I was meeting with the head of business development for a 300 person law firm within the last couple weeks. Rather than discussing the tactics of social media, we were focused on strategy.

When we got to discussing the target audience the firm wanted to reach through social media, he said there were three audiences and in this order. One, current clients. Two, mainsttream media and bloggers. And three, prospective clients.

This business development professional was much more concerned about retaining clients and expanding the legal work it was doing for these clients than gaining prospective clients.

The firm’s profitability had come from doing work across various practice areas for the same clients. They did it through nurturing relationships with these clients. Now turning to social media, the firm wanted to stay true to this strategy.

Wise move. A recent study from the Social Habit, a social media research company, finds that 53% of Americans who follow brands in social media are more loyal to those brands.

 Jay Baer (@jaybaer), a social media and content strategist, believes it’s mistake for businesses to soley look at social media as a means of acquiring new customers.

 [M]any marketers are under the impression that social media (Facebook, in particular) is a top of the funnel tactic. A survey of corporate marketers by Wildfire (now owned by Google) this year found that 44% of respondents viewed Facebook as a good place to acquire new customers.

I believe the opposite to be true, that social media (and Facebook, in particular) is mostly a retention and churn reduction tactic, the thing your company uses to keep customers coming back for more and telling their friends (not unlike email, incidentally).This new finding from The Social Habit ratifies the potential effectiveness of this “focus on your existing customers” approach and gives companies a path to understanding the actual financial impact of social.

The business development professional I was meeting with is not alone. A number of our client law firms have told me they need not get one new client for their blogging and other social media efforts to be a success.

Clients have told these law firms they want the firm’s lawyers to keep them up to speed with legal information and insight. Clients expected this because of the substantial fees they were paying. More than alerts and legal newsletters, the info clients are looking for is similar to that being quickly shared between the firm’s lawyers by email. Firms are now sharing such insight via blogs.

Law firms are finding that demonstrating that its lawyers are staying abreast of legal and industry developments in a real and transparent way is a real plus with existing clients.

Finally law firms are finding that if their lawyers are viewed as thought leaders and the ‘go to’ lawyer in their field, there is less pressure to reduce rates. Blogging and other social media allows lawyers to maintain or acquire such status.

Rather than looking at social media as a tool to acquire new clients, you may wish to look at social media as a powerful way to retain existing clients and grow the work you are doing for these clients.