networking and connecting with influencers and thought leaders in the field;
differentiating your firm and making it stand out;
positioning your firm as more competitive, attractive and profitable;
extending the reach of your brand message – communicating with (potentially) millions rather than a few;
building relationships and staying in touch with your clients, remaining at the forefront of their minds;
limiting the barriers of traditional, lengthy and formal introductions;
continuing conversations in between face-to-face meetings;
missing no leads – social networks allow your firm to stay open beyond the usual office hours;
increasing search engine rankings of the firm’s website;
building trust (potential clients are more likely to hire firms with lawyers whom they know, like and trust);
gaining competitive intelligence – social media provide effective tools for monitoring and gathering information on competitors, clients and prospects;
attracting top-tier talent by engaging with graduates; and
gaining access to a younger audience, which increasingly perceive digital channels as the key mean of obtaining and sharing information.
2. Engage – developing a successful social media strategy
Is your firm ready to embrace social media? The following section considers how to use social media to your firm’s benefit.
2.1 Make social media a part of the marketing mix
Social media do not exist in a vacuum. They should be seen as an integral part of your firm’s wider marketing efforts to ensure that all your social activity is aligned with your overall business goals.
Consequently, social media should be treated as an essential part of the client’s experience. When a client meets one of your partners in person and then checks your firm’s website, blog and social channels, he should be presented with a consistent, seamless image of the firm. Brand consistency, whether online, in print or in person, builds trusts, encourages engagement and ensures a positive customer experience.
While most corporate clients will rely on personal recommendations rather than Google when looking for a legal expert, they are still likely to perform some type of online search before making the initial contact with the firm. This is where social media can benefit your firm, by demonstrating your expertise and thought leadership, and increasing exposure of your brand, values and unique selling points.
Formulating a social media strategy is a key step in ensuring focus, brand consistency and results. Diving into social media without a thought-through strategy will make you vulnerable and directionless, unable to measure success or timely respond to risks and change. This means that you will always remain one step behind your more focused, strategic competitors. An ad hoc approach to social media will result in wasted time and resources.
A clearly defined social media strategy will help your firm to stay on track and align your activities with your business goals. That strategy should be refined based on regular analysis of results.
While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, a number of general principles and steps should be followed when planning the process.
2.2 Conduct a social media audit
The main objective of a social media audit is to establish how your firm is using social media and how this can be improved in order to connect with clients and prospects better and to maximise business results.
If your firm already has a social media presence, start with analysing your social activity up to that point in time by evaluating all your existing social media profiles. You should also check any ‘unofficial’ accounts for your firm, which could have been created by former employees or spammers.
Check whether all information displayed on your profiles is complete and up to date, and ensure brand consistency in terms of logos, imagery and the brand message across all platforms.
When evaluating your activity, remember to analyse web traffic data to find out which social channels drive the largest volumes of traffic. In addition, you should consider the visitors’ behaviour – that is, how long are they visiting your website for and what specific links do they click on? You should also pay close attention to social media channels that drive less traffic but deliver higher quality visitors – those who stay longer on your site and ‘convert’ by taking a desired action, such as subscribe to your mailing list, fill out an enquiry form, etc.
Another factor to consider is the level of engagement with the firm received from social networks by analysing which channels generate the most ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and comments. Lastly, you should look at the overall ‘conversation landscape’ on social media channels and analyse trends and conversations about your firm and your lawyers. Each time that your firm or one of your lawyer is mentioned provides you with an opportunity to strengthen your brand. Listening tools that can be helpful in this respect are Google Analytics, Facebook Insights or Tweetreach. More advanced, paid-for tools include Synthesio or Radian6.
The next step is to compare your firm’s social media presence with that of your competitors to indicate areas of improvement, growth opportunities and brand differentiation.
Analyse which social media channels your competitors use, what type of content they share and how much engagement is generated as a result of these actions. However, while these valuable insights will certainly help improve your own firms’ strategy, remember that in order to succeed you must find the best way to use social media for you. This may be different from firms because of your unique strengths, personality, objectives, selling points and values.
2.3 Define your audience
To ensure success on social networks, your firm needs a crystal clear view about the audience that it is trying to reach.
This is because your chosen approach will differ depending on whether you seek to attract new recruits or target prospective clients within a specific niche. Defining your audience will help create highly relevant content that will instantly resonate with that audience, which will have a direct impact on engagement levels.
It will also enable you to position your firm as an expert, a go-to source within your field.
2.4 Select relevant social networks
If your firm has no social media presence, you should start by determining the most relevant channels.
Choosing the right social networks to connect with your audience is one of the key decisions when planning your social media strategy. Consider how your target audience use social media and how you can use this information to engage with that audience and build relationships.
Investing your valuable time in platforms that are unpopular with your target audience will only lead to wasted time and resources.
You need to follow your clients and prospects to ensure that you are establishing your firm’s presence and networking on the right platforms.
It is worth mentioning here that while you may select only a couple of platforms to build your firm’s social media presence, you should consider taking ownership of your firm’s name across all social networks.
The general guideline is to build a social media presence on channels that:
suit your firm’s business strategy;
suit the type of content that your firm creates (eg, if your firm does not produce highly visual content, a presence on Instagram, which relies on sharing images, may not be the best choice); and
are popular among your clients and leads, as you otherwise run the risk of wasting time and resources on platforms whose audience will not be receptive to your message.
You should also recognise the differences between the various social media channels to ensure that the tone of your firm’s profile is right for the network. Many law firms make the mistake of posting the same content across all their social platforms. This can damage chances for engagement as each platform has its own characteristic and your communications there should be tailored accordingly to ensure results. For example, Twitter users expect near-immediate responses, therefore you may need to consider whether your firm has the resources in place to deal with such requirement.
It is also worth highlighting that different platforms might fulfill different purposes when supporting your firm’s specific goals. Hence, it is advisable to establish a clear purpose for your presence on each chosen platform. For example, Facebook will be used to show the human side and the values of the firm in order to attract graduates.
Lastly, the question of channels’ relevance is especially important when looking at business-to-customer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) platforms. Selection and prioritisation of social channels is crucial if your firm operates in a B2B market. Starting with a carefully planned LinkedIn activity would be a safe approach here, but being active on YouTube or Twitter may also be appropriate.
Remember that you do not need a presence on all social platforms. Choose relevant channels, start small and build from there.
2.5 Set objectives
Setting your social media goals and clarifying your expectations are of paramount importance. If you do not know what your aim is, you cannot move forward, measure your success or improve the process. This is not about getting 10,000 Twitter followers, but about aligning your social media goals with the overall business objectives of your firm.
It is important not to become preoccupied with the number of followers or fans, but to focus on steady, organic growth of an audience that genuinely listen and care about what you have to say.
Start with analysing your firm’s overall needs and decide how social media can help in fulfilling those. Are you trying to raise awareness of your brand? Increase traffic to your firm’s site? Establish your firm as a thought leader in your niche? Cross-sell your services? Or recruit, top young talent?
Whatever your goals, consider using a goal-setting framework such as SMART so that each of your objectives be:
specific – target a specific area for improvement;
measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress;
assignable – specify who will do it;
realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources; and
time-bound – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
2.6 Develop your content strategy – social media content calendar
The most successful brands on social media have mastered the art of creating customer loyalty and attracting new prospects through the power of their ideas and insights. Generating such relevant, high-quality content is time consuming, so it is important to have a plan in place to ensure productivity and efficiency.
Building your social media content in advance can make this task much less challenging. It will allow you to plan ahead, save time, allocate available resources, and ensure consistency of posting and high quality of updates. It also enables you to think ahead and create content relating to events, seminars and conferences that your firm has planned for the year.
Do not forget to balance your pre-planned social media schedule with real-time updates and engagements. While planning ahead and scheduling some of your content in advance will ensure consistency and better time management, social media is about real-time conversations and interactions.
How to develop a content calendar for your firm is outlined below.
(a) Decide on themes
Decide on three to five main topics, most relevant for your firm and your target audience, that you would like to promote through your content. Think about relevant keywords and phrases, connected to these areas, for the purpose of search optimisation. When choosing main topics, analyse the performance of previously shared content (eg, using Google Analytics) to see what type of information resonates with your audience.
(b) Allocate resources
Consider who will be responsible for generating and creation of content. Will you do it in-house or outsource it? Also, decide how often you will create content in-house and how frequently will you share content from external sources.
Once you have selected the specific topics that you would like to focus on, the list can be passed over to the responsible team member. This advanced notice will give that person enough time to evaluate his expertise on the subject matter, a well as research, create and edit the copy of the blog post. The same applies to researching and generating relevant articles and publications, generated from external sources.
Advanced planning of content has another benefit – namely, of involving more team members into the content creation process. So you can showcase the diversity of knowledge and expertise available within your firm.
(c) Select social platforms
Consider which social platforms you would like to use to promote your content, as well as how frequently would you like such posts to appear.
Make sure that you maximise the effect of each piece of content by sharing it via social media channels more than once. This tactic, also known as ‘content repurposing’ or ‘recycling’, is especially recommended for fast moving platforms, such as Twitter, where the lifecycle of updates is very short. The main aim of content repurposing is to ensure that more of your fans and followers will see your updates. Remember, however, not to share the exact post twice, as it may be perceived as spamming. Instead, vary headlines by pulling fragments of the blog post and including them into the post or adding thought-provoking questions before the link in the post.
(d) Choose the right format(s)
Your content can be developed in variety of forms such as blogs, videos, industry articles or downloadable ebooks.
Monitor what type of content performs best (ie, generates most engagement or drives most traffic) from your audience and focus your efforts there.
(e) Monitor and measure
Although social media are more than a decade old, measuring return on investment in this area remains tricky. However, a number of metrics can be used to measure social media success, including engagement, subscriptions, clicks, downloads or conversions. It is advisable to set key performance indicators for each selected social media platforms in order to evaluate their impact and performance.
For example, if your objective is to raise awareness of your brand, you will be checking how far the reach of your message is by analysing volume, reach and exposure.
If your objective is to boost traffic to your firm’s website, you will be looking at your site’s analytics to determine which social media channels are the major drivers of site visitors. Additionally, it is worth analysing which of the social media platforms sends valuable traffic. This can be done by looking at the visitors’ behaviour on your site (ie, click-through rates, downloads or subscriptions). For the purpose of accurate analysing of social media leads, make sure that tracking codes are attached to the links promoted via social channels.
If your objective is to increase brand engagement, you will be evaluating the amount of people participating in interactions with your brand, by looking at likes, retweets, shares, comments and replies.
In any case you should analyse the results obtained from each social media channel and assess which platforms drive best results.
Monitoring and evaluating your social media performance should take place regularly. You may consider monthly or quarterly reporting.
Useful tools for social media monitoring and measuring include:
Google Analytics, which allows to set up links for specific campaigns and track results;
Facebook Insights, which highlights user growth and demographics;
Twitter Analytics, which has a detailed activity dashboard;
Buffer, a scheduling platform that provides detailed analytics for all posts;
Hootsuite, another scheduling tool that provides detailed metrics tracking;
Klout, a free tool that measures your brand’s overall influence on social media; and
Social mention, which tracks brand mentions across all social networks.
(f) Refine your approach and repeat
Always remember that no social media strategy is set in stone and in order to succeed one must constantly monitor and evaluate the performance of social campaigns, and tweak the chosen approach according to results. Only by refining your strategy will you ensure the future effectiveness of your social media marketing efforts.
3. Platforms’ overview
Below is a review of some of the most popular and useful social media platforms that can be used by law firms for developing business.
The 2015 Social Media Marketing Industry Report named LinkedIn the best social media platform for B2B marketing.
Also, Google loves LinkedIn and links from this channel are included in Google’s search rankings and the search engine optimisation algorithm. This means that your activity on this platform can directly affect the search engine’s rankings for your firm’s website.
(a) Key benefits
Recruit new talent: LinkedIn is used by a lot of headhunting professionals to search for new talents. Do the same.
Refer high volumes of traffic to your corporate website: your company profile works as a gateway to your company website. Instill interest in your contacts and other visitors by posting information which requires to be linked to your website.
Establish thought leadership: choose an area of expertise and continually post information on such area. LinkedIn users do not necessarily expect this to be written by you, but will notice that you have an interest in, and understanding of, a certain practice area. This way you can stay at the forefront of your clients’ thoughts.
Obtain direct access to decision makers: LinkedIn allows you to bypass gatekeepers and reach out directly to decision makers.
Maintain offline relationships: LinkedIn is a great tool for staying in touch with your clients and prospects. That way, when they have a need that you can fulfill, they will reach out to you and nobody else.
(b) Top tips
Be active: check who viewed your LinkedIn profile. This shows you who is interested in your company and enables you to make new connections. LinkedIn helps you to build new potential business relationships as it is solely used for professional purposes.
Get down to the nitty-gritty: optimise your LinkedIn company page by filling all necessary company data and hard facts. Use relevant phrases and keywords that you would like your firm to be found for.
Share your knowledge: share relevant business news, including updates that could be of interest to your target group. Publish posts containing company news and share it with your network.
Socialise: create your own LinkedIn group and join other relevant groups. By creating your own LinkedIn group you can demonstrate your skills and your practice areas.
Faceook has approximately 1.49 billion active users – more than WhatsApp (500 million), Twitter (284 million) and Instagram (200 million) combined, with 968 million people logging onto Facebook and over 4.5 billion likes generated daily.
Facebook is moving into the B2B segment, although it is still regarded as mostly a personal network.
(a) Key benefits
Build and sustain personal, rather than professional-only, relationships: this may help get closer to your business contacts.
Affordable advertising: it is worth considering Facebook advertising, due to the fact that the organic (unpaid) reach on the platform decreased dramatically over the past few years. This is due to the fact that Facebook has introduced changes to its news feed algorithm, prioritising paid posts in terms of visibility. This means that it is getting increasingly harder to get your unpaid posts in front of your audience. However, the good news is that Facebook advertising is very affordable compared to any other form of online advertising. What is more, the targeting of Facebook ads is exceptional. Facebook allows you to target your chosen audience using highly specific criteria like age, location, behaviours, interests and more.
Undisputed reach: as the largest social media platform, the reach of your marketing is also the most extensive.
(b) Top tips
Prioritise your contacts: this will enable you to decide who will see what.
Use sparingly: studies have shown that Facebook users do not wish to read more than one or two news feed updates per week from each contact – do not become the annoying person who spams his contacts with several posts an hour.
Keep your posts short: use short headlines to promote your content. Social media users usually skim headlines and short summaries before they decide if they want to read the whole article.
Tag other organisation in your post: this will increase the range of your target audience.
Start a conversation: an effective way to get to know your audience better is to ask questions and carefully consider the answers. This helps you understand the specific needs of your target group and thus customise your content.
With posts, known as ‘tweets’, limited to 140 characters, this platform has been described as a cocktail party full of trivial conversations, celebrities and self-serving narcissists. This explains why many lawyers approach this platform with reluctance. But while Twitter’s ambience is far less formal than LinkedIn, it is a powerful information sharing, networking and listening tool and should not be ignored.
(a) Key benefits
Establish thought leadership: Twitter is a great tool for demonstrating your professional knowledge and positioning yourself as an expert and thought leader in your field.
Gather real-time competitive intelligence: it is one of the best social networks when it comes to listening. You are likely to get more legal and technical news from Twitter than from any other online source. This is because Twitter acts as a real-time search engine, allowing you to listen to conversations and gather intelligence, monitor your reputation, as well as obtain important insights into what your clients and competitors are doing.
Follow up: Twitter is the perfect tool for a post-meeting follow up and ‘keeping in touch’ interactions. It can help you to stay at the forefront of your contact’s mind.
Network at live events: Twitter is also perfect for live events and meeting people, as it facilitates real-time conversations, as well as relationship building before, during and after the event. Tweeting from conferences and seminars, using relevant hashtags, is also a great way of sharing information and learning from other attendees.
Hashtags are an integral part of the Twitter experience. They facilitate conversations and help to navigate through the fast-paced and cluttered Twitter feed. Hashtags allow users to find content, activity or discussions focused on specific topics, and can be created by simply adding a hash sign in front of a word or a group of words. When searching for a chosen hashtag on Twitter, users receive a filtered list of all the posts and conversations mentioning the relevant hashtag.
Gain direct access to high-profile individuals: on Twitter you can engage with people that you would like to connect with, a simple mention can easily lead to a conversation. You can also gain access to people with whom you would not normally interact, due to geographical or other barriers.
(b) Top tips
Align your firm’s values with your voice on Twitter (and visa versa): this will enable your activity there to build a consistent reputation.
Listen to conversations: also analyse trends that affect your niche.
Be approachable: Twitter’s tone is personable and light-hearted. The majority of professionals who have succeeded on this platform recommend finding a balance between sharing expertise and personality.
Initiate and join conversations with your connections: share your comments on relevant industry topics.
Choose your approach: Twitter is a public platform; a good idea may be to run two types of account – one connected to your work and a personal one (that can be protected). Many lawyers choose to have one account and post both personal and professional updates, balancing their professionalism and individualism. See what works for you.
Be creative: character restriction requires catchy headlines. Thus, if you publish a post on the new law of contracts, a headline such as “Why your contracts may be unenforceable from next week” is much more likely to grab attention than “ Here is our new blog on the new law of contracts”.
Add visual content: Twitter, like all other social networks, is increasingly visual. Research shows that visual content can significantly increase engagement on social media. You can obtain images from stock photography libraries such as Shutterstock ,as well as other creative resources like Canva.
Remain professional: Twitter is a public platform and therefore all your posts are public. Consequently, your conversational footprint on Twitter is permanent.
YouTube is a free, video-sharing website with over 1 billion users that dominates the visual-centric social networks. The platform was created in 2005 and purchased by Google in 2006. YouTube fans use this platform for research, learning and entertainment. According to a recent survey by Global Web Index, 85% of adults internet users identify themselves as regular YouTube users. YouTube accounts for over 28% of all Google searches.
Video is considered one of the most powerful forms of online communication.
What does it mean for law firms? That ignoring these powerful figures would equal missing out on opportunities to get in front of a large, captive audience. (Note also that YouTube is the second-largest search engine, positioned right behind its parent company Google.)
 Source: Comscore.
(a) Key benefits
Humanise your brand: video allows law firms to present the personality and values of both the firm and the people.
Gain trust: video provides a great opportunity to share powerful content that can make more of your prospective clients know, like and trust you, so they are more inclined to hire you and recommend your services further.
Offer transparency: video can assist in explaining processes to prospective clients. Thus, Whatson Thomas, family law solicitors from Hampshire, United Kingdom, have used a YouTube video to present their unique selling points, including personal service and fixed fees, in an engaging and transparent way.
Educate: your firm’s YouTube channel can serve as an educational library that builds trust and authority in your practice area. DLA Piper maintains an active YouTube channel. One of its videos, in the form of a fictional drama, explores the threats of cyber crime.
Kingsley Napley LLP uses video to give practical advice on shared parental leave’ or challenging the validity of a will.
Integrate your marketing: video is a highly share-able type of content for other social media channels such as Facebook or Google Plus. By distributing your YouTube videos on other platforms, you can instantly increase the exposure of your message.
(b) Top tips
Create a YouTube channel for your firm: to ensure brand consistency, add the firm logo, customise the colours and add relevant information and links. All your messages should be aligned with your firm’s unique selling points and values.
Monitor competition: this will help determine what type of video message best resonates with your target audience.
Solve problems and provide useful information: create videos that answer common clients’ questions, such as “Three things you need to know before hiring a property lawyer”.
Consider your audience: is your message aimed at graduates, current clients or prospects? Understanding your various audiences and their specific needs will help clarify your message.
Optimise your videos for online search: if your videos are invisible to your prospective clients, your message will not reach them. Make sure that you choose the right keywords to help YouTube determine the relevance of your content. Include them in your title, description and tags.
Create webinars: this will help connect better with your target audience, create a competitive edge and establish your firm as an authority in a specific niche. This will bring leads and business.
Be creative without losing professionalism and relevance: showing your team’s personality and sense of humour will make your videos more appealing to viewers.
Never compromise on quality: if there is no in-house know-how, allocate a budget for hiring a professional production agency. The quality of your visual presentation is just as important as presenting valuable content.
Pinterest is a visual social network, based entirely on photo and video posts, with 25 million users. It is often described as a visual inspiration board.
Users can upload, save and manage images, known as pins, which are stored under specific boards (virtual albums). Boards are organised by category. Users can also browse content uploaded by others, as well as like and follow each other, and repin content shared by others.
Pinterest’s audience is unique in that 83% of the platform’s users are female.
While primarily associated with do-it-yourself project, beauty and interior design, Pinterest can also present opportunities for both B2C and B2B brands.
 Source: Engauge, 2012.
(a) Key benefits
Generate traffic: while it may be less powerful in terms of leads than other platforms, Pinterest is often described as the most powerful traffic referral tool (ie, sending traffic to your website and improving your search rankings).
Drive away: Pinterest is the only social media channel that drives away traffic from the platform.
(editorial remark: Pinterest’s unique structure makes it a vendor’s friend. Data behind Pinterest use reveals an exciting trend: “Lots of consumers go straight from Pinterest to vendor websites.” This statement from the eMarketer report, Will Pinterest Reach Its Potential in 2015?, finds that the platform does more than just connect people. It sends people to online vendors more than any social channel other than Facebook.)
Promote your blog content: distinguish yourself from other users by creating a strong, optimised presence – think keywords for your niche. Be specific when naming your boards – for example, instead of general terms like ‘personal injury’, use specific phrases and long-tail keywords, such as ‘car incident compensation London’, ‘back injury claim London’. Terms that are too general should be avoided, though, as too many users are competing for those.
Increase your brand authority and build trust: do this by creating highly relevant, focused boards that provide detailed, up-to date information on specific niche. Note that you can balance your own content with relevant resources from other industry experts. Thus, your account will become a go-to source for relevant information on your niche.
(b) Top tips
Identify keywords: pin descriptions and board titles are searchable, so remember to use keywords that you want to be found for.
Stay relevant: keep your pins with specific boards relevant to your chosen name and subject.
Create the super pin: most popular pins combine appealing images with content that solves problems, inspires or educates. Or create relevant infographics based on interesting case studies or industry reports. Or get creative with images and think how best to tell the story of your brand, for instance by using ‘behind-the-scenes’ photos reflecting office culture and your firm’s values.
Stay fresh: not everything has to be ‘dry’, you may want to lighten your presence on Pinterest, and show a glimpse to your personality. Some law firms add character to their Pinterest presence by creating less formal, yet still relevant boards like ‘legal humour’ or ‘parenting on budget’.
4. Excursus – China
Social media usage continues to grow across the world, and China is no exception. But while China has admittedly and significantly opened up to the world over the past few years, the government still aims to control and censor the Internet where it believes that it could have a negative effect on its citizens. As a result, China has blocked access to most of western social networks. However, rather than to eliminate social media as a whole in China, the restriction has resulted in the Chinese creating and intensely using their own social networks.
User numbers are staggering and even exceed those in the United State and Europe. According to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Centre in 2014, there are 618 million internet users in China, a 45.8% internet penetration rate, of which 500 million are mobile users. And of all Chinese internet users, 58% use social networks.
The top websites include:
QQ (830 milion users), a messaging platform also offering online games, music and shopping;
QZone (755 million users), a social networking platform whose users can share photos, music and videos;
Weibo (600 million users), a micro-blogging website that is a cross between Twitter and Facebook; and
WeChat (468m users), a micro-messaging app similar to WhatsApp.
There is a lot to gain for those who understand China’s social media platforms; and even more to lose for those that stay away from this development.