20130216-160007.jpg Perhaps not the exact sweet spot for law firms, but 77% of those using the Internet in the age 30 to 49 use social networking sites. This per a report entitled “The Demographics of Social Media Users—2012” by the Pew Research Center.

67% of all Internet users use social networking. Here’s the breakdown for other age groups.

  • 18 to 29 – 83%
  • 50 to 64 – 52%
  • 65 and over – 32%

Virtually all of a law firm’s clientele use the Internet, so a lawyer is looking at anywhere from 32% to 83% of their clients, potential clients, business associates, referral sources, and the influencers of these four groups using social networking.

If you’re a lawyer, do you understand how to network via social networking sites? Are you networking via social networking sites?

If not, you’re arguably becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the majority of people who are nurturing and building relationships via social networking.

Older adults onlineSamantha Murphy (@MurphySamanthaJ), a Tech Reporter at Mashable, reported this morning that American seniors are becoming more tech savvy. For the first time ever, more than half of U.S. adults over the age of 65 are online, from surfing the web to checking email.

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 53% of seniors use the Internet. Although this demographic is still less likely to go online than younger age groups, it shows that this segment of the population is flocking to the web more than ever before.

In total, about 82% of all online Americans over age 18 access the Internet each day, while some 70% of seniors say they go online every day, as well.

Additional findings from the Pew Report on older adults and internet use include:

  • One third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day.
  • Email use continues to be the bedrock of online communications for seniors. 86% of internet users age 65 and older use email, with 48% doing so on a typical day.
  • On gadget ownership, 69% of adults ages 65 and older report that they have a mobile phone, up from 57% in May 2010. Even among those currently age 76 and older, 56% report owning a cell phone of some kind, up from 47% of this generation in 2010.

A Pew Research Surveyfrom just last year found retirees age 65 and older are the fastest-growing group using social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Think of the legal needs of the people in this age group.

  • Many successful business people are in this demographic. I am not far from that age 56. Businesses have legal needs of all kinds.
  • Estate planning, whether income was earned as an employee or as a business owner.
  • Sale of a business or transfer of a business to the next generation.
  • Sale of a home, the acquisition of a condo or a home in a planned community or the purchase of a second home in a warmer climate.
  • Advise on investments and the structuring of partnerships/entities relating to those investments.
  • Counsel on elder care issues ranging from early divestiture of assets to qualify for government benefits to the selection of care facilities.

The list goes on and on.

If you are a lawyer sharing content of value and/or nurturing relationships with friends, relatives, and business associates via social networks, you have a competitive edge over other  lawyers not doing so.

Note too that your audience goes beyond people in this age group. Your online audience includes reporters, bloggers, and average folks who are sharing information online with people who trust them.

By establishing relationships and building a strong word of mouth reputation with those influencers through your online activity, you are reaching clients and prospective clients who are connecting online with these influencers.

Stowe Boyd, a recognized authority on social tools and their impact on media, business, and society, penned an interesting piece Sunday entitled Trust is Trust, Online and Off.

Boyd cited a recent Pew Foundation study which found those who use the web more trust people more.

The typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted, with regular Facebook users the most trusting of all. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.

A Fast Company story by Adam Pennenberg on How Trust Keeps Facebook, Twitter Humming, cited by Boyd, digs deeper into the concept trust being established online. You can read the neuroscience references on your own, but make note of why we value trust and how trust is the key to business.

Pennenberg citing Neuroeconomist and author, Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont College, says “…[T]rust goes to the heart of our economic and social systems.” Similarly, Zak says that “Trust is the lubricant that makes economic transactions possible.”

Further from Penneberg’s article:

In his own research, Zak and a co-researcher found that nations with higher levels of trust (Sweden, Germany, the U.S.) have stronger economies than those on the other end of the spectrum (the Congo, Sudan, Colombia). “Where there is more trustworthiness, there is more prosperity,” Zak says. This trust also influences what we buy. A 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey study found that shoppers value the opinions of people they know the most, followed by online reviews written by strangers or in online communities.

There’s a good reason for this. We humans are hard-wired to commingle with one another offline and on- and the web and its platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it more efficient than ever. That’s because virtual relationships can be as real as actual relationships. The truth is we’re all one step removed from reality, living life through the prism of our own minds.

Following me, you know I am all about lawyers establishing trust with people as the basis of business development. It’s all about trust.

People like you and trust you as a person, and as a lawyer, and you’ll have more work than you can shake a stick at. So long as you get out and network with the right target audience to establish this trust.

The Internet provides lawyers the opportunity to establish an intimate relationship of trust in an accelerated fashion.

Online relationships are not a replacement for real world, face to face, relationships for you as a lawyer. But establishing relationships online does establish trust with your target audience.

The key for you as a lawyer is to use the net, via blogging and other forms of social media, strategically and in a fashion that does not betray people’s trust. That’s an acquired art you may need some help with.

But no question trust can be established online.

According to the latest Pew Survey, there is little question that the target audience lawyers and lawyers are trying to reach are reading blogs and using social networking sites.

  • About 35% of Generation X (age 34 to 45) read blogs
  • About 28% of Younger Boomers (age 46 to 55) read blogs
  • About 25% of Older Boomers (age 56 to 64) read blogs
  • About 75% of Generation X (age 35 to 45) use social network sites
  • About 65% of Younger Boomers(age 34 to 45) use social network sites
  • About 48% of Older Boomers (age 35 to 45) use social network sites

Here’s the chart from the Pew Internet & American Life Project from which I pulled the above figures.

Target audience for lawyers using Internet Lawyers target audience use Internet

Better yet for lawyers and law firms is that the influencers and amplifiers you are trying to build relationships with are reading blogs and using social network sites at a much higher rate.

Hat tip to Kansas City Ad Agency CEO, Shelly Kramer, who blogged yesterday about the survey.

As reported by the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, a new study released by the Pew Research Center found that 8 percent of Americans who are active on the Internet are enthusiastic users of the social networking service Twitter.

Unfortunately, the offshoot of that study has been bloggers telling us that Twitter may not be as relevant as thought. Only 8% of Americans are using it.

As a lawyer or law firm you may be apt to dismiss Twitter now. “There’s only 8% of people using it. We don’t see many of our clients using Twitter.” That would be a mistake.

Twitter has become an information network for the influencers of your clients and prospective clients. Bloggers, reporters, publishers, and association leaders use Twitter heavily, not only to receive information, but to share it.

Though I don’t see Twitter as a PR tool, imagine a press release is a good analogy when thinking of Twitter. How many people receive press releases? It’s far less than 1% of the population.

But would you dismiss press releases to reporters as inconsequential because they represent only a small slice if America? And because none of your clients and prospective clients receive press releases?

Twitter is viral. When you share on Twitter the relevant news and information you’re reading others with similar interests will begin to follow you. They’ll share it with their followers on Twitter, many of whom will also have similar interests.

As a result both the people following you and those following them see you as someone who has a keen interest in a particular area of the law or business. They also see you as someone who stays up to speed for business purposes.

This is exactly how you, as a lawyer, want to be seen. This is how you develop a word of mouth reputation as a trusted a and reliable authority.

Rather than viewing Twitter as limited, look at study’s findings which demonstrate Twitter’s pervasive use.

  • 8% of the American adults who use the internet are Twitter users. With 74% of American adults as internet users, Twitter users amount to 6% of the entire adult population.
  • Twitter is one of the most popular online activities among tech enthusiasts and has become a widely used tool among analysts to study the conversations and interests of users, buzz about news, products or services, and announcements by commercial, non-profit, and government organizations.
  • College-educated are slightly more likely than average to use Twitter.
  • 36% check for material posted by others on a daily basis or multiple times per day.

And look at how Twitter is used. Opportunities abound for you as a lawyer.

  • 62% post updates related to their work life, activities or interests, with 12% doing so on a daily basis.
  • 55% of these Twitter users share links to news stories. One in ten (12%) do this at least once a day.
  • 53% of these Twitter users use Twitter to retweet material posted by others, with 18% doing so on a daily basis.

Rather than look at the glass as half empty on Twitter, look at the glass as half full. You’ll be way ahead of your competition.

Though email remains the most popular Internet activity for older adults, for younger online adults social networking sites are just as much a part of their daily routine as email.

For adults age 18-29, 60% visit a social networking site daily, and relatively the same number (62%) send and receive email daily. In addition, already 39% of the 30 to 49 age group visit a social networking site daily. These are findings of the Pew Internet and American Life Project report on email vs. social networks.

Social network use by adults

What’s the significance of these findings for your law firm?

  • All of your new hires are as apt to use a social network as email on any given day.
  • Nearly 40% of your lawyers in the 30 to 49 age group visit a social network daily.
  • With the use of mobile devices, both in and outside the office, there is no way you are going to curtail your employees daily use of social networks.
  • An increasing segment of your cliental are using social networks daily.

I hear every day from lawyers and law firms like yours that our clients don’t use social networks, that we’re just studying the use of social networking as a means of client and professional development, and that are lawyers are too busy to use social networks. You need to face reality. You need to move beyond your committee for really slow action.

Social networks are becoming a way of life for an increasing segment of our adult population. And that’s good for your law firm. After all, networking, word of mouth, and relationships are the cornerstones of client development for the best lawyers.

Law firms dismissing social networking as an effective means of enhancing relationships with their clients, prospective clients, and referral sources because they don’t these folks use online social networks ought to think again.

Social networking use (LinkedIn and Facebook) among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010 pursuant to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report explained “Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users.”

I’m routinely asked to meet with law firms to discuss the principles of social networking and social media and how they may be applied to business development. Lawyers and legal marketing professionals find what I offer enlightening and intriguing. But nine times out of ten they’ll nod in agreement when someone in the firm assuredly says our target audience doesn’t use social networking – our audience is older.

The assumption that your clients, prospective clients, and referral sources don’t use social networking because they’re too old has no basis in fact. Look at the stats from the Pew survey.

  • Social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88%–from 25% to 47%–in the last year.
  • Use among those ages 65 and older grew 100%–from 13% to 26%.
  • 61% of internet users ages 30-49 use social networking, up from 25% two years ago.

The below graph further highlights the rate of growth in the use of social media by those in the age group likely to be leading American businesses and accumulating wealth.

Look also where your target demographic age group is spending their time on line each day.

  • 39% of internet users ages 30 to 49 are using social networking sites (Facebook and LinkedIn) daily.
  • 10% of this same age group are using Twitter daily.

And don’t be so quick to dismiss these figures on the belief that your clients and prospective clients fall in the majority who don’t use social networking and social media on a daily basis. As I’ve blogged before, it doesn’t matter if your clients/prospective clients use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or blogs. Their influencers (bloggers, reporters, association leaders, conference coordinators, and publishers) do.

It’s a new day folks. Don’t be insular by limiting your discussion on social networking and social media to those in your law firm. Law firms are notorious for talking down the innovative. Lawyers tend to be experts on everything. Look around you at what leading businesses are doing. Read the studies. Read the business articles.

Social networking and social media is not only here to stay, it’s use among your target audience is exploding.

Tell a law firm leader that few, if any, of their recent associate hires subscribe to their major local newspaper or the Wall Street Journal. The leader would want to know who hired the dim wits who were going uninformed.

Tell a law firm communications director that they would be better served to have one of their lawyer’s blog posts shared on Twitter than to have the lawyer quoted in the New York Times. No way they’d buy it.

But law firms are going to come to understand that newspapers and other traditional main stream media are not the primary way many people receive their news today. News today is a shared experienced.

Based on their study this spring, the Pew Foundation Internet & American Life Project describes the manner in which Americans get their news and information as foraging and opportunism.

To a great extent, people’s experience of news, especially on the internet, is becoming a shared social experience as people swap links in emails, post news stories on their social networking site feeds, highlight news stories in their Tweets and haggle over the meaning of events in discussion threads. For instance, more than 8 in 10 online news consumers get or share links in emails.

Specific findings of the Pew study include:

  • 50% of American news consumers say they rely to some degree on people around them to tell them the news they need to know.
  • 75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites.
  • 52% say they share links to news with others via those means.
  • 51% of social networking site (e.g. Facebook) users who are also online news consumers say that on a typical day they get news items from people they follow.
  • 23% of this cohort follow news organizations or individual journalists on social networking sites.

Rather than be scared by the perils of social media and shortsightedly limit access to social media in the workplace, you as law firm leaders ought to embrace this sharing of news and information. It’s to your firm’s benefit – and frankly, you have no other choice. The world is changing and we’re not headed back.

The public’s growing use of Twitter or other services to share updates provides fertile ground for lawyers to network and engage their target audience.

Per a just released survey on Twitter and Status Updating from the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

Some 19% of internet users now say they use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves, or to see updates about others. This represents a significant increase over previous surveys in December 2008 and April 2009, when 11% of internet users said they use a status-update service.

Of particular note for lawyers is that median age of those using Twitter and social networking sites.

  • Median age of a Twitter user is 31, which has remained stable over the past year.
  • Median age for MySpace is now 26, down from 27 in May 2008.
  • Median age for LinkedIn is now 39, down from 40.
  • Median age for Facebook is now 33, up from 26 in May 2008.

No question, per the Pew Foundation, that we’re going to see nothing but growth in the public’s use of Twitter and social networking sites.

[I]t is clear that a ‘social segment’ of internet users is flocking to both social network sites and status update services. This segment is likely to grow as ever more internet users adopt mobile devices as a primary means of going online.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. Their Internet & American Life Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.

Related Posts

Per survey results released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project earlier this month, American’s use of search engines continues to increase.

The percentage of internet users who use search engines on a typical day has been steadily rising from about one-third of all users in 2002, to a new high of just under one-half (49%). With this increase, the number of those using a search engine on a typical day is pulling ever closer to the 60% of internet users who use email, arguably the internet’s all-time killer app, on a typical day.

One reason for the increase in search use is the quality of information available on topic specific sites. People can find a site-specific search engine on “just about every content-rich website that is worth its salt.”

With a growing mass of web content from blogs, news sites, image and video archives, personal websites, and more, internet users have an option to turn not only to the major search engines, but also to search engines on individual sites, as vehicles to reach the information they are looking for.

Can you say niche law blog with a clearly displayed search feature retrieving highly relevant searches in a hundredth of a second?

Perhaps of interest to law firms is the demographic makeup of those using Internet search.

  • More likely to be socially upscale
  • At least some college education
  • Incomes over $50,000 per year
  • More likely to be internet users with at least six years of online experience
  • Younger internet users are more likely than older users to search

Also of interest is how search use compares to other Internet daily activities.

pew study internet use

Note the increasing use of the net for news (39%) and social networking (13%). Both represent opportunities for savvy lawyer PR/marketing and networking through news syndication (blogs, Twitter) and social networking (LinkedIn, Martindale’s Legal Connection, Legal OnRamp etc).

Click here for a copy of the study. (pdf)