The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t “changed everything.” It has ushered in change, of course, but more than anything it has deepened and accelerated existing trends. In the legal industry, in relation to marketing and business development, COVID-19 has put the ongoing digital marketing transformation on the fast-track.
Clients are increasingly discovering and vetting lawyers online—indeed, they have no other choice at the moment. Consumption of thought-leadership content through written articles, videos, podcasts, and webinars, is spiking. And more connections and conversations are happening on social networks. The most important social platform for most lawyers is LinkedIn, and LinkedIn recently reported a 55-percent bump in engagement between connections, more content being posted, and increased messaging activity taking place during the COVID-19 crisis.
There is no doubt that LinkedIn is the best place online for lawyers looking to grow their networks and their practices. LinkedIn is a professional network, which means that people are spending time there for the purpose of doing business. The problem is that many lawyers use LinkedIn as a place to scroll through other people’s posts, rather than as a tool to aid in business development, which is a big mistake since LinkedIn has everything a lawyer might need to establish relationships that lead to new business.
Here are six steps lawyers should take to leverage LinkedIn for marketing and business development success.
1. Establish Your Positioning
Having clear positioning allows you to differentiate yourself from competitors. Establishing your positioning requires you to answer two questions: What do I do? For whom do I do it? It’s particularly important to have a narrow focus to your practice during an economic downturn. There’s an excess supply of lawyers when demand contracts, and if you’re positioning isn’t clear and differentiated, you run the risk of being perceived as a commodity. Many of the best positioned lawyers tailor their practices to a specific industry (e.g., labor law for the automotive industry).
What do I do? For whom do I do it?
Once you’ve dialed-in your positioning, and understand who your ideal client is, you’ll be able to make a much bigger impact on LinkedIn. From how you write your profile, to the connections you make, to the content you share, everything you do on the platform will be in furtherance of your objective to position yourself as an expert for a specific audience.
2. Craft Your Profile
The point of spending time on LinkedIn is to make connections with those in your niche market, create awareness of your personal brand, and to position yourself as a thought leader and expert. The connections you make and the content you share on LinkedIn should serve as digital breadcrumb trails back to your profile.
Speak the language of your audience in your profile...
The problem is that most lawyer’s LinkedIn profiles read like online resumes which focus on education and practice area descriptions. Instead, write a profile that focuses on how you help members of your specific, targeted audience achieve goals and solve problems. Your profile should make it clear who you are, what you do best, and the unique value and benefit you provide to your niche market. Speak the language of your audience in your profile, not the language of a lawyer.
3. Build Your Network
Once you’ve optimized your profile, find members of your target audience and invite them to connect. LinkedIn is a big, powerful search engine for finding your ideal audience. You can use LinkedIn’s Search function to search for people and filter results by factors including job title, geographic location, industry type, company name, and school, among other things.
If you know with great specificity who you serve, then the job of finding people with whom to connect using LinkedIn’s tools becomes much easier and more effective.
4. Share Content
There are several ways to share your content with your LinkedIn network. If an article you’ve written is published on another platform, such as your firm’s blog or a third-party website such as JD Supra, then write a short summary and share the article URL as a “LinkedIn Status Update.”
If someone from your network “likes” or comments on your update, then it will be shared with their network. The more likes you earn, the more broadly your content will be spread. In addition to sharing content you publish elsewhere through status updates, you can write and publish content directly on LinkedIn’s publishing platform.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t only be sharing your own original content on LinkedIn. Add value to your network, and develop relationships with influencers within your niche, by sharing other people’s valuable content as well. Content curation is an easy “small win” that takes little effort but pays big dividends.
5. Engage in Dialogue Online
All the work you do on LinkedIn to carve out a niche, create and share content, and gain awareness of your personal brand should be done with an eye toward generating business development opportunities. Like most other social media platforms, LinkedIn offers users the opportunity to interact directly with contacts through its Messaging service. Lawyers who pay for a Premium plan can message those outside of their networks as well.
Begin reaching out to members of your network directly, but do so in a way that serves their interests (and yours as well, but in an indirect way). One way to do this through LinkedIn messaging is to send people a link to a piece of content you’ve written that they might find helpful for their business. Such a message may not garner an immediate response, but it’s still a win if the recipients consume your content and start perceiving you as a thought leader worth paying attention to. Others will message you back. When this happens, it’s a signal to try to take the conversation offline.
Opportunities are created online, but business is closed offline...
6. Take Conversations Offline
Digital platforms like LinkedIn are great for prospecting and establishing relationships, but as we all know business development for legal services is still an intensely personal endeavor. Opportunities are created online, but business is closed offline.
When a potential client or referral source requests to connect with you on LinkedIn, if you notice someone frequently liking or commenting on your updates, or if someone engages with you on LinkedIn messaging, tactfully suggest continuing the conversation offline via a phone call or Zoom meeting. Strike while the iron is hot.
Putting the Pieces Together
If you’re actively engaged as a lawyer on LinkedIn by making connections, sharing valuable content, and communicating with members of your network, good things will start happening.
People will start connecting with you and reaching out to you directly. They will notice that you’re a thought leader in their space worth listening to. You’ll have more success when you seek to connect and communicate with others as well. Because you’re focused on a niche, they’ll view your overtures with an open mind, rather than skepticism. Reporters who cover your niche will reach out to you as a subject matter expert, because it will be clear that you know what you’re talking about, and speak the language of their audience. Your personal brand will become more powerful. New business opportunities will arise.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool. But like any tool it’s only useful if in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. Start strategically engaging on LinkedIn and you’ll become a craftsman who not only has powerful tools at your disposal, but knows what to do with them as well.
[Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading digital marketing agency for law, consulting, and accounting firms. He specializes in helping law firms build engaging websites and digital marketing strategies through creative design and storytelling. Jay is author of the recently released book The Essential Associate: Step Up, Stand Out, and Rise to the Top as a Young Lawyer. In 2016, his first book, One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice, was published. Jay is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and previously he was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner.]