How Lawyers Use Social Media to Start Conversations that Attract New Clients
Now is the right time to get involved in social media to start conversations that attract new clients. However, stepping into the social arena without jeopardizing billable hours or risk of a grievance can be a tenuous endeavor.
Knowing which social venue is most advisable for lawyers can stump the most astute social strategist, due to the conflicting expert opinions being published across the industry.
There are plenty of interesting reads on the topic of social; some support getting involved in the initiative, while others are more cautious, or even against it. An article appearing in Law Practice Today cites Facebook’s self-published social network survey data, arguing this survey indicates there is increased acceptance for social initiatives for reasons such as early adopters maturing into a socially ripe target market, and the new generation being comfortable seeking answers and connections through various social sites. Conversely, ABA Journal suggests social media seduces lawyers into dangerous territory, cautioning you to consider the potential for ethics rules violations and danger of participating in social media conversations.
The general rule-of-thumb with any social media conversation is to keep conversations within your area of expertise, thought-provoking, interesting and ethical, and follow the rules that govern lawyers’ conduct.
Social networking is not “Ready, fire, aim!”
Rather than investing billable hours blindly pulling the trigger on this social media initiative, a quick survey of your existing client base will tell you exactly what you need to know. The social media venue you choose should be in an arena your ideal prospects would be comfortable and interested in venturing into. Going “all in” on multiple venues right away is not advisable or strategic.
Choose your platform for social conversation based on what your firm’s existing, most desirable clients tell you. Simply asking a few of your best clients, “Do you read any blogs, or have you ever participated in any online discussions?” should help you to prioritize social initiatives. If this informal polling results in a resounding “No,” the follow-up questions to ask are: “Would you be willing to join in on a brief online discussion (5 minutes, once a month) with us about xyz?”; “What topics most interest you?”; and “Why?” The answers to these questions tell you what makes a hot topic for this desirable audience, and areas they would be most willing to follow or converse about. With this information, create a plan and establish the framework from which your targeted social initiative can begin.
Lawyers: Pointers to prepare for launching your social initiative
For the social initiative to be successful, you must approach it with an understanding that social platforms, such as a blog, are intended to initiate discussion. Being strategic about your social initiative means you commit to a conversation that will further establish your legal expertise, while also encouraging discussion with subscribers. Making the commitment is the important first step.
Be structured in your approach to integrating and managing the social initiative. Determine when in your schedule you can afford 15-minutes to contribute to your blog or respond in a discussion thread. With this approach, you will continue the conversation with your subscribers, without significantly jeopardizing your billable hours.
Consider these additional pointers as you prepare for launch.
1. Establish core topics. Create a table of 4-6 core topics that interest you, ideally connecting your clients’ hot-topic interests to your practice area of expertise.
For example, if you are a labor law attorney, and feedback from your informal polling revealed “Employee Data Privacy” as an area of interest, you may identify a core social networking topic as “Employee Data Privacy Law vs. Employer Rights.” This topic would allow you to showcase your expertise while also appealing to your existing client base and organizations concerned with this topic, making this topic ideal.
2. Determine the structure and schedule of your social networking initiative. Every social platform is different; Twitter allows for only brief 140-character exchanges, while other sites allow you to post extensive content and generate more extensive conversation. For purposes of conversation-based social initiatives, some attorneys develop 250-word blog postings around hot topics, creating a discussion thread with their community of subscribers. To generate postings that encourage discussion, ask your readers for their comments and opinions, or ask them to answer a question.
3. Create and follow a schedule for your social initiative. Be timely and regular in your contribution to the social conversation. Those following you and engaging in the conversation will feel better about your commitment to the topic.
4. Create a social profile. Prepare your profile on your preferred (and client-identified) social platform. The purpose of your social networking will dictate whether you choose the most popular social networking websitesor the ones mentioned most by your clients. Whether you create a blog using WordPress or Google’s eBlogger, or focus your efforts on sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+,each site and interface is different. Select one to start with, and do it well. There are various social media tools like TweetDeck and SocialOomph to help you with productivity when socially active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBlogger, and other sites. While these tools are not critical early on, to increase your efficiency in managing multiple social initiatives and to preserve your billable hours, they should be introduced if a variety of social initiatives become integrated into your weekly tasks.
5. Create an interesting message. Prepare to announce the social initiative to your existing client base. Consider a brief email with wording that promotes your social conversation, such as, “Your opinion matters. Please join me and a community of your peers to share your opinion and weigh in on these core topics.” Using your first hot topic in this initial message will help to draw in followers.
6. Grow first with who and what you know. Before you announce your social initiative to your client base, send a separate brief email to those who contributed to the development of your core topics. Personally thank them and express your interest in their participation in the conversation. Ask them to weigh in on a topic, provide insight and share experience.
7. Announce your social initiative to your entire client base. Whatever initiative you choose should be added to your signature line in all electronic communication with clients. You have seen messages such as “Follow Me” for Twitter. Consider creating your own personal tagline such as “Your opinion matters. Join your peers in the latest discussion at (blog address or blog icon here).” Post an announcement on your website, add it to your eNewsletter and share a link to the blog or social site in all email messages to clients. The initial announcement might:
- Inform the reader about the content and conversation.
- Ask your clients to share the link with their professional colleagues and peers.
- Share your list of core topics.
- Ask for followership and participation in the discussion as it is released and unfolds.
- Include a hyperlink to the first social discussion posting.