Almost 30% of senior management in American companies champion the use of social media. That per a report from SmartBrief Inc. and Summus Limited. (PDF Summary)

Does the senior management in your law firm champion the use of social media? From what I am seeing and hearing, probably not.

Social media as a client development tool ought to come naturally to senior management in law firms. Relationships and word of mouth reputations are at the heart of successful client development in law firms. Relationships begun and nurtured with networking with a targeted group of clients, prospective clients, referral sources, and their influencers.

The Internet has not changed this. The Internet, and the concept of social media it brought with it, is just another way to build and nurture relationships. Another way to conduct effective client development for law firms.

But why the disconnect? Why isn’t law firm management in looking for cost effective client development strategies championing the use of social media?

Because they don’t understand social media. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t point the finger solely at law firm management. The reason law firms leaders don’t understand social media is many faceted.

  • Law firm management itself. With discussion of social media all around them, few law firm leaders take it upon themselves to find out what social media is really all about. Though managing partners and executive committee members have sat in on meetings I have instigated and responded to my emails, I have yet to receive a personal email or phone call from a managing partner or executive committee member saying they would like to talk.
  • Law firm marketing departments. Rarely does a legal marketing professional demand that law firm senior leadership learn what social media is and how social media may be harnessed by the firm. In that social media is more about networking and nurturing relationships (the stuff management understands) than marketing, as most firms see marketing, failing to demand senior management’s leadership here is a big mistake.
  • Social media pundits. The noise created by so called social media experts with suspect credentials drowns out the message of what social media is all about. Rather than good information and good conferences, social media is over-hyped and the information provided is much more granular than that needed or desired by senior management.
  • Industry leadership. Whether bar associations, legal publishers, legal vendors selling Internet marketing solutions, or legal conference coordinators, the knowledge on social media for client development is sorely lacking. Look no further than the American Bar Association, state bar associations, Thomson-Reuters, and LexisNexis. Whether it be conflicting interests, lack of leadership, or ineptitude, this group’s knowledge on social media is limited and they have largely chosen not to participate in social media in a meaningful way. Thus the information on social media shared by these groups is limited and often misguided.

What’s the answer? Education.

I enjoy sitting down to discuss blogging and other social media strategy with chief marketing officers, managing partners, and executive committee members. In less than a half hour, they have a paradigm shift.

“No one told us that’s what social media is all about. We thought it was about Internet marketing and garnering website traffic. We didn’t understand that social media was about nurturing relationships and building new ones through strategic networking. Establishing a word of mouth reputation as a trusted advisor in that fashion makes a lot of sense.”

Rather than acting as an impediment to social media at the law firm, real or perceived, senior management then encourages the use of social media for client development. Rather than incorrectly measuring the ROI of social media in web stats, senior management will be looking at the relationships enhanced and the word of mouth reputations being grown.

Are you in law firm senior management? Take the time to learn what social media is all about. Are you a legal marketing professional charged with social media at your law firm? Tactfully demand senior management’s meaningful participation – smart senior management wants strong leadership from within.

Much to be gained here. It begins with education.