Lawyers and Law Firms that Refuse to Recognize the Power of Social Media are Falling Behind

During my 16-plus years as an attorney and legal marketer, one thing has become clear to me: Most law firms like to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to marketing. Few firms like to be first. There’s trepidation about standing out. And so they wait.

The process typically plays out like this:

  • A new platform or marketing methodology develops in the marketplace
  • Tech and other early adapting industries jump on board
  • Law firms – still waiting
  • Platform/methodology gains hold more broadly
  • McKinsey, Accenture or some other consulting firm adopts
  • Law firms start debating whether it’s right for the legal industry

The reason I raise this is because, just this week, a law firm leader asked me whether his firm and its lawyers should “be on” social media. Keep in mind that this firm is no stranger to marketing. It spends real dollars on print ads, airport ads, event sponsorships, website banner ads and, of course, individual lawyer awards (“Super Lawyers” and the like). The tone he struck when asking whether they should “be on” social media suggested to me that he believes there is something distasteful about playing in this space.

And he’s not alone. It’s 2017 and, incredibly, we’re still debating whether law firms should have a meaningful presence on social media.

This debate ignores the reality of the market. The entire world is shifting its attention away from traditional media platforms – TV, print ads, even website banner ads – and directing it to their phones and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

We may not like it in the legal industry. It may feel icky and distasteful. But it is where firms, and lawyers, need to be spending their time and dollars if they want to build brands in this era. The whole point of building a brand is to gain mindshare. And the only way to gain mindshare is to understand and then deploy in the places where people are devoting their attention. A firm can spend all the time and money it wants trying to build its brand on airport kiosks and the back pages of The Wall Street Journal, but that’s not where the action is anymore.

Don’t believe me? Then you’re refusing to accept what you’re seeing with your own two eyes. In subways, in airports, in line, in elevators, in cabs, at ball games, during dinner, people are looking at their phones and consuming creative content on Facebook and Instagram.

If history repeats itself, then at some point in the next couple of years the big consulting firms will figure out a way to leverage Facebook and Instagram effectively and creatively in order to build their brands. At that point some law firms will jump on board. But it will be too late – either people’s attention will have started to shift elsewhere and/or ad rates will be so high (they’re still unbelievably cheap) that the ROI will be gone.

And so there’s an incredible opportunity – right now! – to jump in with both feet. The opportunity is there for the taking, and (while it’s not necessarily easy) it is relatively straightforward: Make and share awesome creative by leveraging the Facebook algorithm to target audiences, and actually make an impact and gain real mindshare with your marketing dollars.

The objection I hear most often is that platforms like Facebook and Instagram “aren’t serious;” that “they’re not for work;” that telling stories and sharing content on these platforms is actually going to devalue a firm’s brand. This kind of thinking reminds me of early objections many in the legal industry made about email marketing and the Internet itself. Law firms should be platform agnostic. All that should matter is: Where are people spending their time and attention?

Our phones have become extensions of our bodies. And most of the time spent on our phones is on social networking sites. If law firms want to participate in the mobile marketing revolution, then it’s time to start getting over preconceived notions about what is, and isn’t, an appropriate place to build a brand.

The other most common objection is that, because social networking technology changes so rapidly, that it’s impossible to keep up; that it’s a young person’s game. This discussion has been taking place in the legal industry for over a decade, ever since Facebook hit the mainstream of our collective consciousness. Meanwhile, Facebook has grown into the most affordable, most effective, easiest to use, most targeted, and broadest reach advertising platform the world has ever seen. It takes about an hour spent on Google to become functionally competent and versed in Facebook advertising.

Skeptical about my view that the legal industry is collectively missing the boat? Then I urge you to spend some time with Gary Vaynerchuk, thought leader and founder of one of the world’s largest social media marketing agencies, who has been pounding this message for the last decade to the broader economy. Only recently have the largest B2C and B2B started listening. Will law firms heed Gary V’s call? Will they deploy a few of the thousands – often tens of thousands – of dollars they are spending on meaningless attorney vanity awards (because everyone else is doing it) to experiment with social media in a meaningful, strategic way?

So, yes, lawyers and law firms should “be on” social media. And some are spending time and dollars on LinkedIn and Twitter. My hope is that we won’t have to wait 2-3 years for them to figure out they should be on Facebook and Instagram – where most of people’s attention is being spent – as well.

What’s the ROI on those lawyer vanity awards? Isn’t trying to engage with people where they actually spend time and attention at least worth a try?

One final note: A few days ago, Kevin O’Keefe (a thought leader in this space that I respect greatly) wrote a piece on his excellent blog about the fact that, while social media is an important tool for sharing content, its most important function is as a tool to establish relationships with others online. He rightly reminds us of the meaning of the word “social” – which is “getting to know and enjoying other people.” I couldn’t agree with Kevin more – despite having just ranted about the primacy of these platforms as content sharing tools. I don’t think our views are contradictory. Sharing great content on platforms where people spend their time and attention is a gateway to what Kevin writes about – building powerful, beneficial relationship online. It’s possible to do one without the other. But more often than not they go hand in hand.

In a future post I’ll address how law firms can effectively create content that stands out on social networks.