A lot of material has been written concerning the tactics that a firm (or a lawyer) needs to deploy or develop in order to embrace social media. These have ranged from the “How to Do”, “Use of this Platform”, “The Pitfalls of social media” or “Personal Branding”. Most of these have ended with some ‘call to action’, which normally means “follow me and you will be doing things appropriately” or “don’t do this and you should be fine”. Of course, with social media still in the early adopter stage, it is doubtful that any one person or organisation has all the answers. I certainly don’t.
I would imagine that unless the reader is already at the point of launch or more likely to be on one or more of the usual social media sites – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – it would be hard to bring things together and construct a policy or strategic document to move the discussion on within their firm but also see social media become an intrinsic part of the firm’s DNA (as I believe it must).
And then there is the ‘individual’ experience which may be driving the process (someone who was an early adopter of Twitter for instance) and that may not fit in with how the firm should or needs to adopt social media. This usually manifests where someone has opened up a personal account and is not clear whether they are using it for work or pleasure or a mixture of the two.
From a branding perspective this is likely to cause confusion in the mind of the client or prospective client. Whenever I see the words “the comments expressed on this account are my own and not that of the firm”, I do wonder what that means. Does that mean that simply because you are not on firm time and you have some sort of disclaimer that it exempts you from thinking through how what you say may reflect on the firm? This is no different to going to a networking do after normal working hours and espousing a personal view that may not fully chime with the firm’s message on a particular issue and then qualifying everything that is said by stating: “Well of course that is only my personal view”. It just looks odd.
For me, Social Media is a paradigm shift and the profession needs to think in a different way about adoption. Many people will have said that legal practice is not innately social – silo mentality and all that – to enable the socialisation of information. I think this is misguided. I don’t think it will be easy for partners etc to let go but done in an incremental way, it is certainly possible to see parts of a practice, of whatever size, move ahead quicker than others. Just because one department doesn’t talk to another or contains people that are not terribly concerned or interested in marketing doesn’t mean that the firm should shy away from social media. Of course, there has to be a degree of integration in order to make sure that best practice is adopted, brand positioning is consistent and social media is being used thoughtfully but I wouldn’t hold back the discussion and (early) adoption simply because there is not a consensus to adopt wholesale.
Firms or partners contemplating social media would be well advised to start with an internal questionnaire to gauge the interest and knowledge of all things social media. Survey Monkey is a good tool to use for this process. In this way it will give those in control of the deployment a better picture of who has the need or desire to embrace social media.
Once the results have been analysed the next stage will be to form a group which includes the lawyers, IT, HR and marketing. Everyone needs to come together to work out the objectives and how the firm can use the technology safely and successfully. It will also inform the debate about the need to develop a social media policy which is essential for a firm even those with less than 10 partners. It doesn’t have to be very long but needs to cover the risk and reward in equal measure. Of course there will be some tension in starting to use public forums to communicate a message where there is two-way or multi-channel engagement. Everyone needs to recognise that once the genie is let out of the bottle there is no going back.
Assuming a policy is put together the temptation will be to train everyone to use the technology. But that would be a mistake. No, the next obvious place to start would be to look at the firm’s marketing or business development plans and see where social media can be integrated. If the firm has no plans then notwithstanding this, it is important to think about the sectors or where there is likely to be biggest end-user engagement. There is no point in taking a sector like probate where a lot of your clients cannot be reached. That is not to dismiss one sector over another but rather firms have to play it smart when it comes to the people that they are trying to influence, earn attention from or convert to clients.
The usual areas that get looked at are IP/IT, employment and corporate and possibly family and if you have people in those departments who want to be social media enabled then fine but again don’t look at sectors where you might get take up by the end user but you have no advocates internally.
You might struggle with the exercise of knowing or finding out where your clients are congregating. But you would be as well to make sure you know something about the areas they are likely to inhabit.
Next are the objectives for social media.
What are they?
I have lost count of the number of times I have asked that question to be met with a long fat … pause. Some answer is eventually given up but that usually involves a vague notion like “We want to get more clients”.
Fine as it goes but how are you going to move people from reading about the firm to instructing you?
Once you have sorted out the objectives you then need to decide on the strategy and tactics.
Take blogging. If you are going to blog, then how regularly are you going to blog, about what and will the blog be used by one part of the firm?
You would be well advised in the early days to keep your expectations fairly modest because knowing how lawyers can be (I was one for 14 years), they have a nasty habit of procrastinating or saying they will do something and then not delivering. It is important to manage the process so that it does not become a chore. You don’t want to find that the task of blogging falls to the same person each and every time. That said if you have a very strong advocate for their practice area then they may want to build up their profile and therefore subject to work and billing commitments they may want to regularly post.
Last of all in the discussion is technology.
I would want to make sure that the number of platforms are limited to no more than 2/3 in the early days. I suspect the focus will be on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. That would certainly be my preference. The risk is otherwise that it all gets too unmanageable. Quora has got plenty of mentions but have you worked out if you register what you are going to do? Why not think of the Q/A section on LinkedIn or better still think of creating your own Q/A page on your website, and one that may allow for live responses. Or a series of short videos explaining the process that you might want to deal with.
Now all of this will count for nought if there is a significant pushback along the lines “What’s in it for me?” The firm has to connect the dots. Cross-functional excellence, collaboration or whatever term you want to adopt amounts to the same thing. Those with their hands on the tiller need to start a momentous change away from the reliance on traditional outbound media and the whole firm has to recognise that with the increasing uptake of mobile devices, tablets and the internet, fewer and fewer people will want to see the stale old advertising, tired newsletters or a me too website. I have said before that firms need to be much more radical in their thinking. “Engage or Die” is the clarion call of Brian Solis. If you think that is too extreme then what is your strategy?
When the uber brands start hitting our screens, newspapers and develop sophisticated on-line models it will too late for a lot of firms to catch up and it will only be a matter of time before the economics don’t stack up.
Lawyers need to stop getting up hung with the idea that social media is somehow bad news. It isn’t. It is something that needs to be thought of as a way of reaching out to clients and prospects in a way that they will increasingly expect.