SOCIAL MEDIA FOR LAWYERS: Part I
Is it time to hop on the social media gravy train?
Have you noticed how many people are constantly on their phones?
They may be checking their emails and messages. Sure. They are being “responsible with their screen times”.
But the truth is, no matter their age they are most likely glued to their phones to check status updates on Facebook, pictures uploaded on Instagram, connection requests and comments on LinkedIn, their favourite YouTuber’s latest video, Tweets from their favourite Tweeter or looking out for their favourite video on TikTok.
Social media is a social phenomenon. It is often how we communicate, express ourselves and often times, how we do business.
And honestly, it is not just a handful of millennials who are utilising social media on a regular basis. It’s all of us.
According to Statista –
“One of the defining phenomena of the present times reshaping the world as we know it, is the worldwide accessibility to the internet. The lovechild of the World Wide Web is social media, which comes in many forms, including blogs, forums, business networks, photo-sharing platforms, social gaming, microblogs, chat apps, and last but not least social networks. In 2020, the global social penetration rate reached 49 percent, with East Asia and North America having the highest penetration rate at 71 and 69 percent respectively, followed by Northern Europe at 67 percent”.
And if you are questioning the use of social media for business, don’t take our word for it.
In an article Social Media for Business: A Marketer’s Guide, they said that –
“If your small business isn’t on social media, you could be missing out on significant value, including new customers, insights into your brand, and audience and engagement opportunities with customers and competitors alike. Plus, social media can be a highly cost-effective way of reaching your customers in a personalized way”.
But it is not just small businesses that use social media platforms to do business. Companies like Wendy’s, Airbnb and MoonPie dominate the landscape with their use of social media to bring brand awareness to their products and/or service offerings.
In fact, social media has become a marketer’s mainstream. It is where big brands and small businesses invest loads (and loads) of cash. It’s where companies engage with their existing clients, it’s how companies attract new clients and it is even where most every-day people get their news.
And if so-called “Influencers” can make a living on social media without actually selling anything, one can assume that we are talking large market value figures here.
What’s the “dealio”?
Let’s put it this way – with Instagram having 1 billion active users worldwide and Facebook having roughly 2.89 billion monthly active users worldwide (as of the second quarter of 2021), it leaves little wonder that the Influencer market went from a market value of $1.7 billion in 2016, to $9.7 billion in 2020 and an expected value of $13.8 billion in 2021.
- Wait, what is an influencer?
“An influencer is someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience or has a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche”
And to add on to the above and in order to understand the importance of social media platforms, we quote from the article Why the Facebook whistleblower doesn’t want the company broken up –
“Facebook is the world’s most dominant social media company. Nearly 3 billion people use the Facebook suite each month, more than one-third of the global population and about 700 million more than YouTube (its nearest competitor). And it makes almost all of its money serving ads to users. Last year, the social media giant brought in $86 billion across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and other properties”.
Making one wonder – should I be hopping on the social media gravy train?
It is fair to say that we have moved well away from the triviality of randomly sharing selfies or pictures of our lunch and rather rely on social media for our overall success and business savvy.
But there may still be some hesitation. And who would blame you really (if the events of 4 October are anything to go by)?
- The elephant in the room – the day Facebook stood still
On 4 October 2021 Facebook and its family of apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, Messenger and Oculus were inaccessible for hours on Monday, taking out a vital communications platform used by billions. Facebook had disappeared from the internet with the outage lasting hours and the impact was far reaching. And severe. Facebook has built itself into the cornerstone and central platform for a number of applications with messaging, livestreaming, virtual reality and many other digital services. More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, distribute political messaging, and expand their businesses through social media marketing. Often times, Facebook is also the platform used to sign into other apps and services like Netflix or Amazon, creating a large domino effect around the world. And this outage went a long way to show how dependent the world has become on a social media platform.
In the article Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook, Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of communications at Cornell University said that “Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its properties like WhatsApp and Instagram — into sharp relief. The abruptness of today’s outage highlights the staggering level of precarity that structures our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.”
And this is despite the (serious) scrutiny that Facebook is currently under.
Let’s face it, as legal practitioners you are, by your very nature, risk adverse (always wary that sensitive client information could be at risk) and you would therefore (understudy) have alarm bells going off right about now. Because social media seems like a swear word at the moment and may seem like a dodgy investment of your time and money.
It appears that despite all of the trouble Facebook and its suite of apps are facing, they have become indispensable to companies doing business. And whilst the social media giant, according to Frances Haugen, does require increased government oversight, Facebook and its apps should not be broken up. Social media platforms will continue to exist regardless of the outcome of the investigations into Facebook’s conduct.
Because it is honestly not that simple…
Doing business on social media platforms is bigger than just Facebook.
In an example taken from the article Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook –
“With Facebook being down we’re losing thousands in sales,” said Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder in Ireland who runs HUH Clothing, a fashion brand focused on mental health that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers. “It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”
One can easily tell that companies and customers are using the social media giant (with all its various apps) to conduct business. This was further confirmed in the article Small business owners reveal just how much the Facebook outage affected them –
“The impact inevitably trickled down to small businesses, who in a matter of hours experienced the various severities of a social impact outage. Some saw engagement and traffic fall, while others had their sales taking a hit in direct correlation to their social media channels being disrupted.
Businesses that have experienced rapid growth thanks to their ability to cultivate followings on Instagram — like the much-buzzed about fashion retailer Lisa Says Gah — experienced the truism that Facebook giveth, and Facebook taketh away, first hand”.
And therein lies the complexity.
Companies have used social media platforms to engage with clients, to attract new clients, to share product launches, to share ideas and updates thereby garnering renewed interest and generating revenue. Enabling their companies to not only stay afloat but to succeed. Some companies rely on social media entirely.
So what should be done?
It’s simple really – companies and business owners (across all industries) need to spread themselves across all the various platforms and not just rely on the ones owned by Facebook. In addition to Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp there is LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube, none of which are owned by Facebook. In addition instead of Facebook you can use Reddit and in place of Instagram you can use Vero.
The important thing here is – you still need to engage on social media, albeit across many platforms not relying entirely on one social media giant.
So don’t “put all your eggs in one basket” – diversify and still take a big bite out of the social media pie.
What are the benefits of using social media?
Firstly, keep in mind that social media is about connecting with existing clients and prospective clients. Your clients are more media and tech savvy than ever before. And they will (once again) expect those companies they do business with, including their law firms, to be on the same page. And if you cannot engage comfortably with social media, you will be left behind.
Now is the perfect time to rethink the role social media is playing in your law firms marketing strategy (especially when considering Attorneys at Work’s 4th Annual Social Media Strategy which said that 81% of lawyers use social media for professional purposes, with 77% of these professionals stating that their law firm also maintains a social media presence).
So what are the benefits?
Budget friendly marketing
According to the American Bar Association –
“According to the portion of the 2020 Survey covering websites and lawyer marketing, less than half of law firms of all sizes have a marketing budget, and only 32% of firms from 2-9 lawyers and 14% of solo respondents say their firms have marketing budgets.”
But social media marketing fortunately does not require a large budget. You can post, share, and start conversations with clients at no cost to your firm. Besides a Wi-Fi connection.
By using social media you can provide your audience with informative and engaging content; you can resolve any issues raised; you can answer your client’s questions and therefore establish your authority and credibility while also engaging with your target audience hopefully turning them into prospects. And by so doing, you become their “go-to” resource for legal information in your area of specialisation.
By using social media in this way, you can create leads rather than having to approach and pitch your services (likened to cold calling) to a new client each and every time. Saving you time and ensuring you have better conversion from prospective client to existing client.
Key in both retaining existing clients and attracting new clients is having them recognise who you are. And with billions of people (as set out above) globally using social media daily, it is obvious that you need to “put your business where your customers are”. You need to be visible. A strong social media presence will help get your message to the right audience thereby increasing your brand awareness.
With so many active voices online each expressing their own opinion, it is crucial for your law firm to have a distinct voice that engages with clients on a human level. Basically, law firms need to humanise themselves. Make themselves more approachable. Like someone you can call up when you are in a tight spot. Social media allows for this, enabling you to develop an identity and a voice that showcases your brand values and engages with followers.
People need to be able to distinguish you out of a crowd of other law firms.
So be original!
Engaging with clients
It is becoming increasingly more common for people to turn to social media for recommendations. Checking out any company’s online presence and service reviews prior to engaging with them has become the norm. And it is no different when it comes to looking for appropriate legal services. In fact, it would probably be even more prevalent – after all a lawyer often comes at a high price (coupled with the fact that lawyers are often perceived as being intimidating), people want to make sure that a law firm will be a good fit for them.
So by using social media to engage with existing and prospective clients, you will be able to build trust and develop your brand presence in the market. And that is key. Because every time you post something on a social media platform, you allow your audience an opportunity to directly interact with your law firm. And this interaction needs to be personal and it needs to be genuine.
But it’s more than that. By maintaining an active social media presence, you will keep your brand’s image alive. Remember –”out of sight, out of mind”? And that is the opposite of what you want to achieve.
It makes sense really, when someone needs legal advice, they will reach out to the firm they feel they can trust. So building credibility through your social media activities becomes increasingly more valuable as you trudge along.
Strengthen your thought leadership
What does this mean, really? Basically – ensuring that you become the “main honcho”, the person people turn to for legal advice.
Social media provides an opportunity to both learn from and stand out from your competitors. It helps you establish your law firm as an industry leader by posting both engaging and relevant content.
But social media’s value can really be found in the ability to promote your law firm’s services in an appealing way towards a dedicated audience base, thereby helping you get in front of your audience further developing brand awareness.
So lead. Effectively and respectfully.
Attract prospective clients
It stands to reason that if your followers appreciate and like your content, they will become more interested in you. This may result in them popping onto your website to learn more about your business. The added benefit here? Higher website traffic and potentially more clientele. Both good things.
Therefore one can assume that social media is a really effective tool for law firms to attract new clients. In fact according to the American Bar Association, 81% of all lawyers in the United States say that their firms maintain a presence on at least one social media platform (the highest since 2016), and 77% say that they participate on at least one social media platform for professional purposes themselves. In addition, 35% of lawyers who use social media professionally have been able to gain new clients as a result.
So, the basic lesson here is – engage with your audience and post wisely!
We all know that sometimes “reputations precede” us. And that is not always a good thing. In business (and especially when seeking to both retain and attract clients) a firm’s reputation is everything. And protecting it is paramount.
Social media gives law firms and lawyers the perfect opportunity to communicate and engage with clients and resolve issues as quickly as possible. Creating a special hashtag (#) that your followers can use if they have a question or complaint will ensure that it is seen by the right people. It will also enable you to stay ahead of any issues that may have arisen. And by engaging and communicating with your audience you will also be able to use reviews and comments left by clients to highlight positive reviews or comments.
And that is gold!
Monitor conversations around your firm
One of the main uses of social media allows for your marketing team (or at least the person responsible for social media posts) is brand listening. And this allows you to do searches by using branded keyword searches to search for any content and conversations that includes or mentions your law firm. This allows you to understand what people are saying about you and what their opinion of your services may be. And staying on top of this is crucial.
By being actively involved in social media and what is being discussed, you can identify conversations where you can weigh in and demonstrate your expertise. If there are any issues or controversies within the legal space (i.e.”hot topics”), being aware of those conversations can also help you avoid being caught off-guard or getting negative feedback from clients. It enables you to stay on top of things.
So, make the most of social listening tools for more effective brand listening which can help you gain valuable insights into your services enabling you take necessary action at the right moment.
So – to use social media or not?
The answer to that question is undoubtedly yes.
But it seems that reaping the rewards of the social media gravy train must be enjoyed with caution.
Not all social media is created equal.
So be responsible. Be cautious and be respectful. Do not post anything derogatory or defamatory and remember your firm’s reputation is always at stake with what you post.
Dave Willis put it perfectly –
“Don’t use social media to impress people; use it to impact people’.
So make an impact. In the right way.
To help you with that, we will be discussing the “best practices” and ways for law firms to use social media optimally – be sure to check back with us!
Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS