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Relationship building: What lawyers should be doing with social media

Relationship building: What lawyers should be doing with social media

Legal marketing has acquired a dubious reputation over the years as audiences have been exposed to a slew of cheesy billboards and under-produced late night TV spots. Certainly not all attorneys participate in these tactics, but the ones who do are very visible. And as marketing moves online, some of the same bad habits are coming with it.

Attorney ads and websites tend to be ego-driven and focused only on the lawyer, proclaiming years of experience and a tough (but perhaps compassionate) personality. Many ignore the client altogether. They do not seriously acknowledge the concerns facing potential clients or attempt to offer information potential clients will find valuable or helpful.

Take this attitude to social media, and your results will be nonexistent. Social media users do not have the patience for a lawyer billboard turned Facebook post. People, online and off, need to be heard. Here are some tips for using social networks in a more appropriate and productive manner.

Talk to people not at them
Think about some of the offline networking events you have attended. Over the years, you have likely encountered people whom you would rather not get to know better. Such participants will often just pop in to hand out cards and talk about themselves, never letting you get a word in edgewise and never asking an engaging question about any subject.

Colleagues at dinners and events whom you cringe at encountering are broadcasters. They do not care about you — their goal is to proclaim their own merits any chance they get. They are not good listeners and are not likely to find the common ground with others that is the foundation of a solid relationship.

The rules do not change when you move online. Your connections do not want you showing up every few days just to promote a free consultation or talk about your decades of experience any more than you want to sit next to the shameless self-promoter at lunch. Posting virtual spam is a sure-fire way to waste your time on social media. Yes, a sound social media strategy requires that you post on a regular basis. But you must speak to your audience. The links you share and topics you write about have to address their concerns. Rather than just broadcasting, listen. Comment on things you find interesting. Recognize others when they have shared something of value. Basically, be human. Building relationships requires work.

Prompt people to take a variety of actions
Of course, the ultimate goal of marketing is to motivate people to call and hire you. But clients rarely convert directly from social media. If your only goal is to get a phone call as a result of that last, magical Facebook post, you will be disappointed.

A more reasonable goal is keeping people's attention and staying top of mind. Increasing overall interaction with your firm and attorneys in turn increases the likelihood one of your connections will call or recommend you to a friend. Some additional actions you can encourage people to take include downloading a publication you have written, subscribing to your blog or news feed, commenting on or sharing your posts, and emailing your content to others.

All of these actions improve your visibility online and keep people in contact with your firm. More importantly, they build interest, engagement and trust — and show your followers you can relate to their concerns.

Be interesting
Social media was not built to be a marketing medium. One of the best things attorneys can do to be better at social media is to stop thinking of it as marketing and start thinking of it as what it is — socializing. Online it is even more difficult to capture and hold people's attention. They are not confined in a room with you as they may be at a conference or seminar. Leaving is just a click away.

If you want to grow relationships, do what you would do anywhere else: be interesting. Share candid (but appropriate) pictures and links to stories you like. Profile your staff and attorneys, talk about your hobbies and let your personality show. Share a quote and tell a joke every now and then. Support others. Be someone people want to know.

Move your focus away from your experience and your results, the marketing of things, and write about issues in which your followers have shown interest. Try, as much as is possible online, to connect personally. Of course, clients want results, but they also care about being understood. They hire people they feel good about hiring — people with whom they feel they can communicate.

Nurture relationships offline
Building connections offline can lead to high-quality online exposure. Journalists, for example, are more likely to contact you for a supporting quote if you have connected with them offline. When the story appears online, you have built authority and visibility with no online marketing effort of your own.

Colleagues are also more likely to link to your content if they know you personally. And clients are more likely to talk about you if you have done your job and provided excellent client service by listening to them, empathizing with them, answering questions and providing realistic goals. Not all offline activity will lead to online exposure, but some will. The rest is just good business.

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend holds two bachelors degrees from Indiana University and an associates degreee from the International Academy of Design. As Art Director for Custom Legal Marketing, her work has been awarded Webby Honorees, WebAwards, Davey Awards, Muse Awards, W3 Awards, and many others. She is also a contributor to Entrpreneur Magazine through the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.