What's the ROI on Your Social Media Marketing?

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Published 6/12

Social media has rapidly become the new seductive tool for approaching clients – not just through websites and blogging, but using all the new and constantly expanding social networking innovations. However, such media are “broadcasting” in the purest sense of that now quaint word. They may reach a few potential clients, but they also reach many more people who don't have the slightest interest in a given lawyer or law firm. And the firm is paying for all those disengaged listeners, in terms of the time that consistent online marketing requires.

If you can't measure your marketing efforts by specific number of contacts made, clients added and billable time gained, you'll never know what you've done. Social media results are in fact measurable in certain ways – for example, how many followers you have on Twitter, the number of “like” designations on your Facebook page, or the range of connections you've made on LinkedIn. These measurements, however, are merely starting points to show that you have opened contact with potential clients. The next step is finding out if you can help them.

Calculating the Cost

Lead generation and new business secured from those leads are the only valid measurements of whether social media marketing works. Attracting more followers and online connections is worthwhile only if they lead to in-person meetings. Online marketing has to produce new files and new revenue or ultimately it's just a hobby, not a business development tool.

In measuring benefits, cost has to be taken into account. For the most part, building an active presence on social networking sites does not require a large up-front investment. The main expenses may be such tools as blog hosting services and standard technical assistance and maintenance offered by outside providers of blog support. Of course there is also lawyer time involvement, which makes measuring business gained even more important; and this time investment is the number one ROI metric for social media.

Making frequent tweets or Facebook or blog posts and answering responses to them can definitely take time. Let's say it's just two hours per workweek. If we assume 50 workweeks per year for ease of calculation, and two hours per week and $200 per hour billable value for an attorney, the calculation is $20,000 of billable time. It's essential for that time to provide a return on investment, as defined by these measures:

  • Do constant follow-up by responding to inquiries and incorporating posted material into articles, speeches, client updates, and so on. If you are making the effort, make maximum marketing application of it beyond the social media itself.
  • Incorporate social media into your daily professional routine. Occasional posts are simply not effective. Establish a regular posting routine keeps you engaged with prospects and ensures that your content is fresh.
  • Don't give away the store on a blog or Facebook page. The wisest course is to suggest your firm's knowledge and capabilities rather than to fully display detailed information and allow your followers to make full use of it.

Integrating the Effort

Certainly, despite these caveats, there is tangible marketing value in social media use. The social media marketing efforts of small firm practitioners can generate awareness and get potential clients to initiate contact, leveling the playing field among all firms. Clients with a need can decide whether the lawyer's skills match it, making the decision as educated buyers. As with advertising or a website, social media furthers the process of educating the public about which lawyers exist and what they can do. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook give prospects a personal feel from what lawyers reveal about their personality in comments about family, hobbies and opinions. Similarly, practice opinions and insights on a blog build credibility.

For this reason, it's no coincidence that The American Bar Association's 2011 Legal Technology Survey Report of a wide cross-section of ABA members found that 42% of respondents said their firms maintain an online presence in social media, compared to 17% in 2010 – and 65% of individual respondents said that they personally have an online professional presence, obviously including a sizeable number who have such a presence even if their firms don't1.

It's essential for any lawyer who does have such a presence to maintain it and integrate it with the full range of online marketing tools. There are fundamental rules for maximizing social media and Internet ROI in ways that increase social media visibility.

  • Make your tools interact with each other – don't build silos. Ensure that LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter content is consistent and feeds into both blogs and your own biographical profile on the firm's website.
  • Create LinkedIn profiles that link directly to website bios and are consistent with them.
  • Create blog topics that demonstrate thought leadership and be prepared to update posts at least weekly, if not more often.
  • Linking to others so they'll link to you used to be a good strategy. Today, I'd say make your blog attractive enough that others will link to you organically because of the value you provide to readers. Register your blog with blog directories and legal blog lists to increase your exposure to potential clients.

Law firms and lawyers that make social media interact in this way have far better marketing results, specifically more web visitors, inbound links and indexed pages. More website visitors mean more people to convert to leads and new business. Blogging or active Twitter feeds in particular will likely increase the number of calls you receive from reporters, who are extensive searchers of blogs and other social media tools for sources. Blogging and other social media initiatives frequently lead to an increase in the number of speaking invitations attorneys receive. This is important for one reason above all: visibility. The more that your target market sees your name and knows who you are, the more likely they are to call you.

Becoming a Thought Leader

This is the ultimate payoff from a social media presence: “marketing gravity.” This means having enough material in varying social media that you become perceived as a thought leader in your field. In other words, use social media to specifically create a reputation as a leader in a given field. This means a scenario where, for example, an individual charged with a criminal offense follows this thought process: 1) I need to get a lawyer; 2) I need to get a criminal defense lawyer; 3) I need to get the specific lawyer I have seen quoted in a column in the newspaper or a blog on the Internet. In this example, the client goes from knowing that he needs a lawyer, to knowing that he needs the thought leader and top performer in the field, by name.

Bear in mind that social media are really a conduit that can lead you to a variety of channels for becoming a thought leader. Establishing an online reputation can become your passport to write articles for local and national publications in your field; write a commercially published book (the gold standard of marketing success) for the equivalent of third party endorsement (only someone important would appear in a commercial publisher's venue); speak at conferences; create teleseminars; create a video; do podcasts; refine and improve your website; send out an electronic newsletter. These are only a few of the channels of communication. You must be all over because you never know who will make the phone call to engage you.

Social media – whether it encompasses blogging, a LinkedIn or Facebook page, a Twitter post, or any number of other new iterations – constitutes a powerful marketing tool for lawyers by combining personalized observation with facts and insights from the lawyer's area of focus to help create new client relationships. But those relationships still must be created in person. The American Bar Association's Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies recommended in 2011 that social networking should not be used for “real time electronic contact” to solicit clients and should be viewed as general communication to educate potential clients2.

This is as it should be. From blogging to social networking, technology has given lawyers more marketing tools than ever. There is real danger, however, in becoming so infatuated with the tool that you forget the objective. Marketing legal services isn't about speed or worldwide presence. It remains fundamentally about identifying the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicating with them to let them know who you are, and developing close relationships with these people so that they choose you to be their lawyer. Never forget that personal contact at meetings, on the phone and through hand-written notes remain effective outreach tools. Using them today, when so many lawyers are scurrying about online, becomes a differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed. And getting noticed, with social media use as a key strategy but not the only one, is the foundation of effective marketing.

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