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Getting Started – What is Social Media?

If you are new to social media the different terminology and the range of social media sites can seem quite daunting, you might even wonder if you need to understand what social media is, especially when there is a perception that social media is only useful for celebrities and teenagers.

We all know that social media websites exist so let’s try and answer some common questions

  • what are these social media sites?
  • who uses them?
  • are they really of any use personally or professionally?

Social Media v. Traditional Media

Let’s start by looking at what social media is by comparing it with “traditional” media.

Before the internet became pervasive television, radio, and newspapers (owned and controlled by rich media moguls) were the commonly available ways of communicating with a mass audience.

Social media is the internet enabled modern means of instant mass communication, it is a broad term that covers websites or internet services that let you interact with others and share and create content through online communities (social networks).

The major differences between traditional media and social media are that access to the technology needed to reach the network (or market) is now open and free and the means of distribution is via the internet not proprietary airwaves or, in the case of newspapers distribution was via retail shops, news stands or paper boys.

The development of services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube means that the technology needed to connect with a social group or network is available to everyone with an internet connection. Whether it’s a network of friends or colleagues or a group spread throughout the world who share a common interest. Quite often the only technology needed to access these sites is the mobile phone in the palm of your hand.

Understanding social media, how it can help your law firm and why you should get involved are the first steps in making an informed decision as to whether or not you should spend your time and your marketing dollars using this powerful customer engagement channel to connect with your clients.

Social Media Websites

Some perceptions as to what these social media websites are may have been distorted by popular reporting in traditional media such as tabloid newspapers and magazines. Publicity hungry, self-promoting celebrities have been quick to realise the extraordinary opportunity social media provides for connecting directly with their audience and this has influenced the perception of many people.

How these social media channels can be used as part of a law firm marketing strategy may not be immediately obvious.

However, it’s important that popular misconceptions do not adversely impact what might otherwise be useful channels for engaging with an important audience – your clients.

Here is a quick overview on some of the most popular social media sites, what they are and their most commonly used or popular features.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has 250 million users

  • LinkedIn is the largest business to business social network and is widely used for professional networking and making new business connections.
  • LinkedIn’s tools encourage and enable direct connections with contacts and outreach via the network and it is a valuable source of news and updates.
  • LinkedIn provides a platform for promoting products and services and for sharing articles and updates among the network or like minded groups
  • Searching the network of contacts and connections can provide valuable market intelligence and it is widely used for employee recruitment
  • Customised company pages enable law firms and companies to showcase products and services

Twitter

Twitter has 550 million users

  • Twitter is a social networking news and micro blogging service,
  • Headlines or “tweets” link to full articles and longer form content
  • Potentially everyone is a publisher and the news often breaks first on Twitter
  • The reach is massive because of the network or viral effect caused by sharing and retweeting of information amongst a linked network of followers
  • Businesses use Twitter to create awareness about news articles/headlines and provide a connection to longer form content the effect being to drive web traffic to websites or blog posts
  • The large community and potential audience provides opportunities via the Twitter ad platform for business

Facebook

Facebook has 1.15 billion users

  • Facebook is a full blown social networking site
  • Key features relate to sharing updates photos videos joining events and a variety of other networking activities
  • Users include people wanting to connect with family and friends businesses targeting these consumers with their product offerings celebrities and businesses that provide services to consumers
  • Benefits include a massive user base and potential audience (more than 12 million Australians use Facebook) and effective tools for engagement with consumers and sharing within communities

YouTube

YouTube has 1+ billion users per month

  • YouTube is an online video hosting service and community that lets people share and discover videos,
  • YouTube is a free online media network for anyone who wants to upload a video and create a channel
  • Sophisticated search facilities make video discovery relatively easy and it has a massive viewer community/audience
  • Free video hosting makes the platform attractive for many businesses despite the drawbacks associated with controlling what related videos the platform chooses to serve up

Incorporating social media into law firm marketing

In a marketing context think about the “social” aspects of the sites and identify which one(s) your audience is using, becoming familiar with the network and how it works is part of the process.

Your clients, communities or groups that interest you or a new target audience might be on LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook. Regular updates might be made via Twitter and their videos hosted on YouTube.

You need to consider which sites/groups your audience is participating in and how you can engage with them via the medium that they are comfortable with, even if you aren’t. A good analogy would be that I have seen many lawyers play a bad game of golf to establish a better relationship with a client, the potential drawbacks should not outweigh the potential opportunity.

There are many ways a lawyer can take advantage of the available social media channels, social media is about engaging with an audience and creating conversations, communities and networks.

Some examples of using the networks provided by social media sites are:

Distribution Channel

Create some interesting/topical legal content or updates about you, your law firm or its services.

You could write an article for your newsletter, post it on your blog or website and then share an update on LinkedIn, tweet about it on Twitter or share it on Google+

Awareness Creation

Increase awareness about your law firm and its services.

If you are introducing a new service or have updated your qualifications or expertise, let people know via social media

Feedback Channel

Get feedback from your clients about your law firm and its services. Use the site where your clients are and ask for feedback

Attract New Clients

By providing useful information on everyday legal issues that affect people.

Provide links on social media to content on your website that is interesting and helpful to your clients and their friends

Build Relationships

Engage with and build stronger relationships with existing clients.

Join groups or communities that your clients are involved in and contribute to the conversation with helpful information

Conclusion

Remember the golf analogy….if your clients are there you should be there with them. No hard sell, be friendly, be helpful, share and be social.

The size and reach of the social media networks means they can’t be ignored as communication or business development tools for law firms. What is often described as social media marketing, the process of attracting traffic to your website, gaining attention or reputation building through social media channels has to form part of your law firm marketing mix. In future posts we will look into social media marketing for law firms in more detail.

What experiences can you share about social media, has it helped your business development?

About the author
Brian Hicks

Brian Hicks

Brian has more than twenty years’ experience in marketing and management across diverse industries including legal, real estate, tourism and technology. Brian lives in Sydney with his wife and two daughters.
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