Lifting the Social Media veil (at last)

I had the great pleasure, yesterday, to attend the Netlaw Media conference in London. It was a sell out event, the theme being business development.

There were a number of highlights not least Nick Freeman, better known as ‘Mr Loophole’, talking about the power of ‘BrandYou’ (or at least that was how I interpreted his talk).

[As an aside, I have made a note of the main points of his keynote, and will come back to some fundamental issues that lawyers should address before worrying too much about new media, business development or marketing to win work. Nick was fairly forthright in his views!]

I was privileged enough to be asked by the organiser to host two workshops on using social media to reach new markets. The attendees were mainly lawyers but there were also a few suppliers who joined the discussion.

What struck me immediately was that despite the hoopla that has been whipped up around the paradigm of social media there were still quite a few people trying to make sense of how they were supposed to integrate *it* into their practices.

You have my complete sympathy, given my own experience of working in a number of law firms where trying to get anything done, let alone something as (potentially) problematical as social media, was extremely challenging.

What was hugely encouraging though was that there individuals and firms who were making good progress, and in one case had gone a great deal further than anyone else. This particular firm had recently appointed someone to manage the firm’s social media engagement – a fledging community manager if you like; another spoke about his experience of a LinkedIn training programme that was almost mandatory in the firm (again it sounded as if there was the beginnings of a programme to move people through the levels of engagement); and there were firms who had secured new clients and recruited people to the firm via social media.

Without going into too much detail, in addressing the question that I was asked to deal with, I came back to one of the more helpful mnemonics that exists in social media land: P.O.S.T.

This is taken from the book Groundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li and stands for:

P. ~ PEOPLE

O. ~ OBJECTIVES

S. ~ STRATEGY

T. ~ TECHNOLOGY

Prima facie it looks too simple to be of much use, but firms would do well to remember that social media is about communication people to people. This is another way of saying that the traditional outbound, push marketing that you have been comfortable with will not work, long term. Yes, there is a place to pitch your services but not by leaping on to one platform or another saying “Look at us, look at us!”

At the risk of boring you rigid, it is about creating remarkable, value laden content that earns attention. Get this right, and the world is your oyster. Get it wrong and you will turn people off to your brand quicker than you can possibly imagine.

But the ‘P’ goes well beyond the engagement. It also, or should, encompass listening, or as Chris Brogan says “Grow Bigger Ears”. This means more than just setting up the ubiquitous Google alerts. It means putting up some listening outposts, possibly on Twitter or looking at Technorati (a search tool for blogs and posts). But whatever it is you need to understand your audience and how you might connect and reach out to them.

One exercise that you might try is write out – yes you will need a pen for this – a list of your top 10 clients (all of your connections) and see if they are likely to be in a social media space where you have or would like to have a presence. I would wager a lot of them will be on LinkedIn, but they may also be on Twitter but perhaps not under their actual name but some sort of alias.

If this seems like too much effort, then why don’t you drive the engagement by making more of your offline material, email marketing, business cards, website and word of mouth to tell your clients, referrers and sneezers (see the Idea Virus by Seth Godin for a fuller description of this) that you have a social media presence. You could produce a questionnaire to find out what would be of interest to your clients if it was delivered electronically or via different platform.

Next the issue of Objectives.

You have to have them.

Social media cannot be measured alongside other more traditional forms of business development if you do not know what you want to get out of it.

My advice is to be as specific as possible, particularly around the numbers. Don’t just aim for x number of followers on Twitter. Ask yourself how much hard cash you need to generate to make the effort worth the candle.

Importantly, you also need to breathe some oxygen into the medium by spending money. Just because the platforms are largely free doesn’t mean that you won’t have to spend money to make it work. If it is a resources issue, go hire someone. If it is an understanding or best practice issue, go get some training. You can’t be half-hearted about social media – remember my ‘In it to Win It’ quote from yesterday’s post.

Strategy is likely to be focused around execution but you need one.

The biggest mistake you can make is to leave social media out of your business planning. It has to be tied in with your events, your seminars, PR, advertising (if you are still intending to do it) and recruitment.

Finally, the issue of Technology.

You need to be mindful that you do not own Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. If you are going to put all your eggs in one basket bear in mind that social media can be faddish and what is in vogue, now, may be last season’s fashion accessory. This doesn’t mean you have to spread yourself too thinly and go grab a whole slew of platforms and if your focus is always on jumping aboard the next shiny new platform, then all you are doing is watering down your efforts and making the whole thing much harder to control.

I have already blogged about the 5 Platform Rule espoused by David Meerman Scott, and if it is good enough for him, then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be good enough for you.

But, and it is a big BUT, what also hit home to me was the element of Fear. The prospect of not just putting the firm’s brand in harm’s way but just not understanding things sufficiently to make a go of it.

As a former lawyer, I understand that feeling completely. No one wants to make a fool of them self, and certainly not in a public way. But time is not on your side.

Like it or not social media is on the march, and it stops for no one. If you don’t embrace it then you can rest assured that those braver than you will make such a raving success of it, that you will come to the conclusion that you simply don’t have the resources and time to outmanoeuvre them.

If you need to go back and start again (or it may feel a little like that) then do so. Far better you find a voice and persona that is you, rather than doing what so many firms do which is copy the next best firm or an immediate competitor.

Of course, you could just decide to leave the veil down and continue with your traditional methods. In a sense this is perfectly understandable where it has and continues to get results, but if you are finding it more and more difficult to justify or believe you have something to share with the world then social media may just offer you that extra edge in the market.

Thanks again to Netlaw Media for a great day and here’s to next year’s sell out event.

~ JS ~

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