Translating Content into Business Relationships
Over the past several years, a number of new terms have been introduced into the lexicon to describe activities that many lawyers and law firms were already engaged in, and in some cases, using new tools and technology to pursue. These terms helped us to put context around our activities, and to pursue a more structured, strategic means of achieving our business development goals.
The term “Social media marketing” came into use when social media platforms were introduced and we learned how to use online technology to build relationships that we’d previously been building offline (that’s tremendously simplified, but you get the idea). Then “content marketing” came along to describe what many law firms had been doing for years – writing about the law and its impact on their clients, and then sharing it with them. As a term, content marketing is broader than that, but in terms of the legal industry, that’s pretty much the short version.
As we worked through the introduction of the terms, we separated people into two camps: the “broadcasters” and the “engagers.” The “broadcasters” treated social media and content marketing as a means to spread their message around, but without the end goal of developing community with anyone. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different valuation – some of the goals that firms/lawyers who embrace this philosophy might be pursuing are reputation enhancement, being considered a thought leader on a particular subject, etc. Many firms and lawyers have been successful, and even built a large following this way, and spend little or no time engaging with their audience.
“Engagers” are those who are more interested in developing relationships with their audience, and as such, use social media to hold conversations with peers, colleagues, potential clients, influencers and amplifiers, and even use their content in a similar fashion. Their end goals are to build community, develop business, and engage in other relationships that will ultimately strengthen their knowledge and practice.
This latter type of marketing is called “relationship marketing” and it’s how you translate content marketing into the relationships that can bring you business.
Regardless of the further segmentation of marketing types and more terms for us to remember to use, using content marketing to build relationships is a valuable use of your marketing time – essentially, it’s what you’ve always done, building your practice by word of mouth, except using social media and content to amplify your in-person efforts.
Yes, you are “talking” with your audience when you are sharing content with them, but relationship marketing is supercharging these efforts, in a more meaningful way. You may already have incredibly strong content – a fabulous blog, highly curated social media posts, on-target client alerts – but it’s the rapport you have built with your audience that will make the difference. You’re developing a community of people who will, because of their positive experiences with you, share your voice with others, which will grow your target audience and bring in additional potential clients.
Lawyers, the great news is that despite your reputations for not wanting to pioneer new trends, you are ahead of the game on this. You have already been focused on the relationship-building side of content marketing for years, and it’s everyone else that’s playing catch up. How do you make the most of what you’re doing to translate these efforts into stronger relationship marketing?
“Inbound marketing” is another buzz-term that you hear a lot. Rather than getting caught up in all of the fancy words, let’s just look at what it really means.
Inbound marketing is about actively pulling in your community, rather than passively waiting for them to engage – you’re attracting them to your service based on their desire to learn more. It’s a form of two-way communication, where your clients are interacting with you or your firm in a dialogue. Using a variety of tactics, your audience becomes invested and engaged – the reason that this is successful is that people want to be in control of the information that they get, and so their active participation will make them more receptive to your message.
For lawyers and law firms, this sounds great, right? You want an audience that is invested and engaged in your services as a lawyer. It can be a little bit difficult in our industry, because in-house counsel are admittedly more lurkers than participators when it comes to engaging online – they’re reading the information that you put out there, but they’re not very likely to comment on your blog post, or respond to your last LinkedIn share.
However, there are others that do, including influencers in the community and your peers and colleagues. While it may seem less valuable to you that your peers and colleagues would be engaging on your posts, consider this – you may make a point in a blog post, for example, and a colleague adds additional commentary at the bottom that spurs a vigorous and robust discussion in the comments. Although in-house counsel aren’t participating, they are seeing that conversation, and it becomes a secondary opportunity for you to showcase your talents as an advocate.
So, how do you build community?
Get the conversation started: You can do this by asking a question of your audience at the end of your blog posts, but let’s be honest, most of us are skimming posts these days and may not even get to the end of something that we’re reading, even if we’re interested in it. So, although I still advocate that, I would further recommend pulling that question OUT of the post and using it in your social sharing – when you post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., don’t use the title of the post, followed by the link. Instead, take the question you’ve posed and include the link with it. That way, you’re not only encouraging your readers to engage with you in the comments section, but you’re also inviting further conversation on each of those social media platforms. Keep an eye on these platforms to ensure that you’re responding in a timely manner and consider the conversations as fodder for future posts and content as well.
Use content proactively: This has always been a favorite of mine. For example, if you want to meet someone, be it a client or a journalist or another thought leader, quote them in your next blog post and craft your piece around something that they’ve said or written. Once the piece is finished, connect with them on LinkedIn (if you haven’t already), and share the link with them, saying that you enjoyed their work enough to respond to it in your own post. Then continue that relationship offline – the next time you’re in their city, ask to meet up for coffee, or try to schedule a call if you’re not going to be traveling any time soon. The idea is that you’re using your content as a starting point for your relationship with a person that you’d like to know better.
Share, share, share: I always advocate sharing other people’s work within your own specialty, to give credence to the idea that you’re a thought leader in that space. Not only is this good in general because it shows that you have your finger on the pulse of the industry, and you recognize that no one wants to hear only from you, but it’s also an opportunity to engage. How? For those whose work you’re sharing, tag them in each social share. When you retweet or directly share, this happens automatically, but if you’re doing so directly from their site, include them in the posting so that they know you find their work valuable. Further engage the other members of your community by not just sharing the article – add your thoughts to it as well. Even better if you can come up with a question or provocative comment that will drive further conversation around the piece – that way, you’re giving people a reason to further engage with you, as we described in the first point.
Engage back: While the ultimate goal is to bring the engagement and community to you, you can also engage in other people’s communities. When you’re reading blog posts that you find valuable, and you have something to contribute, add to the conversation by posting a comment. Engage directly in LinkedIn groups and with status updates, not just to promote yourself and your own work, but to really have genuine conversations about areas of the law that you have a mutual interest in. Jump into Twitter chats that you’re not hosting to ask questions and engage with presenters/hosts. All of those things will get people interested in YOU, and in addition to building relationships, it will also engender as sense of reciprocity in those people, who will then be more willing to engage in your communities with you.
User Generated Content
This one is a little bit more difficult, because although both types of relationship marketing are, obviously and necessarily, dependent on others to be successful, this one in particular is harder to encourage.
Wikipedia defines user-generated content (UGC) as “any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasts, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites.”
The goal here is getting your audience to create a comment or a share about YOU, which is a powerful reference. As we all know, we can say good things about ourselves, but when someone else says them, they become exponentially more meaningful (that’s why
word-of-mouth has been so important for business development in the legal industry). UGC is basically getting that word-of-mouth piece to extend online.
There are some types of UGC that work well in other industries that aren’t well-suited for the legal industry, like contests, requesting
reviews, and asking for social shares – in some cases, it’s because it doesn’t fit the persona of the profession well, and in others, it’s because it’s against the ethics rules of the industry. But there are still ways that lawyers and law firms can work to encourage UGC, within ethical boundaries.
Write for your audience: This is something I always advocate, no matter what your goal is for your content – if you want your audience to read what you write, you have to make it something that they care about. But you can get even more tailored when you’re doing this to develop relationships. For example, examine the problems that your audience needs solved. A lot of lawyer blogs get started because the lawyers were already writing client alerts that were going out to their own clients, and they felt it made sense to translate these to a wider audience. Why not make that clearer in your writing? Ask for people to submit issues that you can consider for blog posts. This can get into the sticky area of people asking for specific help, but as lawyers, you know where the line is, and can point out to any submitters where they would need to speak with you on a client/attorney basis versus a blog discussion basis. Try basing blog posts on completing the sentence “Often, I am asked…” If it’s a question that some people are asking you, there’s a good chance that many others will want to know the answer as well. And your writing will then be supporting the idea that you answer client problems or legal questions that are submitted, encouraging others to submit their own.
Seed the content: If you’re a firm looking to get more user generated content, get your lawyers to help you out. I’m not suggesting that you do this in a disingenuous way, but transparently use their participation to gain traction around a particular effort. For example, if you’d like people to share photos of themselves in the community that your firm is in, get the lawyers in your office to participate by sharing their own such photos to your Facebook page. If you want to leverage a hashtag on Twitter for a conference, get the word out in advance, and then get your own lawyers who are attending the conference to kick off the tweeting. Maybe even show the tweet stream on a big screen in the main hall so that attendees see a diversity of tweets about the event coming through and feel encouraged to participate. Ask all of the lawyers in your firm to like or comment on the substantive news shared by the firm and their colleagues on LinkedIn – the more that something is liked and shared, the more attention it will get among everyone’s audiences, and the more engagement it will drive. Have the lawyers post interesting and thought-provoking content to any groups that the firm runs, to ensure that they appear (and are) robust and encourage them to engage in and respond to all conversations in the group as well. When you give the appearance that others are truly engaged in the conversation, and able to share their own content freely, you give tacit permission to others to do the same.
While social media, and now content marketing, have leveled the playing field for law firms when it comes to showcasing talent, the real benefit for lawyers, in my book, has always been the ability to leverage the relationship development of these tools.
About the author:
Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Director of Global Relationship Management. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths works closely with the Network’s Executive Director on the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and shares responsibility with the Executive Director for recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks. In her role as Director of Global Relationship Management, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.
During her tenure, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter''.