In the first installment of this article, I introduced and described the fundamentals of social media and some of the basic components of the most popular social media sites and how they can be used effectively to build a strong reputation among key target audiences, facilitate a broad and powerful network upon which to develop meaningful relationships, and ultimately increase your client count.
In this second installment, we will take a closer look at how to develop a social networking strategy which helps you build a strong online presence and grow your practice by leveraging these powerful tools.
Making the Case
Let’s face it: you are a busy lawyer running a successful practice and have little time to spend on social networking, even if there is a possibility that it can bring clients in the door. We get and respect that. That is why before you ever sign onto LinkedIn, Twitter or any of the social networking sites, it is imperative to develop a strategy by which to choose the right tools that match your goals.
Do you want to engage in social networking to raise your online profile? To build a small community with whom you can share ideas or offer professional support? Or, are you solely focused on developing clients and promoting your practice? Your interest will dictate your choice of social networking tools.
Here are some questions to consider before pulling the trigger:
- What is your purpose for using social networking? Do you intend to use it as a research tool, to gather information and ideas to help you improve your practice, gain information about your clients? Do you intend to use social networking primarily as a platform to demonstrate your expertise or to drive traffic to your website? Or, do you consider social media the best way to network with others in near and remote locations?
- Who do you want to connect with – clients, prospective clients, referral sources, general counsel, other lawyers, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, finance professionals, educators, alums, politicos, journalists, current friends, family, etc? Where online do they reside?
- How will you engage them in a meaningful way to cultivate meaningful relationships to further enhance your stature as a reliable and trusted authority in a particular area of law?
- How will your target clients look for you online? Will they use an organic search, online directories, or other legal sites such as JD Supra, Avvo, or Legal On Ramp?
- How important are referrals from other lawyers to your practice? Or, do most of your referrals originate from industry professionals or consumers?
- Are you willing to mix business with personal? If not, you may choose against signing onto Twitter or Facebook. Also, are you comfortable with clients viewing your personal communication on these sites?
- Realistically, how much time are you willing to commit to build your reputation, actively seek out new relationships and make connections, and add value to the various online discussions? How will you do it? Will you need team support, outside support, in-house support, clerical support, an online calendar, or some other infrastructure accommodation?
- How will you assess and measure your activities and time investment? What metrics will you put into place to evaluate your increased touch points, group activity converted to new network contacts, relationships converted to new business, relationships converted to new referral sources, links from key influencers and media?
Clearly, you can see that acting strategically in connection with effective social networking requires some serious planning and forethought in an effort to avert the time sink that social networking can be if used only from a tactical perspective.
Having said that, be assured that even the legal profession, ordinarily late adaptors, are rapidly integrating social networking into traditional business models for professional and business development purposes.
Consider this: A recent study conducted by Leader Networks on behalf of LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell shows that more than 70 percent of lawyers are members of an online social network – – up 25 percent over the past year — with 30 percent growth reported among lawyers aged 46 and over.
The second annual Networks for Counsel Survey shows that one third of corporate counsel and close to half of private practice lawyers who participate in public social networks for professional purposes do so on a daily basis. Social networking isn’t a passing fad and doesn’t have to be a time sink. And, you do not want to be left behind.
Ok, Now What Do I Do?
Now that you are clear on what your social networking strategy is and how and why you will set aside time every day to build and maintain an online reputation and cultivate relationships, what’s next?
Similar to learning your ABCs of the early days as a foundation of an education, it is important to focus on the “3 R’s” of building a healthy law practice: reputation, relationships, and referrals. Never has there been a faster way to develop your reputation and build relationships and referrals than through the use of social networking tools.
Because social networking tools are interactive, they uncover commonalities through information that you share and invite conversation. These features go a long way in supporting relationship-building activities among key target audiences.
Due to the nature of the inherent camaraderie of sites like LinkedIn, building referrals can be a cinch, if you exercise good judgment. Social networking sites can help you gain greater search engine visibility which makes it easier for prospective clients to find you and your colleagues more likely to keep you top of mind when referring matters out.
It has never been easier to establish a positive and powerful reputation as an expert as it is with the help of social networking tools. There are ways on LinkedIn, such as with the Recommendation feature that help facilitate reputation building and the collection of testimonials from clients, industry contacts, and so many other key sources.
If you take away nothing else from this discussion, please know this: social networking tools can play a vital and useful part of your business development portfolio though is no replacement for face-to-face relationships. They are tools in your practice development arsenal, and just that. Exercise caution. Without a well-crafted social networking strategy and plan, you will become inpatient and frustrated if you jump online and can too easily become consumed in wasting precious billable hours to no great result.
Without doubt, there are as many questions as there are answers in today’s social networking environment as this online technology continues to develop and evolve. In future articles, we hope to address and discuss other related issues and concerns around the social networking topic.
In the interim, I invite you to let me know if there are specific questions regarding social networking you would like to see addressed in future articles and whether it would be beneficial to specifically address how to efficiently maintain your online presence for greater business development prosperity.