It is imperative that those engaging in this forum understand that the use of social media is all about conversation.  It is not an advertisement.  Interaction is the name of the game.  When blogging, attorneys need to invite conversations – ask readers what was missed in the post and ask the readers for their thoughts about the topic.

There is lots of research available about who is using social media and why. One such study is the Corporate Counsel New Media Survey distributed by Greentarget Strategic Communications, ALM Legal Intelligence, and Zeughauser Group. In March and April 2010, this survey was distributed to general counsel across the nation. There were 164 respondents who identified themselves as GCs/Chief Legal Officers, Deputy/Assistant GCs, In-House Counsel, and related titles.

“Almost half of the survey’s respondents use LinkedIn, and 68 percent use Facebook, although, for the time-being, the latter primarily for personal instead of professional reasons. Blogs are an increasingly preferred mechanism for obtaining business and legal industry information, and among the most surprising findings of the research: corporate counsel now are getting more of their business- and legal-industry related information online than from traditional print sources.” – 2010 Corporate Counsel New Media Survey.

Many firms start out with a very basic approach to social media.  On the other end of the spectrum is Womble Caryle, a firm that is very strategic about their use of social media.  This use is part of a targeted marketing and sales plan that includes content marketing where video and a YouTube channel is used aggressively.  Womble attorneys regularly produce video content, including skits.  The firm purposely created a culture of social media at the firm, cutting money from other areas when the economy tanked.

For those of us who are still dreaming about an established, aggressive social media, it’s important to know that you can build your program one step at a time in the way that many legal marketing initiatives get off the ground – find your champions; give these people additional tools and training so they become successful and spread the word.

And, it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone is suited for the social media forum just as not everyone is cut out for televised media opportunities. No one approach will fit every lawyer.

The underlying framework for any strategic social media marketing and business development plan is a clear communications policy. This gives you the basis to address any inappropriate conversations that may arise.  These days, there is no longer any separation between your personal and professional personas – you always represent your brand!

So, how do you connect people and show attorneys where their targets are online in order to convince them to connect?

One of the easiest places to start is to get your attorneys to post their bios on LinkedIn. This forum is a natural CRM system.  Attorneys can set their business development targets and work their connections to gain the introductions they desire.

Attorneys start by beginning to have conversations online and reaching out to their contacts.

Give attorneys a tip sheet and a refresher on applicable attorney/client privileges and the ethical considerations.  Provide a task list that breaks the process down into easy steps.  Firms who are successfully championing social media are providing their attorneys with a non-billable charge code for professional writing and supporting the use of that code.

When attorneys want to start a blog, a group of at least four should be involved so that the firm, not any individual attorneys, owns the blog.  Require a business development plan that is subject to committee approval.  Ask the attorneys how many blogs they are currently following and for the names of those blogs. Once they are blogging, periodically ask them how many of their commenters they have met in person.  Create the goal and expectation that these relationships are to be advanced to the face-to-face level.

In the second phase of engagement, you attract readers and followers, advertise, create groups, push selected content and targeted communications.

Social media marketers should create an editorial calendar for online content distribution.  I find it helpful to create Twitter plans at the beginning of various campaigns.

Repurpose what your attorneys are writing by using Twitterfeed and Linked in.  Use Twitter, LinkedIn and RSS Feed icons in the body of your eAlerts so as to make it easy for recipients to share the content. Use JDSupra to publish existing content. Make ample use of the Facebook Like button in your posts and emails – there is no downside in people sharing your content.

Support the use of TweetDeck and HootSuite so your attorneys can easily track multiple channels and networks.

ROI can easily be tracked through various Search Engine Optimization tools.  Womble actively buys keywords and establishes a $300-$500 budget for that keyword to promote content.  Baker & Daniels actively uses campaign hash tags in online marketing promotions.  Best practices call for encapsulating all tracking data within the URL in the hash tag portion  One last note regarding SEO, “in niches, there are riches.” Google has published a Beginner’s Guide to SEO that is very helpful.

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle feeds information about relevant industries or types of businesses into social media platforms whenever the firm is involved in RFP competitions.  This means the firm’s name pops up in online searches related to those types of businesses or industries.

At the end of the day, it’s important to find out what success looks like to your individual attorneys by using these tools and manage those expectations.  Show them exactly how to turn online conversations into personal billable business relationships.

Author: lisawhitleycoleman