Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Channeling Your Social Networking Energy

Social networking continues to be the latest "it" in legal marketing. But where to turn? Networking sites are popping up like daisies in spring time. Larry Bodine offers his thoughts on law.com. In a nutshell: LinkedIn is in, twitter is out.
You could hear the collective groan when Twitter made the cover of Time magazine and marketers realized that they had to become familiar with yet another online medium. There's Facebook, MySpace, Naymz, Spoke, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Martindale Connected, Legal OnRamp, JD Supra and listservs, to name a few online social networks. It seems overwhelming.

The good news is that marketers and lawyers can ignore most of them, concentrate on a single online network, experiment with one or two others, and turn their efforts into new clients, new files and new billable work. Another big plus is that all the online networks are free.


There is a huge conversation taking place online that works for business development purposes. In fact, more people are conversing on online "member communities" than via e-mail (according to Nielsen Online, Global Index, 2008)! Fifty-nine percent of lawyers have joined an online social network -- and here's the good part -- so have 48 percent of in-house counsel, according to Leader Networks, 2008.

This is the result of a sea change in the U.S. population. The techno-reluctant Baby Boomers are no longer the largest generation in history -- they account for only 23 percent of the population. The biggest generation today is variously called the "Net Generation, Millennials or Gen X," and they account for 27 percent of the population. They grew up with the Web, cell phones, texting and online social networks. These people are making corporate purchasing decisions and are junior partners at law firms. Therefore, law firms need to be online to reach these people.

Caveat: Online networking is no substitute for face-to-face business development meetings. An online presence will make it easy to contact you, showcase your knowledge, help meet potential clients and generate leads. But the goal of online networking is to meet with a contact in person.


• Begin by eliminating the time-wasters -- and in my opinion, the primary example is Twitter. Consider this. A new study by Pear Analytics found that: 40 percent of the tweets on Twitter were "total pointless babble."

• 10 percent of Twitter users account for over 90 percent of tweets, according to Harvard Business School.

• Among people with a Twitter account, 60 percent drop out after one month and never come back, according to Neilsen Wire.

• 55 percent have never posted a tweet, according to HubSpot.com.

Twitter is useful as a supplemental marketing tool -- if you issue a press release or update your Web site or blog, you can use the 140-character limit to send out the headline and URL. It's also useful to monitor your own name and firm name. Tweetbeep.com will do this for you for free. You never can tell what someone will say about your firm or yourself online.

You can also forget about MySpace, which has been losing users for some time now. As for Naymz, Spoke and Plaxo, none of them get enough traffic to be worth your time.

Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla with 200 million users. For law firms, it is useful as a recruiting source. Firms like Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle have create firm profiles for young lawyers, because many of them have Facebook accounts. Caveat: If you have a personal Facebook account, don't put anything online that you don't want clients to see. Also be aware that anyone can write anything on your wall, or post a picture on their own account showing you in an embarrassing way.


Some 840,000 lawyers have profiles on LinkedIn, according to Stemlegal.com. LinkedIn is business-oriented, and has become the de facto online directory for looking up more than 40 million professionals of all kinds. Homework: your assignment after you finish this article is to create a full-fledged profile with a picture on LinkedIn.

Why LinkedIn? In comparison, Facebook is for staying in touch with people you used to know. LinkedIn is for connecting with clients and referral sources, and getting in touch with new people you'd like to meet. Having a profile is the starting point. Thereafter your must use LinkedIn to generate new business:

• Seek recommendations. When your client is delighted with the outcome of a case or completion of a deal, at that moment, ask him or her to visit your profile and make a recommendation. This is a testimonial, which is very powerful marketing. Join a Group. This is where the action happens on LinkedIn. You can find a group for your practice area, an association you belong to, or an industry where you would like more clients.

• Start a Discussion. Every group has online discussions, giving you a chance to demonstrate your expertise. Pick a hot topic of the day and ask for opinions. By starting a discussion, you are positioning yourself as a leader.

• Make a Comment. LinkedIn will e-mail you a current list of discussions underway. This is your chance to chime in an offer a comment. Caveat: Don't give a legal opinion, or you'll attract unintended client relationships, and do not express a legal opinion, which may conflict with a position your firm is taking in a brief for a client. Also avoid personal attacks that could be viewed as defamatory falsehoods. Simply stick to facts -- news, new opinions, new regulations and new accomplishments -- and you'll be ethically OK.

• Ask a Question. Go to the "Answers" section and you'll see a box where you can ask a question or make a statement. You can select who among your contacts you want the message to go to.

• Build up your Connections. Whenever you speak to a client, referral source, prospect or news person, get their e-mail address and invite them to connect to you.


Once you have a fully complete LinkedIn profile, are actually using the account in groups and comments, and have a full schedule of in-person business development meetings scheduled, there are some other networks to consider.

JDSupra was launched in 2007 and it lets you market the old-fashioned way: with your work-product. You can upload briefs, court opinions, forms and articles, which will allow you to create a profile. In-house lawyers and potential clients can search JDSupra for free; when they find your document, they will click to see your profile and potentially call you. You can tag a brand new ruling or alert as a "hot doc," designed for the media to notice it.

LawMarketing Listserv was founded in 1996 and is the original e-mail discussion group devoted to law firm marketing. There is an annual fee, and as a result it attracts an elite membership of marketers and attorneys. The members discuss strategy, tactics, quick questions, and product opinions, as displayed by the TV set on the site. Members get invitations from editors to write articles, offers to review books which they get to keep, and the first notice of job openings. (Full disclosure: I operate it.)

Martindale-Hubbell Connected launched on April 1 and gained more than 12,000 members in four months. What's nice is that all the members are lawyers (and some in-house marketers) and that every member is authenticated. (On Twitter and Facebook anyone can pick a name, including yours, and open an account.) Any lawyer can join Connected, regardless of whether you have a Martindale-Hubbell listing.

Legal OnRamp is an online social network for GCs and in-house lawyers. Lawyers in private practice can visit the site and request an invitation to join. It's a site of potential clients, where GCs can ask questions, search lawyer profiles and share best practices. There are groups, discussion boards, search function, and access to Lex Mundi and Eversheds surveys. Interestingly, corporations are inviting lawyers to seek work from them by using Legal OnRamp. For example, FMC Technologies, an oilfield equipment company based in Houston, put a two-page questionnaire on the site, inviting tech-savvy firms that were open to alternative billing to apply. More than 30 law firms, some as small as seven lawyers, are being considered. None of these firms had done a stitch of work with FMC before.


Always remember that online networking is fruitless unless it results in a face-to-face meeting. Online social networking will vastly extend your reach for new-business opportunities. You may have a bunch of online buddies, but you are merely an e-mail address to them until you meet in person.
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Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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