By Dan Heilman
In many quarters, it’s taken as an article of faith that any business can benefit or even prosper from a presence on such social media outlets as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Is that true for solo law practitioners? It can be, but as with any marketing device, only when it’s used properly.
Whatever the case, it’s certainly true that solos are giving these outlets a chance. According to a 2011 American Bar Association survey of solo attorneys, 62 percent used LinkedIn for professional purposes last year, while 22 percent used Facebook and only 6 percent used Twitter.
Are they getting new business from all that activity? It probably varies from user to user, but many observers feel that social media can be used by solos to turn contacts into clients.
Christine Nelson, communications consultant with the Ingenuity Marketing Group in St. Paul, says LinkedIn is the tool used most prevalently by attorneys to get business, but Twitter and Facebook have their place in a well-thought-out marketing strategy, too. She even knew of an attorney who resisted LinkedIn, but when he joined, he found himself getting invitations to connect with other attorneys, judges and even municipal officials.
“Facebook has primarily been used at law firms for recruitment, but an attorney’s personal Facebook page could be used to share videos, articles and links related to his or her practice or to build followers of a legal blog that lead them to call the attorney or refer work,” she said. “I’d place it third on social media for business development unless the attorney is connecting with clients based on (shared) personal interests.”
Amy Juers, founder and chief executive officer of Edge Legal Marketing in Minneapolis, agrees that these outlets are best used when exhibiting your practice expertise — they don’t work at all when they’re used simply as a platform for spamming.
“The best connections happen when the lawyer is offering something of value, versus selling something,” she said. “Leveraging their expertise and thought leadership and projecting that through social media channels to attract the right clients.”
Let’s say your practice is business law. If there’s some kind of tax code change, or a new statute or court decision in your area that would affect your clients, tweet it, use it as your Facebook status update, use that information “almost like a newsletter,” Juers advises, so your current and prospective clients have the advantage of knowing these things and so they know you’re on top of the latest development in your practice area.
“Attorneys should think of two or three areas in which they want to be known as thought leaders or authorities,” she said.
LinkedIn is ideal for solos because it essentially functions as an online resume. It also has a group function by which you can ask to join a group in a certain profession or other walk of life and participate in discussions within them. Juers said that those groups can be a rich source of prospective clients.
While LinkedIn might seem like the most natural fit for solo lawyer business development, Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only can both be used to post interesting news tidbits related to your practice area, but both also allow users to make private lists of prospective clients that let you prioritize how you see their updates and eventually post to them. If you have a Facebook list of prospective clients you want to communicate with, you can post only to that list. Facebook and Twitter also have polling functions that can encourage conversations with people in the business you’re interested in.
“A good strategy in Twitter is to retweet updates from the people on your list of prospective clients there,” said Rachel Gold, also of Ingenuity Marketing. “Just pay attention to what they’re saying and what they’re working on. You can even direct-message them in either Facebook or Twitter and say, ‘I see you’re working on this new project — I’d love to talk with you about it.’”
Keep in mind, however, that social media might not be the best marketing tool for every practice area. In fact, for some areas that tend to attract solos — family law or criminal defense, for instance — it might be more trouble than it’s worth. James Eichenberger, owner of the St. Paul online marketing firm Swell-Sites, advises concentrating on putting any interesting written materials on your website and then tweeting a link to that.
“People’s interest in law is usually very fleeting — it’s tied to one event, whether it’s a divorce or an arrest, or whatever,” he says. “So you don’t have that followership that you might have if, say, you sold rock climbing equipment or something people use on an ongoing basis. It’s hard to imagine a consumer following a divorce lawyer on Twitter.”
As long as social media isn’t used as a standalone tactic rather than part of an overall media and marketing strategy, spending at least a minimal amount of time using social media for business development is probably worthwhile for most solos.
“Tweeting does not get you business,” Nelson said. “Building the online relationships gets you business.”