Social Media for Lawyers: Best Practices to Implement in Your Firm
Speaking to a group of Central Florida’s top litigators, our CEO and Founder, Matt Certo, breaks down how social media can help law firms grow and develop. Though this joint meeting between LMA and CFCALA is centered around lawyers and law firms, this social media advice can be useful for any brand looking to expand their ever-important social media presence.
How Social Media Can Help Your Law Firm Grow and Develop
Speaker: Matt Certo
It is an honor to be here, especially a joint meeting of the LMA and the ALA. Is that kind of like the Clash of the Titans? It seems like you all work together well, which I think is pretty cool.
The topic they’re asked me to talk about today is really social media and law firms, was really where we started the conversation. In a brief period of time, because I know that we’re all busy and you have offices to get back to, we try to connect social media with what you all want to do, which is to help your law firms grow and develop. Hopefully this is social media, not just for the sake of social media, but social media for the sake of helping your law firms get more cases, develop more cases more efficiently, bill more hours, which helps everything grow.
I was just having a conversation with Jason, who’s working with law firms and the financial model. We all that case load and good cases and good client relationships drive the success of your law firm, so that’s what we to try and cover today in a brief period of time. It was a very kind introduction. I always think it’s good for you to know who you’re hearing from so that before you decide whether or not you agree, you know the perspective that I’m bringing to the table.
I’ve been the CEO of an agency, a digital marketing agency, called Findsome and Winmore here in town. We have a few of our folks here with us today for moral support, so they’re here. I’ve been doing this for about 20 years across a lot of different industries, but law firms have been a bit of a concentration for us. It didn’t start out that way. It wasn’t the intention but over the years we’ve picked up law firm clients, had an opportunity to learn from successes and failures of law firm marketing efforts. This has everything to do from website development to social media to search marketing, so we blend all those areas of our practice together to try and learn and then help clients grow in the future.
I have spoken to a lot of these groups and organizations and try and make these as helpful as possible, especially if you’ve heard some of this before. I try and keep going and developing with some of the content.Â The agency itself, just so you know, where we’re coming from, we’re about 25 people and we do web development, search marketing, social media marketing, content marketing … which we’ll talk a little bit more about today … and we do a lot of strategy work. It’s a fun group. I think of it as a living laboratory. I am a product of two parents who are both educators so I was raised to be a learner. I love to absorb what I’m seeing and try and formulate a model around how it could help others.
One of the ways I do that, I have a weekly email I send out every Monday, called Marketing Tip Monday. It’s just one marketing tip that goes out that, hopefully, is practical to a client. It’s not an ad for the firm or anything like that but would encourage you all to sign up for that. I know some of you are on that list already. It’s a website, MarketingTipMonday.com, where you can sign up and hear more of this if it’s helpful.
As was mentioned, about a year-and-a-half ago I put out a book called Found: Connecting with Customers in the Digital Age. It’s a quick read. If you’re interested, it’s very inexpensive on Amazon. To me, it’s designed to answer some of the questions we’ll be talking about today. These are the biggest ones I get from my clients, which is where I try and drive our efforts. Should my company or my law firm be on Facebook? Does anyone really use Twitter? How do you get to the top of a Google search? Should I have a blog? Is Google+ important to me anymore? Should I post on social media? What should I put on social media once I’ve made that leap? These strategic lessons I outline in that book, and I’ll do some of that today. You’ll see a blend of both our agency intellectual property as well as some of the material in the book, which I hope is helpful.
Brief rundown, four key items. I know we’re on a tight schedule but we’re going to save Q&A for the end, hopefully. I’ll talk fast, hopefully not too fast. I want to talk a little bit about social media 101. I’m not going to talk too much about it because for reason number one, probably a lot of you already know social media 101 and if you don’t there are lots of resources out there to learn the bare bones of social if this is a brand new topic for you. I also want to look at some misconceptions about social media, which I think are important. Those two things is a backdrop for the common law firm problems that I see when I go in and work with law firms, and then some recommendations about what to do about some of those.
I believe social media is the new news cycle. If there even is a news cycle anymore, social media really is it. I feel like television is mirroring that as opposed to the other way around, which used to happen. I say all these things, not to say that I like it this way or dislike it this way, but just that it’s where we are now. I say these things without endorsing it, because personally we don’t all like that we’re always on our phones all the time or that every aspect of our lives seems to be published. It’s not endorsement one way or the other. We’ll make these slides available to you, so you don’t have to feel like you have to write all these down. Some of the key things, just bare bones, is to have some goals, to build a team around your social media, to identify the right social networks for you, to set policy, especially in law firms where you’re dealing with regulation.
We deal with a lot of organizations that aren’t regulated any way, shape, or form, but I know that different state bar associations have different rules, different requirements, recommendations, best practices, making sure that your organization has a policy so that people understand, “When I am posting on social media I am an employee of this firm. Here’s what I should or should not be doing.” That’s very important to have in place. Is there a way to measure the success of the goals that you’ve set? Then, also, how do you, as an organization, begin to adjust once you see how the actual performance of your social media efforts are comparing against the goals that you set?
101, just a handful of things. Again, I don’t want to spend too much time on it because there’s a lot of material and resources out there, some of which I’ll point you to here in a minute. What I do want to do is address some misconceptions as a backdrop to some of the best practices, just a few of them. I’m going to frame this in terms of some things that social media is not and some things that social media does not do. The first thing I want to say is that social media … and as you’re communicating to your law firms … is not just another advertising medium. I’m not saying it’s not an advertising medium, because it certainly is a place where you can go buy an advertisement or you can sponsor a piece of content, but if you look at it, or a law firm looks at it, just like they look at a phone book advertisement, which I hope none of you are doing anymore, or an advertisement in a newspaper, you’re going to get a different behavior. You’re going to get a different reaction to that.
You have to understand that social media, it’s a community. It’s not just a place where you throw an ad out. It’s a community where people might respond. It’s a place where there is two-way feedback, communication between one another. It’s also a place where the ad doesn’t typically die or go away. Things that are put onto social media tend to stay. Good, bad, or indifferent, they will stay there unless you delete them. If they are deleted and they’re a big deal, chances are someone has already screenshotted that piece of content and it’ll come back to haunt you.
Social media is also not a jukebox. What I mean by that is … some of you that are maybe younger in the audience have never seen one of these, but a jukebox is something where you would walk up into a restaurant or a bar and you’d put a coin in and you’d press a button and you’d get exactly what you expected. You’d get a song to play. You’d get a result after you had ordered it up and paid the price. Social media doesn’t work that way. You can’t guarantee a result. You can’t guarantee a metric. You can’t guarantee an immediate return.
When you have a firm, or if you’re used to gauging, “What’s the result that’s happened as a result of a marketing activity that I have invested in,” and it doesn’t return something into a pretty spreadsheet that’s being graded by the partners, then that shouldn’t be a surprise. Social media tends to work organically. It tends to work over time. It tends to build. You can’t always get the result, you won’t always get the result, immediately. You’ve got to take more of a long-term approach.
Another thing social media is not, is it’s not linear. It doesn’t happen according to a plan that goes A, B, C, D, E all the way down to Z. Social media, back to the jukebox analogy, it may surprise you down the line somewhere. A great book, if you haven’t heard of it, is a book called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. This is written by a gentleman named Gary Vaynerchuk, who’s a big internet entrepreneur, and he talks about this very thing. Like a boxing match, you don’t exactly know which punch to throw and when, or when you’re going to get punched. You have to improvise. You have to go in knowing that the first step of the plan is pretty much the only thing you can count on. You don’t know what you’re going to encounter and how you have to react. You have to go in not expecting that things are going to play out in a linear fashion.
This is a really good example of it. How many of you remember a couple years ago when the lights went out at the Super Bowl? No one could plan for that. Oreo, who happens to be there, happens to be on the spot, decides to put this up when there was an outage. If you can’t read that, it says, “You can still dunk in the dark.” No one could have ever planned for that, but it was a huge success. The reason it was a huge success is because they were aware. They were active. They had a group that was organized. They probably had a policy in place and things really, really came out well. It was a good result they never could have planned for.
Here’s another example, and hopefully you can read this. This is more in the restaurant world. Here is a tweet from a woman named Destiny. It says, “If your boyfriend won’t take you out for pasta, is he really your boyfriend?” The hashtag is #AskAlfredo. Has anyone heard of this hashtag? It became a big deal in PR. It was talked about. The hashtag is actually one Olive Garden invented. Olive Garden said, at one point, “What if we started responding to all these crazy questions that we’re getting with a hashtag?” Olive Garden’s response was, “He may need a little hint, Destiny. His adoration for you is probably overshadowing delicious pasta meals.”
Why is Olive Garden doing this? Because they’re improvising. They’re seeing they’re getting these questions and they’re having fun. This is a publicly traded corporation with rules, regulations, and restrictions. The gentleman who is behind this, a gentleman named Justin Sikora, and he’s a VP of marketing communications there … we talked about this example and he said, “We never could have planned for this, but this is probably one of the biggest things that we’ve ever seen develop results,” was this #AskAlfredo thing. It was not only big on Twitter, and is big on Twitter, they’re tying it in to the Bachelor television show, which is huge on Twitter, and it’s been a big PR hit. Again, you can sit and you can plan and think about this linear idea of results, like we all would love to have but, unfortunately, the world of social media just doesn’t work that way.
The other thing is that social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You can’t just have a social media team. This is a diagram of four gears, which really is the essence of this book here. I believe that four things have to happen together. You have to understand who your audience, at the top. You’ve got to create original content via a blog. You have to optimize for search engines. That ties in with social media. All those four things, like four gears, have to work together. If only one of them breaks down then this entire marketing mechanism breaks down. Social media doesn’t exist on its own. It is a part of a mechanism, part of a machine, that a sound marketing company has working together for it.
I want to go in, now, to some common law firm problems and solutions, so some things that I encounter when I’m asked to look at a law firm, or our team is asked to look at a law firm, and help with communications. One of the first problems that we see is a firm website with either no blog or a weak blog. The reasons for that are many. A lot of people still don’t believe in blogs. A lot of partners who drive social media and marketing efforts have never done this. It’s a practice that they’re getting more comfortable with but they haven’t been big believers. They haven’t been believers in the process and they haven’t seen it work and they haven’t existed with it, so there’s change that comes into play here that has to be ushered along, a lot of times by leaders like you.
One of the things I always encourage you to do is to share data. Here’s a piece right here. Clients spend 16 minutes of every hour on some form of social media. Explaining to a marketing group of attorneys or partners that the audience is there is often helpful. Share more data. Share anecdotes. Share anecdotes with them about either other firms that have had success that you’ve heard about, or when you have posted something on social media an attorney has gotten feedback from the marketplace that it was seen, or a case was developed or a client relationship was developed in some or fashion with the help of social media. It may have been a LinkedIn message that was exchanged. That kind of feedback and data is often helpful.
The biggest one is to ask someone who is against blogging, because it does sound eerily like teenage narcissism when they think about a law firm and a blog, why would you do that? Ask, really, if they would like to be found on Google because, ultimately, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The example I think of is in the fall I was visiting my doctor for a checkup and the doctor looked at me and said, “Have you had your flu shot yet?” I said, “No. I haven’t had my flu shot yet. I don’t really believe in that.” He said, “All right. I guess call me when you get the flu,” was his response. He was right. Sometimes just doing the right thing is the right thing to do. This question is very similar to that. If you want to be found on Google you’ve got to be active in blogging.
A lot of you will recognize the signer of this quote. Tom Peters has written a ton of business work. In Search of Excellence is one of his biggest pieces here. This is really what he does as a consultant to drive business, is blog. It happens to cost nothing. Now, it costs your time. It costs creativity. It costs energy, so it costs something, but it’s not the equivalent of taking an ad out or sponsoring an event, so that often is helpful, too. There’s data here from third-party sources that really connects this idea that those that blog, blog frequently, and blog well are in a better position to actually generate business leads. A lot of different ways that that does happen, but the data, it can be helpful to you to share with the partners.
This ties very closely to a previous point. The other problem I run into, that I see, is that there’s a reluctance to give away free advice. This is very understandable because attorneys are paid to give advice, so why is it that we would give our advice away for free? This is a difficult one to get over, but there is an anecdote that I think is really great. A lot of you are familiar with Geek Squad. Geek Squad is the group that installs … if you buy a flat screen at Best Buy, Geek Squad will charge you a couple hours time to come out and install it. The Geek Squad exists to help people that don’t know how to install things or plug things in or they just don’t want to do it, and yet they provide tons of videos, blogs, tips, tweets, about how to do things yourself.
When the CEO of that company was asked one time, “Why is it that you are giving away the answers to what it is that you’re trying to do?” his response was very simple. He said, “The people that are trying to fix it themselves are our best customers because they end up not doing it well the first time or not doing it right. They’ve seen our video and they said, ‘I’m just going to call,’ when they get frustrated.” Not quite the same with attorneys, although I will say … I won’t say that. I will just say to you that I have a colleague that recently tried to use one of these services where you go on and do your own legal documents for free. He’s had the most difficult time over the past month and he just said, “I don’t know why I just didn’t call an attorney to do this for me. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.” We’re recording this, that’s why I’m not using the actual name of the company, but you could probably guess which company he used to get his free legal work.
There’s this reluctance to give free advice but, yet, if you really think about this practically, we’re all going to the internet to help us solve problems. That’s just what we’re doing now. It doesn’t mean that we won’t call a family member or a friend to help us out of a jam but it’s easier, sometimes, to put into Google, “How do I get here? How do I fix this? How do I know this? What time does so-and-so open?” This is where we’re going. This is where the consumer is. This leads into what we call content marketing, which you mentioned here. By the way, this is a great sheet. I don’t know who did it. The Legal Marketing Association provided this. Somebody did it. Raise your hand. All right, there you go. I didn’t know that. These two happen to be the ones who invited me to do this, but that’s just a coincidence.
This is pure information for legal marketers. There are lots of great terms on here if marketing is now what you wake up and think about, things like the Association of Legal Administrators, contingency fee, pro bono. If you look on the back, PR, boiler plate, one-pager, pitch, proof, on background, off the record, embargo, editorial calendar. This is content that’s being provided by an organization. This ties right into this definition of content marketing, which is information, or the distribution of information, by a company to inform or influence, not advertise or sell. This is information that informs and influences you. This is an ad. We’ve got an after-hours coming up, it looks like, which looks like a lot of fun at this rooftop. This is an ad. There’s nothing wrong with either one of them but it’s important that you understand the difference.
If I’m a law firm marketer and I’m posting something and asking someone to do something, to write me a check for something, or go out of their way for something, I’m advertising, but if I am providing information that helps, that informs or influences, then I’m in a position to connect more closely with that customer. Going back to the first couple slides about social media 101. We’re waking up and not going to our curb to get the newspaper. More of us are waking up and looking at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get our news. Whoever provides the content is going to be in a better position to win. That’s why it’s important to think about these two fliers when you’re posting. You want to get aggressive about social media, you want to see a return, don’t post ads, although people will want you to post ads because we want checks to be written. Post content that helps, that informs and influences.
This goes back to that flu analogy. You’ve got to post answers to questions that your clients have. That’s the future of search marketing. I was asked this recently. This was a contest that was out by Search Engine World: Fill in the blank. What represents the future of organic search? My answer to that, which was one that they acknowledged, was solving your customers problems through innovative content creation represents the future of organic search. You, as legal marketers, need to be solving your customers’ problems, yes, giving away free advice; yes, investing in giving free content away, in order to be visible on Google Search. Google looks to see who has valuable content, who’s being re-tweeted and shared on social media. I would bet you the last time you shared something on social media that you saw and said, “I want to show my friends,” it wasn’t a coupon or an ad. It was a piece of content that you either found funny or you found endearing or you found informative or you found inspirational.
As brand publishers … which is what you are, whether you like it or not … as brand publishers you need to be producing that kind of content that people are interested in, that’s not self-serving, that’s not an ad, not an inducement to write a check, but something that helps, something that solves their problem. I think this quote sums it up. Your currency, as a law firm, is your intellectual capital. Now, you don’t want to give away everything. That doesn’t work anyway and no one will ever be able to look at your Tweet and then all of a sudden be a Bar Certified Attorney. That’s not going to happen, but they can judge you and they can get a gauge of your credibility versus your competitor based upon what you’re sharing and what you’re involved with.
Here are a couple of questions that you should be answering on that blog that is free that we talked about, depending on what your practice area is. What should I do if my employer isn’t paying me overtime? Someone who asks that question is having a problem. If your firm can solve that problem, among others, you ought to be helping them with the first steps. What should I do if I get a DUI? That person has got a problem. They are ripe for someone to help them, back to the practicality of a case load or a new case. How is alimony calculated in the State of Florida? All these questions that your clients have, whether it’s family law, corporate litigation, all those things are questions that you should be answering.
The other issue is inactive attorneys. I often see a legal marketing group that is all bought in on this and they’re all excited about representing the firm and diving right in and then attorneys, the partners, don’t seem to really be on board with it. “I’ve got too much to do.” That’s understandable, but it’s a problem that holds back and it’s that missing link that, I think, prevents some legal marketing efforts from going from 20 miles an hour to 50 or 60 miles an hour, is not having that group involved.
This takes time but a few tips that I’ve seen work is, enlist senior partners in that process. Enlist junior partners, also, but once you’re engaging the senior partners and they are “encouraging” the junior partners or the associates to be involved in this, the more of a snowball effect you can get. Training and educating. Once they’re able to see how this works and some of the efforts that have materialized as a result of investing in this activity, that can result, once they understand the possibilities and that it’s not just for teenage bloggers, then they begin to come on board and then become real cheerleaders. I’ve seen that happen. Showing the link between activity and efficiency. Everyone is pressed for time but if you can demonstrate that this will help you be more efficient with your business development or help you to be on the pathway to getting more attention from people, that’s helpful.
Then, also, that people buy from people. When I see law firms get business it’s usually because the attorney gets the business. Not always the case, obviously. The brand is important, who they are, and the cache, and the history, and the longevity, credibility. All those things are important, but I often see a problem referred to someone that I know, someone who I go to church with or someone that I know from playing golf or someone I’ve traveled with or met. I know that person. If you encourage them that it’s not just that the company, or the firm, social media presence has a couple of new posts on it. It’s that you are out there and you’re active as an attorney and the people that you are connected with are seeing what you’re doing and they’re keeping you top of mind by sharing content, not advertisements, not hire me. I see that and that doesn’t look good. It’s, “Here’s something that just happened, alimony reform. This is what just occurred at the state level. Might want to be concerned about this. Here’s what you need to know.” Those are the things that drive engagement.
Then, also, appeal to the competitive element. Most attorneys, if not all attorneys, I know are pretty competitive people. Showing them what other firms are doing or successes that other attorneys are having oftentimes drives activity. Here’s the other one, often an overwhelmed staff. “Okay, we’re in on this, but where do we start? How do we get our arms around all this effort? We’ve got writing. We’ve got posting. We’ve got timelines. We’ve got sponsorships. We’ve got responding to feedback. We have policy. We have planning.” The list goes on and on. That can very quickly overwhelm an internal staff. A lot of times inside a small firm that might just be part of the administrator’s job. Larger firms might have a team and it’s still a big effort when you’ve two or three or four people inside your firm looking at the marketing.
Here are a couple of things. Look before you leap. Before you just jump in plan a few things you might want to do. Start small. Think about where you could start with one channel or one post a month. You might ultimately want to be at four or five posts or six posts a month along with a presence on LinkedIn, a presence on Twitter, a presence on Facebook, but starting small and thinking: crawl, walk, run. Developing a content calendar, which is on your list here.
Most of you are pretty familiar, I’m sure, with what an editorial or a content calendar is, but it’s just planning out a year in advance, or six months in advance, “Here are the things we want to talk about as they relate to what’s going on around us.” It might be the legislative session that you want to tie in to. It might be events that are happening here locally that you want to tie in to. It might be cases that you’ve won or been awarded. Having a calendar to help you schedule out when these things need to happen helps to reduce that feeling of anxiety of, “What am I going to post next week?” Just think about it in advance.
Also, engage others in the process. This really should be a joint effort across your firm. If you don’t have the resources internally to do it you engage others sometimes. That’s why people like me have jobs. If we don’t have the resources we’ll find someone who does, either a freelancer or a firm that can help us with this. My caveat to that is, don’t give the strategy part to an intern or a student just because they know how to use Facebook and post something. That’s something that I use as a refrain sometimes. One of our most popular blog posts has been about social media and interns, because it often can go wrong.
Then, also, use tools like HootSuite and Sprout Social. If you haven’t heard of those tools, they are platforms that allow you to manage all these social media accounts across your enterprise so you don’t have to feel like you’ve got to memorize every password and go to this application and that application. It’s not as simple as I’m making it sound but there are tools that help you to do that. The other thing I see a lot is boring content. This is hard because how do you make things interesting? We struggle with the same thing. We see more success out of posts that aren’t just about marketing, but they’re about marketing and something else that people find interesting.
I saw the stadium, the Orlando City soccer stadium, on the horizon. We recently did a post on marketing and the success of the marketing efforts of Orlando City Soccer. That’s been one of our most popular posts. It’s gotten a lot of attention. We like to think it’s because we’re great, but we really know it’s because people are interested in this town in the phenomenon of Orlando City Soccer. Like a newspaper, we actually called them and interviewed them and did some analysis. There’s no reason you all can’t be doing that. We find those kinds of posts are more interesting to people. How do you do that? Back to this idea of content marketing, don’t advertise, but think about something that will inform or influence the audience.
Another thing we encourage you to do is to profile your different audience segments. Think about your areas of law that you practice. I made this up, but you got Herb, Nancy, and Thomas. Herb is 64. Nancy is 29. Thomas is 42. Herb is about to retire, Nancy is about to get married, and Thomas is in-house council for a publicly-traded corporation. The motivational overview, or what they care about: Herb is interested in estate planning issues as he heads into retirement. That’s what’s on Herb’s mind right now. Nancy is interested in the ins and outs of prenuptial agreements as she prepares for marriage. That may be something that hopefully she doesn’t have to worry about, but family law is family law. Thomas wants to know more about creative ways to manage his caseload effectively because he’s got all these cases that he’s managing and dealing with and he’s trying to figure out how to do that better, how to do it more efficiently. A law firm is in the position to answer all these questions because those are the ones that are being asked.
Again, if the attorneys want traffic from Google they have to produce content that is interesting. They can’t produce content that’s interesting unless we know who these people are and we’ve really thought about what it is they care about. That’s the essence, in my opinion, of how you develop a good corporate blog. As you look at this intersection about what’s happening in your business or your firm and what these people actually care about. It’s an overlap. There’s a small area. It’s not everything you do as a firm, and it’s not everything they care about, but let’s look at the motivational profile of our prospects, or our clients, and then let’s figure out, how do we write content to those pieces, to those areas of their concern or their interest.
Here’s just some dos and don’ts in general. I don’t know if that’s easy for you to see. On the left side is the things you should write about. The right side is things you shouldn’t write about. These are based upon what we see. Let’s start with what you shouldn’t write about, because we don’t care, back to the what do we care about. We don’t care about staff birthdays or summer vacations or a profile on the interns or your favorite coffee drink or your pet names, hobbies, off topic musing, or how great you think the firm is. We’ll be the judge of that, as consumers, of how great you are.
You’ve got to be in a position where you talk about things that really matter, that they care about, things like industry shifts or problems that you have solved recently; ideas that help your clients prepare either for tax season or a change that’s happening in the environment with regard to eminent domain, any of these areas, alimony reform is another one; third party endorsements that you have, to the extent you can do that within your Bar regulations; testimonials; important personnel changes that you’ve made; new products or services; or just anything original where you’ve just said, “I think our client base as a whole is interested in this. We should be the ones writing about it, even though we’re a law firm and that doesn’t feel necessarily right. If we can tie our business to a topic of interest then we’re in a very good position.” That’s what I have in terms of misconceptions. Thank you very much.