How are you preparing to take your law firm into the “Social Business” era?  Perhaps this is the first time you’ve heard the term used?  Here’s a definition:

Social Businesses combine fully integrated sets of tools, channels, and processes with people that embrace and cultivate a spirit of collaboration and community throughout the organization—both internally and externally. It’s not B2C or B2B, it’s P2P – that’s People-to-People or Peer to Peer.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could fluently and seamlessly communicate and collaborate with people both inside and outside the law firm on your most important matters? Wouldn’t it be great to deliver such value to clients and in turn build even stronger internal relationships between every department, from HR to marketing, to time and billing and information technology? Then become a social business!

While you may already be accessing some of the more popular social media channels to reach out to the marketplace—maybe you’re using Facebook for employee and attorney recruiting, or you’re proactively managing your LinkedIn Company Page, have a “push” presence on Twitter and posted some educational videos on You Tube—there’s more involved in becoming a “social business.” You’re not a Social Business until all the moving parts integrate people, communications and work product to deliver a meaningful outcome. This is the one thing that truly distinguishes a social business model from a traditional business model—social integration for results.

Now, before you say “our law firm will never be a social business,” or start worrying that you’re already behind the curve, take a deep breath, relax, open your mind, and learn how you can become a social business.

Corporations Take the Lead.

As is usually the case, law firms aren’t going to be first. Corporations have already taken the lead in becoming social businesses—many have been in the social media space long before law firms even knew social media existed. They are integrating their social channels and moving human capital into place, getting closer to the mark. Granted, it’s a work in progress, or so it seems, as I’ve heard no report of anyone having perfected a formula yet, but they are getting close. And, I predict that it will be sooner rather than later that savvy clients will look for their service providers to join the revolution and become social businesses. Here are some case studies of social businesses from the IBM website.

Attributes of a Social Business

What are the attributes of a social business? An early adopter, IBM, weighs in about this topic on their website:

  • A Social Business is engaged—deeply connecting people, including customers, employees, and partners, to be involved in productive, efficient ways.
  • A Social Business is transparent—removing boundaries to information, experts and assets, helping people align every action to drive business results.
  • A Social Business is nimble—speeding up business with information and insight to anticipate and address evolving opportunities.

I see glimpses of start-up law firms becoming social businesses. But wow! Can an established law firm become a social business? Maybe a better question is: What happens if they don’t? What happens when their best clients become social businesses and they are focused elsewhere?

Transitioning to Social Business

Michael Brito, Vice President of Social Media at Edelman Digital, believes that “…organizations cannot have effective, external conversations with consumers, unless they can have effective internal conversations first.” He prescribes “the three pillars of social business as the process and foundation with which businesses will transition into social businesses: People, Governance and Technology.

  • Organizations begin humanizing business operations.
  • Organizational models are formed to include social media.
  • Organizational silos are torn down between internal teams.
  • Governance models and social media policies are created.
  • Social becomes an essential attribute of organizational cultural.”

More ideas from Michael’s forthcoming book, The Evolution of Social Business, can be found here. I especially like his diagram on slide #2.

Social Business Tool Box

Everything a social business does is focused on helping team members; business partners, colleagues and customers, solve business problems and be most effective. To do this, social businesses need tools that allow people to easily find and collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners, essentially increasing efficiency and efficacy. Those tools need to store, manage and deliver in real time all resources, people, information and channels so that work product can be easily accessed and shared from anywhere. [Hello cloud!]

To save you time, I did a little digging around to identify a few items a social [law firm] business might consider in setting up their social business toolbox.  Here are my top four.

  1. Social CRM
  2. White label, private social network (collaboration software or cloud computing)
  3. Listening tool(s)
  4. Web channels for distribution and brand exposure

Social CRM:

Traditional CRMs (Customer Relationship Management software) typically manage client details such as contact and marketing information.  For example, they track what newsletters and invitations go to whom, who knows who, and so forth. Much of what a social business does has a marketing play too—building the right human resources, gaining exposure for offerings, anticipating client needs, attending to important client details. But, a traditional CRM is not enough for a social business–they need social CRM. Social CRM moves beyond the straightforward, strategic tactics used to organize, automate and synchronize.  A social CRM provides innovative ways to interact with their customers and prospects by taking into account the new ways people communicate and interact via cloud, social media and social networking sites. Google+ is one new tool that is aiming for this market in a big way. Salesforce.com bought the social media monitoring service Radian6 last spring and is leaping ahead in social CRM strategy. Of course there are others. Read more here.

White Label Network:

A white label network is essentially an enterprise collaboration solution enabling personal and organizational effectiveness. One component of enterprise collaboration invokes social networking technology. This technology gives fast access to everyone in an individual’s professional network, including colleagues, clients and partners, enabling them to access and interact with the people, information and project materials they need to get their work done. These private networks facilitate communications among teams helping them work together and build stronger relationships across organizations. I’ve long been a proponent of private social networking technology for the law firm environment and do not believe enough firms are taking advantage of it.

No matter the size of your budget or size of the network you wish to create, there is something for everyone. If you’re looking for a software solution you might consider Microsoft Sharepoint or IBM Sametime.  For a more economical, web-based solution, one of my favorites right now is BloomFire. Follow this link to a description of nine other white label social networking solutions tested by TechCrunch. Or, for small firm or individual needs, check out Google’s Cloud Apps. It may be just the right fit when it comes to cloud collaboration. You might even opt to create a small, private discussion group on Facebook, which would meet the needs of certain lawyers who already have a presence and network on the site.

Listening Tools.

There is no substitution for a face-to-face client interview and I’m not even suggesting that social comes close to that kind of listening, however, social listening can provide insight into customer needs, competitive intelligence, and identification of prospective clients who have problems you can solve. Social listening will help you find and engage with customers. It will help you anticipate and meet their needs in ways that should differentiate you from the competition. At the very least, a simple social listening tool like Google Alerts can be used to track primary client names, companies, and issues. If you have a lot of listening to do and are willing to pay for this information, you could deploy a solution like Manzama. Manzama was created specifically for the listening needs of law firms. There are of course many others. Here is a wiki of 201 social media monitoring solutions.

Distribution and Exposure.

A social business needs a social public face. Luckily, we are in an era where content marketing is valued. There is no end to the types content law firms can create. But writing and distributing educational content to gain exposure is just one part of the equation. Social businesses go beyond pushing out press releases, white papers, and articles—they engage in the public dialogue. Dialogue in the social marketplace can build presence and alignment with valuable constituencies, including clients, prospects, referral sources, the media, politicians, and others—worldwide. Engagement in the social marketplace typically leads to greater business development opportunities and stronger relationships. Therefore, a social business will have a thoughtful and professional presence on websites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It will post useful content on blogs, SlideShare, and You Tube. And, I repeat, it will engage in the marketplace dialogue. This of course is the most time consuming and perhaps difficult piece of the social business model to integrate, but also the most necessary for proper exposure and positioning.

Social Media Integration.

There is no magic to setting up a social business system. There is, however, some magic involved in successfully removing organizational silos between internal teams and creating permission based governance models and policies that everyone can agree upon and live with. Ultimately, shifting the organizational culture to a distinctly social culture requires not only a bit of magic, but also leadership, consistency and an unwavering desire to use technology to create a stronger law firm.

Your turn; what do you think? Are we ready? How soon do you think we’ll see the first truly “social law firm”? Who will be first?  Is anyone even talking about social business in your firm? Is it too soon? Are any of your clients asking for a more social work model? If so, what are you going to do to make it happen?