Social media has not (yet) been widely embraced by law firms. Yet, worse still, firms don’t understand the need for a ‘WOW’ website, and are more concerned with covering all the bases (i.e. demonstrating their specialism or sector expertise) than developing a platform that is useful, brilliant on the eye or remarkable. The apps market, which is set to reach $25 billion by 2015, appears currently to have been ignored for want, presumably, of a lack of ideas of where they might fit into the practice.
But a lot of this secondary to the glaring issue of content. And not just any content but content that has the power to build a following, inspire clients or set out on a voyage of discovery that is genuinely remarkable. The fact is that law firms don’t think in this way and are much more interested in making sure they fill the website with something no matter how dull.
Yes, I know it is an issue that has been thrashed to death, but I feel I need to make another plea to firms to address the issue of content before they start hitting the social media trail, as they inevitably will (or are). Otherwise you will see, as is the case now, Twitter being used to broadcast the same (dull) material. Let’s face it when you have been able to rely on the ‘Build it and They Will Come’ philosophy, the idea of having to produce content that people will read, find useful and ultimately wish to share is a challenge.
Take the typical website: It is a mixture of firm news (promotions, office location issues or CSR projects), commentary on the news of the day (usually with an economic flavour) or a legal alert that has been produced which needs to be flashed up on the front page. How much of this is remarkable?
As I have said before, the best place to start in understanding what clients want is to ask them. Who knows in simply trying to align your service offering with the client they might just think, for once, that you are doing what a lawyer should do – be proactive and not rely on problems arising and then trying to resolve them.
Please don’t relay upon the client care paraphernalia where you might ask your client to indicate which of your newsletters etc. they want them to receive. Most will not return the forms and it will be left to the fee earner to select what they think is most apposite to cover their client’s industry type. Lawyers being lawyers will mean that they will think more is better.
Just imagine if you asked your client what they wanted. The first question might be:
Q. Would you find it useful to receive information about the firm?
Right that kills that one off.
Q. Would you like to receive information about issues affecting your sector?
A. It depends on what sort of information you are talking about.
Q. Would you like to receive information that was focused on … [you fill in the blank].
A. Yes, absolutely.
Now this requires a great deal more time and trouble than relying on a box being ticked or, as sometimes happens, just relying on a historical database.
In addition to the exercise of nailing what the client Likes, you also need to consider the platform that will enable the information to have the greatest reach (assuming the client or referer is willing to syndicate the information to his followers or contacts). Are you going to email it? If so, one tip is to make sure that you include a share button.
Will you post it? Whilst this is still a perfectly acceptable way of doing things, you need to consider how the ideas contained in the article etc can be passed on.
What about a video? Are you going to embed this in an email or send a URL?
What about using a blog? Perhaps this could be captured in your questionnaire.
What about the use of RSS or one of the increasing number or Readers?
What about producing content that previously you might have charged for. Yes I mean giving something away for FREE!
Whenever this model is mentioned the immediate knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss the idea on the basis that lawyers don’t give anything away for free. But that misses the point. When you go to a networking event and are asked a question which you chose to answer, you are giving something away for free.
When a prospective client calls to get a provisional idea about something and you discuss some of the options but the instruction goes nowhere, you are giving your time away for free.
In old money we would call this “A sprat to catch a mackerel”. Nowadays it tends to be labelled the freemium model; but the thing is if you are hopeful of creating a loyal following of clients or attracting new clients then the market will expect something for nothing but more than that something that has genuine depth and is useful. Here is an example of what PWC produce. Whilst arguably it is no different to a newsletter, nevertheless the way it is set up makes it feel that it has some value and also enables them to capture your contact details which is usually one of the objectives of the exercise.
Firms need to start sweating the existing website and using it much more than is currently the case before launching into a social media paradigm. Think about the use of RSS, share buttons, tagging and constantly updating the content, otherwise social media could cause more issues that it solves, particularly as firms run out of things that they can or want to say. It also means that firms will have to think about governance, training, feeding blogs and the time commitment. Is this the best use of your time?
As an advocate for radical change there is no point embracing ‘New’ for the sake of it. Orchestrate your efforts to make the most of the existing assets and only once you feel you have taken things as far as you can should you start to innovate around social media or whatever you feel the practice needs.