By Michael Kemp
Dolan Media Newswires
How did people find a lawyer before Al Gore “invented” the Internet? They asked a friend, saw an ad on TV, or looked one up in the phone book.
Now, just 15 years after Google was formed, it has become the world’s phone book. Instead of flipping to the L’s in the Yellow Pages and hoping, now clients can search for how many Hmong-speaking transactional attorneys with a specialty in closely held corporations work in St. Paul, Minn., and, like the computer in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Google will spit out 42 firms’ websites for clients to peruse.
Which 42? The 42 ranked most highly by Google’s algorithms. The rising price of search engine optimization is creating problems for small law firms trying to build a strong online presence. Good online marketing is traditionally seen as dependent on good SEO.
SEO raises the visibility of your website on search engines, leading to “organic” search results — those clients who come to your website not as the result of paid ads, but because search engines tell them you are one of the 42 firms they’re looking for. Preferably, the one at the top.
That’s great if you have $20,000 to spend on your online presence. But what if you don’t? How can you maximize your small firm’s visibility without paying big firm prices?
The answer lies in the first way people used to find lawyers: they asked a friend. People still do that, and a good reputation is built around positive word-of-mouth.
But this goes beyond that. Social media, properly used, is a way to get people to recommend you to their friends before their friends even ask. A proper social media strategy will promote the sort of engagement that has similar results to SEO — that people will call you — but has its roots somewhere else.
Not being a marketing expert myself, I turned to two people who are able to explain how to implement a good social media plan, and how it affects the way small firms should look at SEO. Frances Reimers is a nationally known marketing executive with the Washington, D.C., firm PCI, which represents clients in fields from energy to government to, yes, lawyers. In Minnesota, Bridget Cronin is a media executive with marketing experience ranging from political campaigns to independent films to guerilla marketing for small businesses.
“Should you have a social media presence? Absolutely,” Reimers says. “But unless you have a reason to be on a particular social media platform, don’t be there. A law firm does not necessarily need to be on Pinterest.”
Companies without a coherent social media strategy try to occupy every media space because they are under the misconception that social media drives revenue the way more traditional advertising does.
With social media, Cronin advises, the key is a plan that emphasizes engagement over volume. A company like Target may use social media to advertise its products; a team like the Minnesota Wild may use social media to build goodwill by thanking their fans when their hunt for the Stanley Cup was tragically cut short by the Blackhawks. For law firms, however, you’re not going to advertise your President’s Day 20 Percent Off Your Divorce sale, and you’re not going to get people hyped over your corporate transactions “team.”
Firms that try to copy that model will fail. Instead, use your social media to demonstrate your experience in your practice area. Reimers recommends the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your social media posts should be educational content (user-created or shared) such as white papers or fact sheets. Twenty percent can be more traditionally social media posts: news, or images.
Salena Koster is a law school graduate with experience as an outside social media manager, and after she graduated, saw a void in social media management for lawyers. So she started her own attorney-centric social media management company. From an engagement perspective, Koster points out, in the legal field people are more likely to “like” your branded Facebook page than write a review. People are certainly willing to write a review of the steak they had at Mancini’s. They are less likely to write a review about how your firm handled their third-degree assault charge.
Marketing tools which are appropriate for some companies just don’t often apply to law firms — you’re not directly marketing yourself to potential clients by blogging about the latest family law decision from the Court of Appeals.
Reimers agreed. “People are rarely going to look at a blog posting by an attorney and say ‘I need that guy to represent me,’” she said. The 80/20 rule, then, is not about marketing to clients, but engaging with them in your practice area.
How does that affect the SEO of your website? Cronin points out that by including keywords from your practice area into your social interactions, search engines are more likely to pick them up. You can embed a link to your website in every interaction, and make sure your website is linked to all your social media pages. Then, on the website side, include sharing buttons to all the relevant social media outlets you want. Put content on your website’s landing page, which should be automatically linked to your social media pages, that people will be highly motivated to share and “like.”
This isn’t social media as advertising, with sponsored tweets encouraging you to apply for a credit card. Reimers emphasizes the importance of not using social media like advertising; the second way people found lawyers. Just because Target can effectively use social media to advertise its low prices doesn’t mean you can, or should.
Instead, try this test. Type “defense attorney” into Google and you will see, under the links, that the search results often include how many Google+ “circles” the attorney is in. Facebook’s recently released “graph search” gives you the ability to search for a business not through the cold, lonely wastes of the Internet as a whole, but by searching for a business liked by nearby friends.
A coherent social media plan that emphasizes engagement both drives up your visibility in search rankings and lets your consumers know if their friends are recommending you. It’s a blending of the first and third methods of finding an attorney: like a phone book tailor-made for your specific needs that tells you which companies your friends recommend, all without them ever having mentioned the company to you directly.
This is the new power of social media.