The A-Z of Social Media: Where to Start?

The genre of A-Z books is, I think, well and truly dead (for me at least).

I bought a few on selling in the 1980s but struggle now to get past the first few pages.

My take on them was that they were meant to give you the nuggets of best practice so that by the end you were inculcated or trained in the appropriate messaging. Sometimes they weren’t quite that sophisticated and comprised the dullest of terminology to wrap around the letters of the alphabet.

In any event, I suspect the ‘Dummies’ series of books etc. has well and truly replaced them, although without denigrating the approach, I do wonder what has become of describing ourselves as beginners or novices? Can you imagine going to your first tennis or golf lesson and being told: “Right this class is for Dummies.” Not the most positive start. I would be inclined to stop there.

But I wonder if social media would benefit from a road-map where joining the dots (… so to speak) would break the freeze-frame of adoption.

To assist you with this process some writers have gone for mnemonics; some very clever pictures; and some have touched upon the numbers. But no one wants to open up their box of tricks and say: “Hey if you do this you will make £x.”

Where to start?

There is no right or wrong answer but, first and foremost, I would want to understand where the driver was coming from within a firm. Is it simply the groundswell of opinion or is it being driven by one person or one department?

What is it that is so appealing about social media?

Are there going to be clear metrics available?

What is the end game?

I wonder how many firms have a chargeable code in their time-recording system for Twitter or LinkedIn? You can bet that before long the lawyers will be asking for one or at the very least some recognition of the time expended.

It is important to understand how social media is going to work for a firm and just because a few advocates have managed to force the issue doesn’t mean that it is something that should be deployed immediately and certainly not wholesale.

You need to cover off the governance, HR and IT agenda. And make sure people understand why social media is just as important as the plethora of other things that you keep asking them to do: bill, record chargeable time, recover unpaid bills, network and sell legal services. There are only so many hours in the day and if you don’t present an honest picture of the expected outcomes, then there is a risk that social media will get a bad press for all the wrong reasons.

Keep things simple.

Make sure that people understand the difference between their work and individual persona. Don’t expect things to be all plain sailing. Mistakes will happen; but don’t shut the whole thing down. If you need to work through the risks in advance then do so but don’t keep making things up. Sure social media is new but not that new. There is enough material out there to make sure that you learn from other people’s mistakes.

At the end of the day, lawyers being lawyers, they won’t keep the faith unless there is a return. And they will be harshly critical of you if you say this stuff is necessary but then find, after having wasted 3 months building up a following, they get nothing back.

I would be inclined to start with sectors that have already seen some early adoption like IP, IT, employment and even more niche sectors like motoring law. My own discipline of commercial litigation may be more difficult to crack. After all you may find that people get fed up hearing bad news. Mediation might be an angle but you need to keep in mind that again there are only so many stories that you can develop based on case studies.

What about the existing marketing, KM or PSL functions? Where will they fit in? Will they control the messaging? Will they double-check anything that goes outside of the firm. Do you have a compliance function? Have you already spoken to them before going live with the social media programme?

And then there is the brand issue. Have you given any thought to what might support and what will harm the brand? The latter is probably easier to guard against but developing a brand on-line. That may be much harder.

Will you have a blog or several? What is the purpose beyond supporting the news already being produced on the website. Accept that people are much more likely to interact with an individual than they are a corporate profile.

Get the picture?

And then there is perhaps the most important aspect: Listening.

As Chris Brogan said in a recent post: “You need to grow bigger ears”. It is probably one of the biggest mistakes – not listening enough. Listening to what others are saying; listening to the market via blogs, YouTube and Twitter; watching for trends; chipping in and commenting on blogs and groups on LinkedIn. Setting up searches. Enabling analytics tools. Talking to your clients via a Survey. You just need to tap into their psyche. And if you need some guidance go and look at the Social Technographics ladder produced by Forrester to make sure you understand where your clients are likely to be along the adoption/use curve. Don’t start producing material in one area only to find that your clients prefer or may react better on another platform.

There are some great books that exist to help you with developing your social media presence. Brian Solis’ book Engage is first rate and so is Chris Brogan’s Social Media 101. If you want to get a good overview of how big business work then you can do no worse than to check out Empowered by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler and finally anything by David Meerman Scott.

Going back to the A-Z point. Even though it may feel slightly clunky, I would start thinking of a road map that takes you from the start to the finish (if there is such a thing) but not worry too much if you find yourself jumping in somewhere further down the road because you have found something that works.

Social media can be transformative of your firm but make sure that you don’t expect the quick wins that you might have been expecting or have achieved with old style broadcast media. Unless you get lucky with a post, tweet or video that is truly remarkable (these things do happen) you have to be prepared to spend some serious time building your profile.

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