Social media gets a lot of buzz these days. Most conversations presume a strong rationale for engaging in social media channels. The conversations seem to jump past whether it makes sense and instead argues for engaging in social media as though it has already been universally established prudent for every lawyer, in every practice regardless of other marketing tools and options available to them.
Not so fast.
Social media is nothing more than any other channel for your marketing efforts. You wouldn’t presume the merits of a direct mail campaign, a VIP Cocktail party or a full page advertisement, would you? You should apply the same types of analysis to social media that would apply to any marketing opportunity. You should always know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and whether it is the best and highest use of your marketing funds and time to do it.
First, what do we mean by social media? I include in social media some of the most frequented sites on the Internet including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google +, Foursquare, blogs and other sites. ‘Social media’ also includes sites such as JD Supra, Legal OnRamp, MH Connect and several other directories and legal industry sites which provide a means to build relationships, exchange information and showcase experience.
What can social media sites do for you and how can they fit in to your marketing program? There are five general marketing strategies that can be accomplished, at least in part, via social media.
Through social media, you can:
1. Distribute content. Content is King and helps build reputations
2. Connect with others to maintain top of mind awareness, build relationships and produce referrals
3. Gather intelligence for cases, competitive positioning or other uses
4. Improve search rankings to enhance your visibility to prospective clients
5. Provide value added services for existing clients and demonstrate client service to prospective clients
For many lawyers and law firms, social media makes a lot of sense. For many more, it is little more than a distraction. How do you determine in which group you and your practice falls? And, how much time and money should you spend mastering the social media techniques in pursuit of greater marketing efficiency?
The following set of questions will guide you through the process of determining the relative value of a social media marketing program to your practice.
1. What do you want to accomplish? What are your specific business goals and how will you know when you have achieved them. In addition to new clients, what other objectives do you have to better position your practice, improve client satisfaction or reinforce the decision your clients have made to use your services?
2. What does my ideal client look like? Can I describe the profile of my best clients? How detailed can I be? Do I understand the size or length of time in business? Do I understand the issues they face? The budget they have for my services. Are my clients individuals or businesses? Are they local or do I draw clients from across the country? Do I get most new work through referrals or directly from new clients? The more detailed your understanding of your clients, the better able you will be to determine which marketing channels are the most effective in reaching your ideal clients.
3. To what extent are my ideal clients using social media?
Are clients who need the services of my practice, using social media sites to evaluate lawyers? To what extent are these sites weighted in these evaluations? How else are they using social media sites?
4. What alternative channels besides social media are available to you?
If you are trying to raise your name recognition, do you have other mediums through which to do this? To what extent do these channels have more or less credibility in the minds of your target clients?
5. How well do you understand the Internet?
What is the level of your knowledge in social media, internet marketing and search engine optimization and what is the cost to obtain this knowledge and put it into practice? Would the knowledge be easy to maintain or will you constantly need to refresh your knowledge due to rapid changes in technology or emerging trends? Can you buy this knowledge from someone else and do they have the kowledge of your business to direct you effectively?
6. Considering all means available to accomplishing your objectives, is social media one of the most efficient and effective means to accomplish these objectives?
What do you estimate the cost is (in both time and money) as a percentage of new clients landed? Is this a better return on your investment than are the other options in your marketing arsenal?
While these questions may not assure success in social media marketing for you, they will, if answered with brutal honesty, help you determine whether social media marketing is worth your investment of time and money. There’s no doubt that social media, like traditional advertising serves an important and growing role in legal marketing. What’s more, social media is a dialogue that engages people in the issues they are most interested in. It can’t hurt to be a part of the discussion. However, before engaging in a social media strategy, this writer argues that you must have clear objectives, understand how it fits into your marketing mix, know the costs and investments required and know how you to determine whether you are gaining or losing ground through its use. Just like you should any other marketing initiative you undertake.