Very few people look for lawyers in the phone book today. Well, maybe some of the 16 percent of American households that do not have access to the internet. When you think of affluent, do you envision senior citizens? Did you know that Generation X members now outnumber Baby Boomers in affluence for the first time ever? Among the high-net-worth individuals in the United States, internet access is almost universal (98 percent). Of that group, 74 percent use social media. Interestingly, the lower half on the affluent scale use social media more than the ultra-high-net-worth households.
If you are primarily interested in the general public, according to the Office for National Statistics, social networking was used by 61percent of all adults and, of those, 79 percent did so every day or almost every day. So, you can safely say that most people are active online and most of them are on social media. With smart phones now replacing “dumb” phones, the availability of the internet has increased substantially in the past few years as a mobile format. Industry sources estimate that 220 million Americans will have smart phone internet access by 2018.
What is the significance of this for the law practice in terms of marketing and business development?
The public has little understanding of how lawyers work and, thus, have few skills at finding the right one for their needs. They do not know defense bar from plaintiffs’ bar, criminal from civil, let alone what a firm – dare I say – specializes in, or if a particular law firm or attorney even practices in the area where they need help. You cannot even compare your firm to others in advertisements because of the rules of professional conduct.
So, how is a potential client going to connect with the right person at the right law firm to get the help they need? Online, the rules are the same (or similar) as any print or electronic advertisement, however, on the internet, you have much more “real estate” than you have with the ad in the Yellow Pages. You should use that additional space to tell a prospective client about your firm, what you do, your successes for clients in the past and encourage them to contact you. Keep it within the rules and you will be fine.
Use social media, such as Facebook (facebookl.com) and Linkedin (linkedin.com) to drive traffic to your Web site. You should consider having an appointment request form on your Web site, since you cannot dispense legal advice online in social media or in chat rooms. You can use your Web site to elaborate further on why someone should use your firm.
All you need to do is hang out your shingle on the World Wide Web, next to millions of other lawyers and law firms, right? Not exactly.
First, you have to entice people to visit your Web site rather than everyone else’s. I have encountered many partners and associates who do not have a free Linkedin (“The world’s largest professional network”) account. Networking is another issue, which a previous column addressed.
Linkedin is where other lawyers can find you and learn about what you do, about your primary practice area and determine whether a referral would be appropriate. It is an excellent place to be found by other professionals and business leaders. Once you create your personal account, learn about what groups on Linkedin that you would like to join and where you can contribute to professional discussions. This will help to establish you as an expert in your field. Linkedin conveniently provides you with a free graph that shows you how much you have contributed to the group.
Linkedin also has categories, such as accomplishments, education, organizations you belong to and awards/recognitions. You can even mention you have a designation as a SuperLawyers™ or what your professional ranking. Of course, all that you include must pass muster with the rules of professional conduct, which are evolving parallel to that of the medium itself.
Facebook offers a unique opportunity to tell the immediate world what you do and have done successfully. A Facebook Business Page enables you to interact with people requesting information or elaboration about what kind of law you practice, as well as discuss the topics of the day from a legal perspective.
What do I get for all the time I have to invest in setting up social media? Prominence.
If you or your firm does not pop up on the first page of Google when someone is searching for a lawyer, you have work to do. Having a business presence on social media increases the likelihood of Google listing your firm more prominently. As discussed above, people use Google and other search engines to find legal help. If you are not on the first page, you get in the queue with the rest of the law firms. When people are searching for a local law firm, you want to appear on that first page because that potential client may not make it to the next page.
And yes, both Linkedin and Facebook offer pay-to-play if you really want to be found fast, however, start with the basics that are free. Monitor what comes from those posts. Then you can decide whether you want to get a Premium account or advertise on social media.
Clearly social media and the internet have changed the way many people communicate and get information. Technology, such as social media, continues to specialize as it is adopted by more practitioners, and will soon become integral to our lives.
As the American Bar Association recommends:
“Taking control of your online presence is a necessity, and there are few better ways to do so than social media. Used carefully, social media can give your firm a voice, amplify your professional reputation, and help drive new business.
But that isn't the whole story with social media. Social media now represents a ripe source of electronic evidence for litigators and potential sources of risk for those advising businesses.” For more on that, go to ABA Legal Technology Resource Center and ABA Law Practice Management for tips, tricks and best practices to get your firm on board with social media.”
Creating your profile on Linkedin or a page on Facebook is not all you need to do. You need to understand how they work and what levels of participation are available. Do you advertise on Facebook? Do you spend hours networking on Linkedin to reach that holy grail of 500+ connections? Do you use direct mail to drive traffic to your Web site, as well as social media? How do you send people from your Web site to your social media page and why? These are all considerations.
Facebook offers advertising that can be helpful in reaching a highly targeted audience. You may want to hire a technology savvy consultant to walk you through the hidden opportunities on social media or assign that task to a staff member.
Resources exist and you should look into hiring an expert to get you started if you are not already. For example, Branch Communications paired with Husch Blackwell for a social media seminar I attended at St. Louis University Law School. The seminar was sponsored by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and provided those attending reasons why lawyers would benefit from using social media. Perhaps the bar associations in Madison and St. Clair counties could host a similar seminar for their members.
Summarizing -- having a Web site is the bare minimum to succeed in reaching prospects online. Do not assume that people know your name or what kind of law you practice. Social media is important and is gaining in influence and capabilities every day. If you are not active in social media, you should designate someone at your firm or hire someone to make it happen. Not being on the internet generally and social media in particular, is like not having a listing in the phone book 20 years ago.
Jim Grandone is President of Grandone Media Strategies, a law firm strategic consultancy. He can be reached at (618) 692-1892. Learn more at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grandone
Send questions to him or suggest topics to firstname.lastname@example.org