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The next wave of a social law firm : Will you be left behind?

20140110-180644.jpg When Clara Shih (@clarashih) and her co-founder pitched the idea of Hearsay Social, a SaaS social media marketing platform, to Silicon Valley venture capital firms in 2009 many passed. They believed the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were nothing more than passing fads ala MySpace and Friendster.

Today, Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social and Board Member at Starbucks, writes in the Harvard Business Review that 77% of Fortune 500 organizations now have an official social team and presence, per a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study.

But rather than social being used at a corporate level, everyone across the organization will need to participate in the next wave of business social beginning in 2014.

While corporate marketing teams continue to use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for brand awareness, sales teams and other customer-facing roles will increasingly tap into social networks for ways to authentically reach and engage their customers and prospects, build their credibility as a trusted advisor through value-added content, and provide higher levels of service – all to ultimately increase business and deepen relationships. Even for employees in non-customer facing roles, the expectation will be that they represent the company whenever online to amplify and reinforce the corporate brand and its value to customers. …… [We'll] move from enabling the few (i.e., the few marketers who manage corporate social media accounts) to mobilizing the many (i.e., the entire workforce and the “feet on the street”) to authentically engage at a personal and local level. After all, people buy from people, not companies. People trust individuals, not corporations. It’s the way business has always been done, but now social business complements traditional methods and allows for companies and their employees to manage and measure this engagement at scale.

Exactly, it’s the way law firm business has always been. Engage, person to person, to build relationships, to build trust, and to build one’s reputation. It’s how good lawyers have gotten their work for 200 years.

Social is nothing new, what’s new is how social will be used by law firms. Lawyers will need to be authentically engaging others at a personal level. People hire lawyers, not law firms. People like lawyers as people. It’s hard for people to love law firms.

Marketing’s management of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for lawyers will not work. Lawyers need to connect with people, whether consumers, small business people, in-house counsel, or executives in a meaningful way.

Marketing’s repurposing articles, newsletters, or alerts as blog posts and lawyers writing blogs that do not engage other thought leaders as if in a conversation will not work. Lawyers need to follow bloggers, trade media, and the mainstream media and engage them in their blogging so as to build trust, authority, and relationships.

Shih doesn’t see corporate or law firm leaders snapping their fingers to implement social.

To make it all work, we will also see companies operationalizing social business by (1) enabling and training employees to effectively use social media for business, (2) creating social business programs and guidelines, and (3) applying key business metrics to turn grand visions of social media into real business process and ROI.

As I read Shih’s piece I couldn’t help but think of the struggles of many law firms today. Faced with corporations taking work in-house, downward pressure on fees, a downturn in the economy, and alternative providers, many law firms are reducing staffs and experiencing declining profits.

At the same, no firm that I know of has moved social to the person to person level. Sure there are lawyers here and there using social, but they are the exception.

Why aren’t lawyers using social in a person to person fashion? Using social to engage in a real and authentic way? By doing so they stand to connect with clients and build relationships and a reputation with new clients.

Clients and prospective clients will no doubt be going to this new level of social. How can your firm maintain relationships and connections with them if you’re not using social, person to person?

Law firms who don’t get started now on this new wave of social will be left behind other firms — or worse yet, could find themselves struggling to remain in business.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Rex Roof.