People want to measure everything, especially those things that they don’t understand. The use of social media by lawyers and law firms is no exception.

More and more I hear of law firm initiatives to measure the impact of their social media initiatives. I fear one of the reasons is to prove to unknowing firm management that social media works, no matter how it is proven. I also fear that companies will sell anything to law firms — and some times law firms buy anything. Perhaps in this case tools measuring the wrong thing.

At a conference last year, Dan Goldman (@danielg280), chair of Mayo Clinic’s business law practice group, chuckled a bit at a group of legal marketing and business development professionals, who were discussing the need to measure the return on investment on their social media efforts.

Goldman explained that Mayo’s 43 in-house lawyers have great autonomy in who they hire as legal counsel. He said, to no ones surprise, they tend to hire the lawyers they know, like and trust.

The lawyers hired, Goldman explained, increasingly are the lawyers that use social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, blogging, or LinkedIn. Mayo’s in-house lawyers get to know and trust those lawyers through their mutual media efforts.

If lawyers don’t use social media they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the people who’d hire them. They’re just not connected, explained Goldman.

Asking to measure the ROI of social in numbers is like asking to measure the ROI on telephones and cell phones. Goldman asked if a law firm would ask for the case to be proven as to the value of phones for lawyers before it renews phone and cell service for the new year?

Of course not, it’s obvious, per Goldman. Social media ought to be the same.

Goldman sees the problem of proving ROI solving itself as law firms begin to understand that a lawyer not using social media makes the lawyer increasingly irrelevant, they are just not connected.

Not enough? Howard University marketing professor Angela Hausman (@marketingletter) shared this morning seven reasons why social media analytics suck altogether.

Too much emphasis on vanity metrics. Firms rely on likes, followers, friends, retweets, etc. Though these metrics have slight bearing on your ROI, they’re not the most important metrics. They’re just easy to measure.

Data is all over the place. Data comes from different social media platforms — blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Analytics, and even internal records. Though there’s the desire to measure social, there is no one tool that generates aggregated numbers across platforms.

Inaccurate data. Newscred patched together seven social media analytics platforms to pull together the metrics they truly cared about. Not a single number, from engaged users to reach, matched up.

Measuring the wrong thing. Social media analytics don’t help if you’re measuring the wrong thing. The first step in creating an effective social media analytics program is figuring out what your KPI (key performance indicators) are.

Law firm social media KPI’s ought to include a growing network of relationships, recognition as a “go to” lawyer or group in a niche, and high quality clients as a result of relationships built online. Though the same business development KPI’s as with offline business development, law firms tend to want more — even if not the right stuff — when it comes to social media.

Using one size fits all reporting. Different social media users within your law firm will require different things. Some may be looking at click throughs, post titles, time of day to post and tracking, while others need to be looking at social media efforts strategically, even as to a particular client, referral source, or strategic partner.

Analysis is part art and part science. Over-reliance on either separately doesn’t perform as well as both together. The person measuring return needs to have skills going beyond data. They need to be able to separate the good data from the bad based on their personal use of social media for business development.

Ignoring text analytics. Text, whether traditional or as part of social networking services, is up to 80% of all digital data. But text can be hard to track and without context it means little.

At least for the short term law firms may be better served by measuring the ROI on social media the old fashioned way. Who brought in the client? Who originated the work? What was the value of the work?

Lawyers on the LexBlog Network are measuring their increased work in the millions of dollars a year from relationships they built online and the word of mouth reputation they have built online.

I’d measure it that way too — based on the bottom line, the old fashioned way. A bottom line too that may not be realized for a couple years.

Image courtesy of Flickr by arunabhdasprojects