The Big Five Social Media Tips for Lawyers
So you've gotten into the habit of liking pages, posts or statuses, all the while re-tweeting anything that catches your fancy, and as you surf the web, +1ing interesting information you encounter during your online travails. Some of you may even have gone further and have developed an inclination for pinning products that catch your eye, whilst simultaneously instagraming with your followers…or you may actually have no idea what we're talking about.
For many lawyers, social networking may be something used in your private lives, but when it comes to utilising the various platforms to enhance your professional profile, or that of your firm, the concept may prove to be a little murkier. We're all aware of the social media faux pas that have been committed by some big companies: Does #qantasluxury ring any bells? However for anyone who is in the professional services industry, social media can be a powerful tool.
We'd be remiss in saying that there won't be any challenges when lawyers decide to use social media, however, the benefits can be immeasurable if you follow these five simple steps, and are willing to engage with the platform actively, rather than passively.
Who is your audience?
It's probably not too much of a stretch to suggest that the practice of law, although held in high esteem, doesn't exactly conjure up the type of imagery that say, Apple, would invoke when the brand is mentioned. Furthermore, if you're a firm or a sole practitioner who specialises in areas that some might consider, for the lack of a better term, unsexy, or your practice deals in a very specialised field, social media may not seem like a good idea, but on the other hand, it shouldn't be completely discounted if used properly.
So before embarking on your social media strategy, knowing who your target audience is important to ensure you are reaching the right people with the goal of enhancing your business prospects. Therefore, if you're a lawyer who specialises in family law, tailor your message in a way that is appropriate to your audience.
What do you want to achieve?
At its most basic, what you want to achieve is generating more business to your firm or practice. Easy enough; and here is how social media can help.
First, consider that almost a billion people use Facebook globally and when the company held their conference in 2011, it was estimated that almost 10 million Australians used the social network. Furthermore, the average Facebook user spends eight hours on the site, so as a forum for free marketing, Facebook is indeed an attractive proposition.
Going back to our original question of what you want to achieve, it should be multilayered with, yes, the overarching goal of gaining more clients, but it should encompass additional goals as well, like gaining mindshare in your area of law for instance. So if you're a family law practitioner in Dandenong or Parramatta, you want your firm to be the first to pop up in the minds of anyone who requires the assistance of a family law practitioner, and using social media can help. People crave free legal information so if you can provide a hook via social media, it can be a good way to get your message across to the vast swathe of potential clients out there.
How can my law firm use social media?
Let's use our imaginary family law practice again as our example and consider the competition that exists within the area, and how does one stand out from the crowd? If your practice wishes to be part of Facebook, set up a page rather than a profile, and also actively engage in Facebook groups that have an interest in family law. Furthermore, if your firm has a company blog that addresses the important questions associated with the practice area, Facebook can also be a good platform to post your work. However, always do the lawyerly thing of checking out the terms and conditions to ensure that you are following the guidelines, because there are different requirements for a company page as opposed to a personal one.
Twitter can also be used in the same manner, but make sure that your tweets are succinct and if linking back to your page, always use a URL shortening service such as bit.ly, and an advantage of such services is that additional data is also provided on how your links are performing. However, if you are tweeting on any official Twitter client or directly from their webpage, the URLs typed in your tweets will automatically be shortened by Twitter.
Another thing to be aware of if you are on Twitter is make sure you make use of #hashtags where appropriate, because this will assist people in finding your tweets and profile more easily because it is one of the search tools that is used on the platform (eg #familylaw or #divorce).
Your practice should also consider using Google+ due to the fact that the company has changed the way search results are generated and results from the search engine will be advantaged for any practice that is on the platform.
We know that the number of social media tools out there can seem intimidating, but whatever social media platform your firm chooses to use, always make sure that your tone is personal, but not in the sense of what you ate for breakfast, but rather, it's the type of tone that is conversational and convivial in nature.
Who should the social media representative be for my firm?
We're mindful of the fact that many firms probably can't hire a SMEG (social media guru) to be their full-time social media specialist, nor do we expect that every lawyer will have a complete grasp of every aspect of social media use. Therefore, it may appear to be a case of too many cooks but your social media presence should be an all encompassing effort that takes into account all the relevant stakeholders within your practice, because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who is doing all the tweeting because your firm will be identified with whatever is posted on a social media site and the associations attached with the posts.
What happens if something goes wrong?
Ah, now we're getting to the crux of why lawyers might be a bit pensive in using social media, which relates to all of the things that can potentially go wrong. Yes, there will be 'trolls' out there, and you don't want to become a 'meme', but the chances of anything going completely awry are slim if you're a small suburban practice, or a sole practitioner.
However, if something does go wrong, then take ownership of the issue and don't avoid the matter because you don't want to become a victim of the 'Streisand effect'. Wait, what's the 'Streisand effect'? Well, the Streisand effect is basically when a person or organisation attempts to hide or remove negative information online, which then has the opposite consequence of actually drawing further attention to the negative information. Yes, it's only human nature to try and cover-up any bad news, but internet users are now very savvy and have the capacity to capture any information faster than it can be deleted. Therefore, if you do have an audience and a mistake has been made, make sure you're open with everyone and if it is necessary, provide any relevant information that may be required.
At the end of the day, social media can be a fun and effective way to publicise your practice, so start the conversation today!
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