Social networking: Lessons from using social media to establish a NewLaw firm
At a recent pitch, the client stated that they would not instruct a law firm that was not active on social media. The client was a technology company, so for them, any business who was not on social media was not forward thinking enough. It may seem like a ruthless approach, but I can appreciate the rationale. How can you be efficient, effective and commercial if you do not have a comprehensive handle on what your market is doing and how it operates? And in an age where news is most likely to first break on Twitter, how can you get a handle on your industry without a presence on the right social media channels?
Most statistics show that the top 100 law firms are the most active when it comes to social media, however from 101-200, firms have been slower to get involved. In either case, most lawyers within the law firms are not actively involved in social media and firms are slow to encourage their lawyers to use it. A 2014 survey conducted by the Solicitor’s Journal stated that the number of UK law firms using social media channels in 2014 was 45% for Twitter and 28% for LinkedIn and for UK lawyers using social media channels in a professional/personal capacity the figures were was 12% for Twitter and 45% for LinkedIn.
So why are the stats so low and why is there not more encouragement by law firms to their employees to engage in these channels? Of course, law firms worry about the personal brand of the lawyer versus the corporate brand and how to balance both, but this is manageable. On a general level, law firms need to ensure their lawyers are clear on the company vision and brand guidelines. For social media, both should be treated differently; your lawyer’s voice should be on brand but should also be their individual voice. If law firms do not encourage and empower their lawyers to use social media in this way, they are essentially asking their team to market with one hand tied behind their backs.
It goes without saying that training and communication are essential. How to use the tools themselves, protocols, etiquette and the ethical issues related to social media. But even with this groundwork in place, lawyers still need encouragement to become active on social media. Many remain silent consumers of content.
Embracing social media is not easy for lawyers. We find it hard to write in abbreviation, let alone condensing our view to 140 characters! We are also conservative in nature. The idea that our opinions can be cut and pasted and sent out to a global audience makes us nervous. We like talking within the confined walls of “Chatham House Rules”. We like having control, knowing who we are talking to and the exact quotes that are being shared in our names. We are trained to minimize risk. The problem is, the world has moved on and our market has moved on along with it.
As lawyers, we like to sit back, think and assess. With that in mind, think about these key questions: How can you be more effective and efficient with your marketing and BD, what are your competitors doing and what is your market looking for?
How can you be more effective and efficient with your marketing and BD?
There are two key aspects of networking. The first is making contact and the second is maintaining it.
Making new contacts at events is hard. It is difficult making enough of a connection to swap cards. The amount of “new” contacts you can make is fairly limited. How many people can you have meaningful conversations with during a networking session? Maybe 10 people? How many networking events do you attend per year. Maybe 5? That means your new contact base per year is 50, but at the most, because there will be repeat attendance and actually once we know people at an event, we tend to speak to the same people each time.
Even if you make 50 new contacts per year, how many turn into real leads and clients? The conversion rate from new contact to tangible business opportunity can take up to two years sometimes and is a sustained campaign of relationship building until the right opportunity presents itself. This is why you need a substantial sales pipeline with lots of irons in the fire. To grow your network and to connect with more people, you need to cast the net wide and the only way to do that is either attend endless networking events which is time consuming and expensive, or look at social media. Via networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter, you have access to a global database of contacts and can control and expand your network on an entirely virtual basis.
The second aspect is maintaining contact and developing the relationship. Law firms have historically done that by meeting for coffees lunches, inviting contacts and clients to seminars and sending out newsletters and updates. However, such methods are becoming less effective as clients have less time, many are located outside of a city centre and therefore the commute in is hard. And when it comes to newsletters, the amount of information readily available to contacts and clients via online channels is overwhelming, with the result that many are now not interested in quarterly newsletters as they have already read information on key changes and updates.
Again, social media is the most effective way to keep in contact with your contacts and clients. It is timely, constant, and an easy forum to use to share, engage and to keep a relationship going. It is virtual and can be used from our desk, at home or whilst on the go on a 24/7 basis. I appreciate the idea that we should not make or maintain relationships solely via social media, we still need to make time for face-to-face meetings where possible, but social media plays a large part in how we connect and stay connected. In the same way that emails have taken over posting letters and fax machines, we need to take the next step in our evolution. Social media is how to market and stay connected.
There are really two social networks lawyers can and should use as a key business tool; Twitter and LinkedIn and both are very different forums.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 300 million members and the original virtual networking tool. It is an easy way to make and maintain contacts on a global scale and should be viewed as your online work contact book along with Outlook, as once you have LinkedIn with someone, you track them throughout their career wherever they move. It also shows you connections in common giving you the opportunity to ask for introductions. Once you are up and running on LinkedIn, you can gain real value sharing news and content, joining relevant groups, engaging in debate and proactively growing your network to increase your visibility in searches. Engage in it consistently and you will start to see tangible benefits in terms of both profile and business development opportunities and new connections.
Lawyers seem to be intimidated by Twitter; the limitation in characters on a tweet (140 only), but also how tweets and comments can quickly escalate. For me, it has opened up a whole new world. I started to use Twitter last year and it changed the way I work and market Halebury and myself. As with most working parents, I am time poor, but Twitter enables me to connect and stay connected with my market place on a constant basis, within my timeframe. It enables you to enter into more a more fluid conversation. Twitter is where you become informed and can shape the conversation.
Statistics state that Twitter has 284 million monthly active users, LinkedIn has over 332 million registered members. 58% of marketers who have used social media for over 3 years say that it has increased their business and B2B companies that use Twitter get twice as many leads as those that do not. Impressive statistics. Yet many lawyers do not think that social media will have a significant impact on the growth of their business. The results from a survey by Attorney at Work show “that 54% think lawyers using social media for marketing is more hype than reality”.
If you are one of these sceptical lawyers, let me give you a you a real life example. We set up Halebury without any funding or marketing budget. We wanted to attract city trained in-house lawyers and we wanted our client base to predominately be FSTE 250 companies and SMEs. We have grown by over 50% over the last 2 years with our main marketing activity being social media engagement. I should also mention that we are in a most competitive, highly funded marketplace, so this growth via social media should not to be taken lightly. We have been able to push our messaging and our brand by social media and we have been able to have an impact and gain profile in our marketplace without advertising, sponsorship and until this year, a retained PR agency.
We have approximately 570 followers on our corporate Twitter handle and I have approximately 730 followers, as do other members of the team. LinkedIn estimated that between all our team’s connections on LinkedIn, we have a network of over 9,000 connections. This might seem small compared to larger organisations, but we do not worry about the numbers, it is about quality of contacts and being connected to the right people. Weekly I speak to clients, contacts and potential candidates who tell me that they see us on social media and that they are impressed with what we doing; even if people do not “like” your message, they are paying attention. As mentioned earlier, many General Counsel and in-house lawyers are silent consumers of online content.
Maybe we at Halebury should be keeping quiet about the benefits of social media. But that is not us. We want to empower the legal industry to create a market place that is dynamic and forward thinking. Helping lawyers be more effective marketers is an essential part of advancing the profession. And if you are still not convinced, just think “out of sight out of mind” – do not get left behind.
This article first appeared in Managing Partner magazine in November 2015.
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