Unless you come to grips with social media and start thinking about how it may benefit your clients and your business, you are missing all sorts of opportunities. Think again if you believe social media such as Twitter and Facebook are just for kids, writes Trish Carroll.
In October last year, the United Kingdom High Court ordered an injunction to be served through social networking site Twitter, a world first. In 2008, Canberra-based firm Meyer Vandenberg made headlines around the world when it had the ACT Supreme Court approve a default judgment being delivered by Facebook. And in the iiNet case, where iiNet is being sued for allegedly permitting customers to download movies illegally, journalists have used Twitter to report directly from the courtroom, a first in Australia.
More than a fad
It is easy to dismiss social media as something frivolous given that its platforms have such silly sounding names - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Delicious, to name a few. But do not let the odd names deter you. Social media is here to stay; it is not a fad; it is serious business.
One of its most serious sides is reputation management. With some simple tools, any mention of a company name online can be monitored in real time. Telstra is now monitoring Twitter to see what people say about it. Telstra is in good company because Ford, Toyota, Starbucks, Dell, SAP and others do likewise.
This type of ‘sentiment mining' will be more important in the future when the current generation of university students enters the workforce. They have grown up on Facebook, MySpace and MSN and understand the value of, and are comfortable with, sharing their opinions using social media.
Another serious side of social media is in engaging with clients and sourcing leads to potential new clients. Other than word of mouth, your website is probably your most important selling tool - or it should be. Making your website work harder for you should be your goal. By using social media platforms, you can lead clients and potential clients to your site.
Deacons Australia, now part of the Norton Rose Group, is doing just that. Deacons runs a successful Twitter account with more than 1000 followers. This links to articles on the firm's website and relevant online newspaper articles, and helps the firm engage with its ‘followers'.
Given most students already embrace social media, it is little wonder the technology is a fantastic recruitment tool. In fact, it is rare now for social media not to be used in major recruitment campaigns. For example, Ernst & Young has a very successful Facebook page, which is used for recruitment and has more than 34,000 followers. This allows the firm to build relationships with potential candidates.
Another use of the technology is for knowledge-sharing. Global law firm Allen & Overy has led the way in the use of blogs and wikis for knowledge sharing. In 2005 (yes, that's right, 2005), the firm introduced three pilot sites, all of which combined blog and wiki functionality. They were instantly successful and demand for the sites grew.
Allen & Overy now has more than 30 in operation: some are used by practice areas, while others are grouped around a particular subject such as a new piece of legislation.
If you believe in the theory that you need seven points of contact with someone before they will consider doing business with you, social media marketing is the perfect vehicle to make rapid contact in a non-threatening manner. Law firms should seriously consider blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and possibly Facebook for any or all of the purposes outlined above.
Five things to be aware of as you start thinking about the use of social media:
Where to start? First, determine your strategy. It could be as simple and inexpensive as starting a blog or joining LinkedIn. Blogs are an excellent way to generate conversations and establish and demonstrate expertise.
A well-written blog will build relationships with visitors. A blog will add a ‘human face' to a law firm. Blogs are a fast and easy way to provide useful information to clients and potential clients. A blog, unlike a website, can be dynamic.
If you don't think you have time for a blog then comment on industry blogs as much as possible but, please, be constructive and add information. If you do this well and on a consistent style of issue then your name will eventually become known in your area of practice.
Guest blogging is another alternative. Contact well-known or respected bloggers in your industry and request the opportunity to write a post. They will not all accept, but many will welcome the opportunity for someone else to provide content. And do not restrict yourself to Australian blogs - blogs have no borders.
If a blog seems too much for you, then join LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site with more than 39 million users in more than 200 countries. LinkedIn allows you to create an online identity and a profile. It is used by lawyers around the world to build networks and seek recommendations. There are areas on LinkedIn that allow you to establish yourself as an expert in your field, including joining ‘Groups' and providing information in the ‘Answers' feature.
If you join LinkedIn you need to join a group, participate in a discussion, ask and answer questions, otherwise do not bother. It is like joining any group; you have to give to get.
If you have not started using social media or thinking about its use then let 2010 be the year you start - and I hope to see you on LinkedIn soon.
Trish Carroll is a principal of Galt Advisory, an advisory firm focused on helping firms and individuals devise and implement practical and successful marketing and business development strategies. Visit www.galtadvisory.com.au for more information or find her on LinkedIn.