Connecting Dots: Practical examples of how social media can work in the law-firm sales funnel.

Note: This is the third and final blog post about how social media relates to law firms. These ideas loosely stem from a May 1st presentation I gave for the 3rd annual Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum, held at Harvard Club in New York City.

In my previous post, I showed an hourglass figure that graphically depicts the marketing and sales process at law firms.  Starting from the same chart, I wanted to demonstrate how social media can support law firm sales and marketing professionals up and down the hour glass.

Near the top of the hourglass, we see the strategic development, which requires the acquisition of competitive and marketplace research – a perfect place for the application of social media. 

For example, at Womble Carlyle, we have been considering how to transition one group of lawyers serving a slowing marketplace into a new and at-least-somewhat-related marketplace that might make good use of their skills and not require a complete re-tooling.  Naturally, as we contemplated this strategic repositioning, we tapped the familiar sources of such business information.  But because of the existence of social media, we were able to add an additional layer of understanding.  It’s amazing what one can learn about a new industry or legal sector simply by typing into the address bar “search.twitter.com.” 

Some in the Web 2.0 business have built tools designed especially to help lawyers understand trends and marketplaces and legal issues and competition.  I’ve been using one of these tools – Manzama – for awhile now, and because it searches not only traditional news sources, but also new-media sources (such as law firm blogs and social media platforms) for relevant information, it produces an additional rich and timely source of marketplace information.   Using this tool, we will make, and are making, better strategic decisions for our transitioning group of lawyers than we were capable of making prior to the advent of social media. 

As Judy Stein-Korte, Senior Media & PR Officer at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, recently observed, strategic development is contingent on rich internal discussions, and social media here, too, can play a role.  In my own department – 18 people spread out among 10 offices and 7 states – we have created a kind of private Twitter universe.  We use our little Twitterverse to keep one another informed about developments in our work and lives.  Using Twitter in this way, I can keep track of what a far-flung group of professionals is up to almost moment-to-moment, and I can also show them by example that I am not an isolated administrator but rather a professional who is guy fully engaged, as they are, in marketing and sales.  It is a terrific team-building tool.  We built our own tool, but companies such as Yammer and SocialText have built enterprise relationship software that probably has more functionality and ease-of-use.  For us, though, a variation on Twitter is enough. 

Implementation, in the sense that I have placed it on this chart, is about ensuring that the rollout of a strategic initiative or program is properly resourced.  For instance, if a firm like ours were to transition a group of lawyers from one industry to another, do we have all the right lawyers?  And if not, where will we find the right lawyers to help us achieve the strategy? 

Many firms, including ours to some degree but not as much as others, are utilizing Facebook as a primary pathway to new talent.  The really adventurous ones are using Second Life.  And listening platforms such as Manzama can help us spot which lawyers are the leading thinkers in an industry or a legal arena.  Now, those are the lawyers we want on OUR team.  They’ve advertised their wares on social media, we know who they are and where they are, and we can try to land them. 

Further down the hourglass, branding and positioning is a natural milieu for social media, which is all about claiming pieces of buyers’ minds by driving the conversation.  I point to blogging as probably the best applications of social media for law firms to develop content and thought leadership around an industry or a legal concept. 

Despite all of these applications of social media, I think we all may be most familiar with the utilization of social media as additional channels for external communications.  Google adwords are a familiar paid pathway to market and the foundation of a still-substantial advertising budget at my firm that in an earlier era was innovatively deployed on Wall Street Journal advertising, airport kiosks, and commercial radio advertisements featuring a wise-cracking bulldog named Winston.  And most of us in law firm sales and marketing are regularly distributing content on multiple social media channels in a way that is a kind of analog in the digital age for press releases.  In addition to paid media, marketing and communications professionals are linking with and following reporters and editors to understand what they are thinking and writing about.  Marketers are using social media to build relationships – albeit virtual – with journalists, perhaps with the notion that a social media relationship can be leveraged and perhaps even built into a Tweet Up, a face-to-face meeting that is predicated on digital relationship initiated via social media.  One of the cool things, from my perspective, is that with social media these relationships are not bound by time and space in the way that they once were. 

Further down the hourglass, social media makes targeting a breeze.  Continuing with the example of a group of a group of lawyers transitioning from one industry to another, an important part in the process is identifying buyers in the new industry.  Starting with an ideal client profile, I personally utilize an advanced version of LinkedIn – the Sales Navigator – to find the buyers I’d like us to know and, more importantly, to know us.  On many occasions, I have successfully used LinkedIn to make contact with them and ultimately to help them engage lawyers in my firm.

Still further down the hourglass, social media significantly assists in the pursuit of clients.  What better way to develop and maintain awareness of developments at a target company than by following the company on any number of social media platforms like those listed here?  And what better way to understand the proclivities of individual buyers than by following or linking with them on any number of social media platforms?  At my firm, I have a list of potential clients that I follow, just to understand where they are, where they are going, and what’s on their minds.  In a few instances, we communicate with clients and prospective clients exclusively on social media, most often Twitter and Facebook.  I expect that this phenomenon will only accelerate in the days ahead.

Now to the Point of Sale in the hourglass.  As I alluded to a moment ago, we have gotten new business directly as a result of relationships initiated and developed on social media.  But we haven’t yet actually closed business on the Web.  Nonetheless, I bet that some plaintiff law firms – which are so advanced in these types of arenas – have done so  Retail business long ago constructed storefronts on Facebook and other social media applications.  I imagine that it will only be a matter of time until defense law firms do so, as well.

After we have been engaged by a new client (see the bottom part of the hourglass chart), social media play an enormous role in client service and expansion.  We use social media, particularly listening platforms, to maintain awareness of developments at clients, their industries, their competitors, and in business and legal arenas that can impact their success.  We use social media to keep our ears to the ground so that we can be the first to alert our clients of developments.  It’s a great feeling when a client gives us a big thank you for providing her information that protected her company, allowed her to get out in front of an issue, or facilitated the winning a new piece of business.  Now, THAT’S client service that drives loyalty. 

I could speak much longer about social media and its application in law firms, but given the time restrictions of a 20-minute presentation, from which this narrative was excerpted,  it is only a beginning.    

Meantime, let me conclude here, as I did at the ALM Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum in New York City last week, with a few more words from Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of The Thank You Economy

“There are too many businesses that are still holding back, watching the social media train rush by, convinced that if the destination is so great, another train will come along soon enough.  They seem to think that it will be going more slowly, and the ride will be safe and steady, and they’ll be able to catch up with everyone else who jumped on early.   They’re wrong, though.  The next train, when it shows up, will be going full speed to some other equally exotic and unknown place. 

There will be changes, Vaynerchuk continues, but “What will not change….is the culture—the expectation—of communication, transparency and connection that social media (has) revived.  We live in a world where anyone with a computer can have an online presence and voice; whatever follows next will simply make the power of word of mouth that much more powerful.  The proliferation of blogs, with their invitation to comment, and the transparency of Facebook and Twitter, has marked an economic turning point.  People thought they had seen a massive culture shift when the public adopted the Internet into their daily lives, but the bigger shift occurred when the Internet began to allow for two-way conversation.  Learn how to implement a culture of caring and communication into your business, scale your one-to-one relationships, and watch your customers reward your efforts by using their new and massively powerful word of mouth to market your business and your brand for you.”