Last week in sunny Naples, FL, I joined Brian Tannebaum to speak to the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The topic? Social media and online advertising. We talked a lot about blogging, Twitter, and scummy SEO tactics. But I want to expand on a theme that permeated our talk, and the discussions I had with many Florida lawyers afterward: that blogging and social media are worthless as tools for direct client acquisition.
Online Advertising vs. Social Media
For many practices, online advertising can make a lot of sense. The tracking and analytics offered by online ads–whether pay-per-click on Google, online display, or Avvo-sponsored listings–makes the ROI of a marketing campaign far easier to measure than traditional Yellow Pages or newspaper ads. It’s an easy and effective way to get in front of consumers who are looking for a lawyer, particularly in areas where potential clients are unlikely to have referrals.
But applying this marketing mindset to social media and blogging is a train wreck. Potential clients aren’t going to “like” your law firm Facebook page. Filling your Twitter stream with a one-way torrent of posts about how great you are is a one-way ticket to being ignored (or ridiculed). And while it is possible to blog on legal topics for a consumer audience, it is very hard to get right. Most consumer legal blogs descend into nothing more than marketing.
Referrals and “Long Copy”
Where blogging and social media shine, however, is on the referral front. Properly executed, these tools allow a lawyer to take relationship-building out of the limits of one’s local geography. They allow for connections–like the one that Brian and I have made–that would have been next to impossible pre-social media. And from these relationships comes the potential to have both a more connected and fulfilling professional life, as well as a deeper and more broadly-distributed referral network.
There’s also the simple fact that a well-written blog and active social media presence makes it far easier for those who’ve been referred to you to learn about you–and hopefully be impressed with your competence and approach–before picking up the phone. There’s an old advertising adage that “long copy sells.” And it’s particularly true with a considered purchase such as legal services. The more that people can find out about you, the more confident they will be in hiring you.
This may lead to some discomfort among the more reticent types in our profession. But as Brian stressed in our talk, attorneys must differentiate themselves. It’s not sufficient to rest on one’s laurels. This differentiation may come in the form of specialization. It may come from a more humane approach, or a willingness to share more about oneself on the personal side via Facebook. But being the cipher found in so many law firm bios? Not an option.
The Role of Marketers
For firms engaged in online marketing, it may make sense to engage a marketing consultant. But proceed with care. While the quality folks can bring order to a firm’s SEM campaigns, set up smoother, more reliable client intake processes and help ensure that websites are properly optimized for the search engines, consultants can also offer a quick trip to spamminess.
You can’t just hand over the reins; as New York personal injury attorney Eric Turkewitz memorably put it, “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics.” It doesn’t take much time to supervise your marketers and understand what they’re doing. And to be particularly cautious of any SEO “strategies” that go beyond technical fixes of your website or best practices for linking from your blog.
But social media consultants? Outside of getting technical help to get started or be more efficient, there should be no need whatsoever. Most of those offering social media consulting services are in fact selling the marketing side of social media. And while that might be appropriate for a consumer brand, it doesn’t work for lawyers. At all. Social media in the law is an extension of a cocktail party online.
And as Brian put it in Miami, does anyone need a cocktail party consultant?