After hearing about different ways they could be engaging with current and prospective clients – whether it’s tweeting, posting, instagramming, snapping, vlogging, or whatever the next big thing is – law firms often ask us a reasonable question – “Should we be using social media?” It’s a good question, and our answer — one that some view as contrary to popular sources — is that it depends.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Each law firm is unique and has its own set of circumstances and goals; that goes for your competition as well. To make a blanket statement that every firm should be using social media is a massive generalization and — while it might sound nice in theory — doesn’t hold much water. If the social media platforms you’re using don’t support your goals and specific situation, then it’s more than likely dead weight being dragged along. That’s why I can confidently answer that ever-so-common question about the necessity of social media outlets with two simple words – it depends.
Think of it this way: when a prospective client first comes to you, you wouldn’t immediately tell them what needs to be done the moment they sit down in your office. There’s a word for that kind of action – premature. Instead, you take the time to listen and to understand their problems. Much like a physician, you want to know what’s ailing your patients. Then, and only then, can you customize the solution to their situation.
So, to better understand if your law firm should be on social media, let’s walk through the factors that determine whether or not it’s going to be a valuable use of your time and resources.
The first question to ask is what your law firm’s goals for using social media are. Are they to get more clients, stay in touch with current ones, or simply for vanity – to be able to say, “Hey, look at us, we have 1,000 Twitter followers!” If you are using your social media outlets to generate new leads or actively engage with current customers, then it could definitely be worthwhile to keep them buzzing along. Your intentions are often where the question of the need for social media can be answered. Vanity metrics, while understandable, can often turn into a time sink and leave you little time to focus on more important aspects of your business. Meanwhile, generating interest in your firm or engaging with customers can prove to be the shot in the arm that your firm needs to surge forward.
One common reason we often hear from firms is that they think they need to be using social media because their competitors are. Well, I agree, it’s important to stay ahead of the competition. But is social media necessarily the method for your firm to take charge? More importantly, is the competition real or simply perceived? If your firm’s intention is to keep up with the competition, you first need to determine if your competition is using social media or if they are simply on social media? This little distinction makes a world of difference.
Being on social media instead of using it
Social media is a time-intensive channel; unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on where you stand), many businesses do not understand this. So while your competition might have a Twitter account, they may not be using it appropriately. It’s wildly easy to create an account, throw up a profile picture, a bio, and a few tweets. Anyone can do this in 20-30 minutes. However, properly utilizing Twitter as a tool to help bring more clients in the door or keep current clients engaged takes a massive amount of effort. Using social media properly, compared to just being on it, looks like this:
Understanding the Platform
Every social media platform is different. What works — and is acceptable — on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t necessarily fly on LinkedIn. And while hashtags are crucial on Twitter, they’re misplaced on Facebook and amateur on LinkedIn. Learning the ins and out of each platform and becoming proficient at using them properly takes time. Social media is like driving: just because you have a driver’s license doesn’t mean that you’re a good driver. Just because a law firm has a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they’re using it correctly.
The most common trap for most newcomers to social media is viewing these outlets as new channels through which to sell their respective product or service. A firm that’s new to — and doesn’t understand — Twitter will have a string of tweets that tout their services — Need #TaxHelp? Call Us Today — but add little value to other users. On platforms where lack of value is met with people removing you, you can’t afford to waste that kind of time or gain that kind of negative reputation.
Adding value isn’t easy, you need to actively seek out and/or produce useful content to share with others. Going back to my tax law firm example, a better tweet would help other users with an issue they have, such as knowing what they need to do to prepare for tax season – #TaxSeason is around the corner, here are important deadlines (and then add a link to a blog post listing those deadlines). Notice how that tweet doesn’t sell anything? It simply helps.
The key word in social media is social. Good relationships are built on reciprocation. No one likes the person who always talks about themselves or constantly asks for help but never returns the favor. Building relationships on social media requires you to be regularly engaging with others by retweeting, liking, sharing, and commenting. That leads us to the final and most important piece of the process.
Developing your law firm’s presence on social media requires consistency – day in and day out, someone who understands the respective platforms has to be adding value for other users. Not only that, but they need to be consistently engaging with them to create mutually beneficial relationships. And not just for a week or two, but for months (if not years). Social media is a long-term investment, one that can pay great dividends for law firms that properly use it.
If your competition is following the process I’ve outlined, then yes, the competition is real. However, if they are simply on social media, but not using it, then you’re likely worrying about a threat that doesn’t exist. And that brings us full circle back to the question: should your law firm be using social media?
Yes, your law firm should be using social media
If your law firm has the capability to properly use social media — whether by having someone at your firm run and manage the accounts or by outsourcing this task — and its use is dictated by a clearly defined web strategy, then yes, your firm should be using social media. However, not all firms fit this criteria, and often the time or money invested in social media could be better used elsewhere. More than likely, that elsewhere is on other marketing and advertising channels where the return on investment would be greater, especially in the short term.
Additionally, your firm has to decide which social media platforms it should be using. This is a whole new challenge, and one that I’ll be addressing in a future article.
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