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By Kevin Wheeler
Two recent surveys have shed some light on what is required to use social media as a successful business development (BD) tool in the legal sector.
The first survey, 2013 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement, by Greentarget in the US looked at the use of social media by in-house counsel. This found an increasing use of social media by in-house counsel, particularly LinkedIn, blogs and Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, this usage is greatest amongst those aged under 40. An interesting finding is that the majority of in-house counsel are “invisible users”, in other words, they prefer to listen rather than contribute to online discussions. They use LinkedIn to stay connected to their peers in the lawyer community and to check the CVs of private practice lawyers that they may hire. Wikipedia is used as a research tool and blogs serve as a useful information source which, when executed well, can have an influence on hiring decisions.
It is clear to me that the minority of law firms and lawyers that are getting it right are using blogs as part of their “thought leadership” offering; that is, identifying a business issue that is of relevance to their target audience, providing insight into the impact of this issue on the client’s business (and this may involve commissioning research into the issue), and suggesting solutions for dealing with this issue through their blog postings. Social media technologies are in effect being used to disseminate thought leadership content – when in the past a paper report was printed and mailed – although using these platforms to engage in subsequent online debate and discussion around the chosen issue is achieving much less traction among clients. And this is the danger with social media: there is no substitute for getting out into the market and engaging directly with buyers of legal services to convince them that you/your firm’s legal and business insights will add more value to their business; you will not achieve this sat at your PC!
The second survey reinforces my view that lawyers are not producing enough high-quality, relevant thought leadership content to support their social media activities. A report produced by Living Ratings, Social Media and Brand Content in Professional Services shows that the major accountancy firms are making better use of social media than their larger law firm counterparts.
Firms were rated on a number of factors including influence, outreach, brand presence and content, Twitter frequency and Twitter response time, and only Eversheds was able to match the Big 4 accountants who came at the top of the survey. The large accountants’ strong showing is because of their commitment and investment in thought leadership with, in my opinion, the PwC Annual CEO Survey representing the “gold standard” in the PSF sector. This website content is then used to drive social media activity and engagement.
Eversheds does well because it is one of the few law firms that focus on thought leadership, although on a much smaller scale than the accountants. In the Living Ratings survey, the firm was praised for its Twitter feed which is regularly updated throughout the working day and typically guides users to Eversheds’ work, showcasing deals and expertise.
The teams operating the accounts of other law firms mainly rely on re-tweets and linked content generated by other parties, with a lack of original content or links to unique insight hosted on the firms’ websites. The magic circle firms did particularly badly in the survey and given that they are the natural global equivalents of the Big 4 accountants, more thought leadership-driven social media activity would be expected from them.
The message for law firms is clear: if you want to use social media successfully as part of your BD effort, generate more high-quality, relevant thought leadership content to provide insights with which to drive client and market engagement leading to new business.
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