A recent blogpost by LexBlog CEO Kevin O’Keefe entitled: How can law firms engage companies on social media? raises the question of the limitations of social media’s use in legal marketing and business development.

As O’Keefe outlined in the beginning of the post: “While in New York City [recently] I was asked more than once by marketing professionals how their firm could engage specific companies online. Particularly, clients, prospective clients, and referral sources.” O’Keefe then explained: “Rather than just use social media as a tactic, get focused. Don’t just blog to blog. Don’t just have a Twitter account because every other firm has one. Align your social media use with your business development goals.

Firm goals will include deepening relationships with existing clients, building relationships with targeted prospective clients, and strengthening relationships with referral sources.”

O’Keefe then outlined a series of very useful social media practices marketers can use to more effectively attract a more specific audience via social media. There are, however, limitations to the use of social media when seeking to attract and retain specific clients.

Why lawyers don’t always need social media

I posted a comment to O’Keefe’s excellent post outlining when I believe lawyers might not need to use social media:

“If a [business-focused] law firm has a specific potential client in mind the best way to get retained by that client is to identify commercial opportunities that potential client may be interested in (or in the case of governments or non-profit entities – ways in which you might advance their agenda (e.g. a lawyer that represents sovereign governments might identify specific export tariffs being applied unequally to that nation’s exports).

Social media (particularly blogging) can be used to discuss the issue in question and get their attention, however it’s faster and may be more appropriate if the potential representation is sensitive – for the conversation to be had off-line. But in the end – the process needs to lead to a direct discussion with the prospective client. In some cases the use of social media may be too time consuming and too general.[emphasis added]. 

It may be best to approach the potential client first – given your market research is superb and knowledge of the potential clients potential needs are [also] superb. Too, one doesn’t need to know all of the potential clients potential needs to secure a meeting. And in the case of governments as I mentioned above, the engagement of that potential client will often involve a number of meetings and cover a range of topics (perhaps not the first topic raised).

Social media can be too general [even when blogging in a niche, which as O’Keefe outlined, some firms appear to not yet be doing] to engage specific clients on specific commercial or other objectives a potential client may have. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between when blogging and social media are the best avenue to appeal to specific potential clients — versus when more direct approaches are more appropriate, more time efficient and more effective.”

Research first, blog (or don’t blog) later

If your law firm is blogging, as O’Keefe outlines – get as specific as you can. But also, as I’ve outlined – you don’t always want to blog about some specific topics. Understand that the most important element guiding all of your offline and online communications with prospective clients and referral sources is: Research. Understand your prospective client’s business and identify opportunities for your clients before ever considering how to engage them. Without performing informed research first – you’re likely not going to be able to determine whether it’s better to blog or to engage in offline communication – as a preferable first step.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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