There were firms that had a blog or two, but few looked beyond into opportunities presented by other social media such as social networking, social buzz, bookmarking sites, podcasting, or multi-media sharing sites and services like You Tube and Slide Share. Why? “Too much risk.” In fact, many law firms chose to block social media sites on their corporate network.
Fast forward to 2011, and social media is taking on a life of its own with or without the risk averse. Lawyers and law firm employees are doing more than just talking about it these days–many have moved beyond setting up accounts; they’re successfully engaging. Business development and marketing coaches, consultants, public relations, and branding agencies that serve the legal industry have all added social media capabilities to their offerings, leaving one to conclude it’s not going away…
So, what’s next?
Generally speaking, social media for business development requires a lot of one-to-one engagement and tends toward random and serendipitous opportunity. For busy attorneys this becomes a time management challenge (as marketing one’s practice has always been). On the other hand, the law firm entity is challenged to benefit from such activity when it is one-off or worse, misdirected. Social media needs integration and management.
Tracking who’s signed up for what networks, who’s blogging, or how many visitors, friends or fans a page has is not integration. Having a social media policy is not a surrogate for meaningful management.
Progressive law firms, sooner rather than later, will begin to see and understand that effective integration of social media will require a managed business process. Why? Because social media is about a fundamental shift in behavior and it is impacting many facets of both our personal and professional lives – can it get more important than that? It is impacting the way we go to market, make decisions, and communicate with distant clients, friends and colleagues. The usefulness of the Internet will only increase as the semantic web (3.0) gains traction. The time is NOW for law firms to start developing a managed business process to build social media into the fabric of business plans and all communications (both external and internal), just as was required with email and other disruptive technologies in recent decades.
I predict that in 2011, everyone will begin asking, earnestly, “Hey, how do we take all this random energy and manage social media to our advantage?”
I intend to be on the cutting edge of that answer.
Here’s how I’m seeing it…
- Maverick attorneys blog and/or open a LinkedIn account.
- Most of the legal industry has no clue what those “Join my professional network on LinkedIn” messages mean.
- They delete them.
- Facebook gets a bad rap as a time wasting activity, so it’s blocked.
- Legal centric social networks appear behind walled gardens removing some of the perceived risk factor.
- Most lawyers have no clue about Twitter
- “who cares what you had for lunch?”
- LinkedIn begins gaining mass – but not depth.
- More attorneys jump on Twitter, but still only a few “get it.”
- Law firms experiment with video.
- They confuse talking head monologues “about the firm” posted on the firm website with short educational clips on You Tube that people might find really helpful.
- Law firms attempt to “manage” social media via POLICY.
- Half of the firm doesn’t understand what’s the big deal and the other half gets scared away from using social media out of fear.
- Marketing departments scurry to claim the firm’s name on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
- and post press releases and event announcements.
- Progressive law firms begin to MANAGE social media by first aligning business goals.
- They seek business metrics, i.e. revenue, efficiencies (cost reductions), and brand equity.
- Beyond business metrics they use social media analytics, i.e. measuring centers of influence, share of voice, and sentiment.
- Marketing staff and individual participants continue to measure engagement data such as fans, friends and followers, clicks and views
- but squarely the real money is on the ROI – how does this impact the top line revenue and enhance client relationships and perceived value.
(For more on how these 2011 ideas are shaping up in the corporate sector, see Jeremiah Oywang’s Framework for Social Media ROI here.)
“Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he. “It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction.” –Watson and Holmes in “The Crooked Man”
While I don’t claim Sherlock Holmes’ powers of deduction, I am a fan and want try my hand at looking for the one-little-point when unraveling a puzzle. So, while most of the early emphasis of social media among lawyers and marketers was placed on “should we be on Facebook,” “do all our attorneys need a profile on LinkedIn,” or “what should I post on Twitter,” I deduced that social media tools were not the point of social media –they exist, simply, to help people and organizations achieve marketing goals. And, I staked the success of the social media squarely on a “social media plan” informed by a Marketing Plan.
Okay, so I was a bit off track. In 2011 things are becoming clearer. I’m changing my tune. The heavy lifting of social media starts with “what’s in our Business Plan?” You do have a Business Plan for your law firm, right?
Putting a Business Plan before any action is fundamental. Just because we have new tools, does not mean we have new rules.
(I hate to admit that in my past are far too many Marketing Plans without the fundamental Business Plan in place. One should never lose sight of the fact that the Marketing Plan is a separate document created to support the Business Plan. Also known in legal industry circles as the firm’s “Strategic Plan.”)
So I stand resolved; to deploy social media tools successfully in 2011, you must first have a Business Plan—with goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. A Marketing Plan is merely a strategy found in a Business Plan and social media is simply one of several types of strategies that can be used to execute either or both a Business Plan and Marketing Plan. Only after the social media strategy is chosen, can tactics be identified to execute the strategy, and tools be selected to execute tactics—Yes, Virginia, there is NO Social Media Plan. (Sorry to disappoint the social media consultants and marketers who are busy writing social media plans – your comments are welcome!)
You Need a Tight Ship.
Assuming social media is one of your Business and/or Marketing Plan strategies, in order to manage it successfully you need a tight ship. A tight ship doesn’t leak; it is, at its very core, well built and sea worthy. The captain and the crew trust it implicitly to take them wherever they need or want to sail. Furthermore, on a tight ship, the captain and crew have well-defined roles and an eager willingness to work together to arrive at their destination. If your firm has a well built and sea worthy Business Plan and a well-defined and respected organizational structure, chances are your social media tactics won’t sink.
That being said, launching the social media strategy takes time. It’s okay, and probably necessary, for marketers and lawyers to take some time to experiment with social media tools outside a managed business process. To use the boat analogy, think of it as being in a little dinghy on your way from the dock back to the ship anchored off shore. When a critical mass gets to the “I’m On LinkedIn, Now What?” vessel, it’s time for all hands on deck, check the charts, fine tune the gauges, and get sailing!
I’ll be writing more specifically about organization, management, and business process related to law firm integration of social media in 2011. After all, I’m looking for the same business metrics for Law Gravity that you are… Meanwhile, your thoughts?