Social Media Law Author and digital marketing professional, Mitch Joel (@mitchjoel), laments the depressing state of  social media marketing in a post this morning. He’s not alone. Joel cites Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Nilofer Merchant, Avinash Kaushik, and Joseph Jaffe as sharing in his disappointment. Social media, with the innovation, technology, and spirt it has brought presents us so much.

The opportunity for businesses to connect in a much deeper, richer and more profound way could not be easier. Brands truly can have real interactions between real human beings.

Corporations, Joel contends, and most law firms, I believe, are missing the value of social media. It’s true connections. Connections that build trust and enhance one’s reputation, in the case of a lawyer. Rather than connections and trust, businesses, law firms included, wrongly point to traffic to a blog/website, followers on Twitter, blog subscribers, and likes on Facebook. They’ll highlight how often their blog posts or messages are shared, liked, or retweeted. Some even look at baseless scores and rankings comparing them to other organizations in their industry. They don’t get it, per Joel.

What brands are missing, when it comes to social media is the true connection. The trust that is built out of real interactions between real human beings. And, quite frankly, they’re missing this point because social media marketing is simply seen as any other form of corporate marketing and communications. It may even be agency-led or outsourced to a company that specializes in community management. Brands aren’t internalizing the power of how to be social, so the act of social media is simply an extension of the communications and not a true connection between brand and consumer.

Joel is spot on that brands, law firms very much included, cannot look at social media as a form of marketing that involves campaigns and quarterly goals.

Social media is organizational and it’s not a vertical within the marketing or corporate communications department. Social media is the horizontal that runs across the organization, much in the same way that the culture, brand and human resources should. If we benchmark social media by campaigns and quarters, we are relegating it to a world where its efficacy won’t be about how to build a better brand through better connections, but rather a world where its only role is to augment and supplement the communications of a brand. That sounds like more noise to me.

I can feel Joel’s frustration in his post. I’m there, but want to be tempered in my comments so as not to alienate law firms. As we talk about social media, and as much as law firms say they have active social media initiatives underway, is what is being done by most law firms going to lead to real connections – human to human? Is social media in law firms being run across the organization, much in the way culture is built? Or is social media falling primarily in the lap of marketing, where marketing is forced to measure success with numbers, not connections or relationships. Social media, ranging from blogging, to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, is uniquely suited to business development in the law. We’re not selling coffee or ice cream. We’re selling trust and authority leading to relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. Man, it doesn’t get any better than that when you’re talking social media. But things like personal connections, trust, and relationships aren’t built or measured like traditional marketing. That’s okay. I am not demeaning marketing. Social is just different. We’ll get there in the law. By hook or crook. It’ll even come about because of the fine people working in marketing departments in law firms. It’ll just take an adjustment in the course being taken. Image courtesy of Flickr by Lentz Studios.