Social media pitfalls and potential

Given the risk-averse nature of the legal profession, it is perhaps unsurprising that it has not rushed to embrace social media with quite the same enthusiasm as many other industries have.

With inappropriate blog posts landing trainees in hot water, the potential for libelous comments on Facebook, and you-scratch-my-back references on LinkedIn, the pitfalls are there for all to see.

However, law firms that dismiss social media out of hand are missing a trick. The potential to engage with new clients, and new talent; the opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader, and the chance to market effectively to a wider audience then ever before are all strong reasons why lawyers need to embrace it – indeed, many of their more technically-aware clients may now expect it.

Twitter is also becoming a key referral source – research from Orange Business found an increase of over 660% in two years in the number of people using Twitter to ask for recommendations. Solicitors were second only to web designers as the profession most users wanted recommendations for.

These facts are not lost on some law firms – there are those who are dipping a cautious toe in the water, while a few notables are honing comprehensive social media strategies. The legal industry is slowly waking up to social media – indeed, the interest has promoted the Law Society to publish guidelines on social media usage. But there is a long way to go.

Research by consultancy Living Group last year looked at how professional services firms are using social media. Eversheds came top amongst the law firms. The firm’s ‘Blog Spot’ displays all its Tweets plus posts from various heads of practice groups, its Twitter updates are frequent and link to more in-depth information from Eversheds, it has a popular YouTube channel, presentations on SlideShare, and images on Flickr. However, overall, the research found that too many professional services firms rely on re-tweets and links to non self-generated external content.

Another study in 2013 looked at how the top American law firms are using social media. DLA Piper came top of the table and has been successful in terms of both reach and engagement. The firm has large numbers of followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, a presence on YouTube, Pinterest and Slideshare, and was the only firm to have a strong presence on Google+.

The study, by consultancy Good2bSocial, found that large law firms are usually at the very early stages of the social business adoption cycle and usage is limited to external marketing purposes.

Good2beSocial has since followed up on its initial research and while it has found several examples of very successful implementation, it noted last month that the legal industry still lags far behind the broader corporate marketplace.

There are clearly barriers. It is argued that lawyers by nature are not social, and given the pressure on billable hours, it is unsurprising that lawyers are reluctant to spend time writing a blog or tweeting.

There is also the question of whose responsibility it should become within the firm. Is it the remit of the marketing department, the IT director or those tasked with business development?

Successful deployment of a social media strategy requires firm-wide engagement. To get that buy-in requires some proof that time and money invested will reap dividends later. A slowly-slowly approach may work for some firms but not if it comes at the expense of making any progress at all.

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