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You can't afford not to use the power of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to market your practice and connect with other lawyers.
Anybody familiar with the Rolling Stones knows that their greatest album is Exile on Main Street. It didn't start out so great - the critics initially panned it. Yet today it is considered perhaps the greatest rock and roll album of all time.
Most lawyers, including me, are just beginning to get their arms around this whole social media thing. Like the critics who rejected the Stone's Exile, many lawyers of a certain age dismiss social media. We view it as some crazy new way kids communicate with each other.
Well, social media has grown bigger than any of us anticipated. If Facebook were a nation, it would be the third largest in the world. Do I have your attention yet? What started as a fun way to communicate and socialize has evolved into hundreds of millions of worldwide users networking and marketing.
There are many avenues of social media, but at the moment, the most popular are Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Although direct advertising on social media platforms is one way you can market, it still costs money.
But you can network without advertising. Although the task may seem daunting, the first step is to create your social media site.
What is social media? It's the content created by people using tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, etc. Today, people no longer randomly search for websites when they want to buy products. Just like the days before computers, people take recommendations from others they know and respect. These are social influencers, the everyday people who comment on social media and, in doing so, influence the purchasing decisions of the public.
To network through social media, you have to become a social influencer and win the trust of other social influencers.
Friendly Facebook. I consider Facebook to be the most "social" of these three social media platforms. People love to see what their peers are doing and to look at photographs.
While not directly related to business marketing, Facebook can be a way of bringing people to your law firm website. Photographs of your law firm events and achievements would be one way of accomplishing this.
Also, you need to invite your Facebook friends to be "fans" of your Facebook page. Start out with friends and family and expand from there. These social influencers will give people a comfort level with your law firm.
Personally, I have my own Facebook page that I keep for my friends. Although I post photos of ISBA activities, I believe that I am blurring their impact by posting them alongside my cousin's backyard barbecues. As a result, I created an ISBA President's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ISBApresident.
Down-to-business LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a good way to network for business. You can send invites to people in your own personal network and can accept the same. Think of it as an online site that allows you to pass out your business cards. Just as in real life, you have total control over the giving and receiving of business cards.
The site also allows you to list your credentials and give "update announcements" to those in your network. You can also "recommend" other people, and they can "recommend" you. The beauty of this site is that it intuitively finds people with whom you may want to network. I recently started my LinkedIn site and with very little effort have 350 followers.
Tweeting your message. Twitter, I believe, is the best way for your law firm to spread its message via short phrases, dubbed "tweets." You are limited to 140 characters or less in each of your tweets, but it's a very easy and cost-effective way to communicate your expertise.
Through regular tweets, you can provide your followers ("tweeple") with specific legal information or general news in your practice area. It will take time to accumulate followers, but my advice is to find other people to follow, and hopefully they will start following you. To give you an idea of the power of Twitter, I recently sent out a tweet that was retweeted to 700 people.
My Twitter handle is @JGLCHI, but I do recommend keeping your Twitter handle in small case. It's easier on smart phone users. I'm using it to present legal issues and give bar association updates. One more word of advice - I would put a disclaimer on your Twitter page that the words on your site are not legal advice. For more on Twitter for lawyers, see last month's IBJ cover story.
Big audience, low cost
Once you get all three platforms up and running, you might find it cumbersome to constantly log onto each site. Not to worry - you can manage your social media from one location. While TweetDeck is a popular social media management tool, I prefer HootSuite. Either way, you can monitor and send out messages to some or all of your social media platforms in one easy step.
You should definitely consider social media for marketing purposes. You will be able to reach a wide audience with minimum cost.
Keep in mind that you are taking on an obligation by using social media. You will have to constantly communicate with your audience. But with a little bit of effort, you will be able to improve your branding, build relationships, and increase your search engine rankings.
Once you get started in social media, be sure to connect with the ISBA. Links to its social media sites are on the ISBA homepage at www.isba.org. Also, great social media programming is scheduled for the ISBA Solo and Small Firm Conference coming up in October. Find out more at www.isba.org/soloconference.