Law firms looking to draw traffic to their websites and blogs will want to move on from SEO to social media.

Technology journalist, Ben Weitzenkor (@benkwx), reports in Entrepreneur Magazine that social media may soon drive more traffic to websites than search engines.

Last year, half of all internet users ages 18 to 23, and 43 percent of users ages 24 to 32, used social networks as their go-to internet-discovery resource, according to a new report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Overall, social networks like Facebook and Twitter are the preferred means of discovery for nearly a third of all Americans, up from 18 percent in 2010.

At the same time, 54 percent of American internet users still relied on traditional search results to find the information they were looking for. As expected, that number is on the decline and, according to the report, represents a seven-point drop in overall search engine popularity from 61 percent in 2010.

Chris Sherman (@cjsherman), founding editor of SearchEngineLand, commented further on the generational differences in how people find websites.

While natural search results was the clear preference for all generations, social media was the most favored second preference for younger people, with 50% preference for Generation Z (ages 18 to 23) and 43% of Generation Y (ages 24 to 32), with just 22% of Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and 19% for the Golden Generation (ages 68 and older) using social media to find websites.

forrester-search How we found websites 2012 Law firms focused on SEO, like other marketers, are living in the past. From Weitzenkor:

Although consumers are rapidly changing their habits and behavior, marketers still haven’t caught up, prioritizing SEO and paid search efforts above engagement over social media. In order to turn that around, the report asserts, search marketing teams need to learn what searchers are really looking for and focus on broader engagement instead of simply trying to drive an immediate sale.

Social is not just important in the obvious way – links being shared. Social is even more important with individual lawyers needing to establish their influence through social media.

We’re moving on from a push content out to everyone in every way possible world to a more mature and more meaningful online world. A world where people will discover, not search for, what they are looking for. They’ll discover insight and commentary from those viewed as thought leaders, those viewed as influential.

Unlike SEO which law firms and lawyers buy from third parties, you’ll not be able to buy influence and thought leadership status. Such status will be earned through real and authentic engagement via blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social networks.

This may feel like tough love to lawyers and law firms who have bought their presence online. But in the long run this is good for them and our profession as a whole. We can use all we can get of lawyers socializing online in a real and authentic way.

h/t Stephen Fairley