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Social networking and referral sources

In the last several years there has been an explosion in the number of ways to stay in touch with people. Blogging, texting, tweeting and being “LinkedIn” are just a few of the new communications options unforeseen in the recent past.

Anxious to keep pace, attorneys are seeking guidance on the applicability of these tools to their marketing goals.  Many are still feeling their way around and asking questions like, “Will I get new clients if I start a blog?” or “Is Twitter an effective marketing tool?” or “Should I be on Facebook or Linkedin?”

Since staying in communication is the cornerstone of referral marketing, we believe it’s great to have new options. Though these options have their downsides, the ability to stay in touch with large networks of family, friends, clients and referral sources has never been easier.

But does ease of use translate to effective client development strategy?

The answer: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Trying to text an older bank vice-president who barely embraces e-mail is obviously not an effective form of communication, while networking on Linkedin when targeting referral sources that use social media is effective.

If you’re confused about the range of options available to you and curious about what to do when, common sense and simple observation will often supply the answers. Just keep in mind that there is a hierarchy of effectiveness when it comes to marketing communications. Most of you know this intuitively, but it’s worth exploring in light of all the new options.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, for example, available forms of communication for attorneys interested in developing new business were few in number. Face-to-face contact, telephone calls, letters, printed brochures and direct mail were available, with face-to-face contact the most effective and  printed brochures and direct mail the least effective.

But all these options are limited in their reach. After all, you can only be in so many places at one time when relying on your personal presence to sell your services. It was very difficult to maintain top-of-mind awareness with a large network and business was restricted by the reach of the attorney’s physical networking skills.

Now, an attorney’s options for communicating with potential clients and referral sources have expanded greatly. Widespread use of the Internet has ushered in new categories of communication: websites, blogging, texting, tweeting, and having a profile on a social media space such as LinkedIn or Facebook.

So how do all the options stack up in terms of effectiveness?

The still undisputed leader is face-to-face contact. Without question, being face-to-face is the most effective form of cultivating rapport with a referral source, especially in the early, formative stages of a relationship.

Since the human voice is endowed with the ability to convey personality, warmth and subtle meaning, phone calls occupy the next slot.

What comes next?  Because they are becoming such a rarity, handwritten thank you notes rank pretty high – but they are only appropriate in certain conditions. They’re a nice touch when thanking someone for a referral, but not recommended for everyday communication.

E-mail is preferred by many because of its convenience, and it occupies a fairly high-ranking slot in terms of effectiveness for carrying on a relationship once it has begun off-line. Unlike a phone call, e-mail has the advantage of allowing you to do any necessary thinking or research before providing an answer to a question.

Blogging can permit potential clients and referral sources to get to know you before you meet in person. It can also make your expertise more accessible than the less personalized text on your website, and allow you to drive more traffic to your website.

Facebook and LinkedIn can also allow people to get a glimpse of who an attorney is, separate from the official firm website. On Facebook, which is edging out LinkedIn in overall popularity, visitors have the option to post comments about you as well. If this does not run afoul of ethics rules (it is controversial and currently under discussion), it may be the closest thing to a testimonial that an attorney can ethically display.

From a marketing stand point, one of the biggest advantages of Facebook and LinkedIn is that they give attorneys who are reluctant to introduce themselves to someone in person an easy, low-risk way to initiate new referral relationships by making connections on-line.

While social media networking won’t replace face-to-face contact, it occupies an important niche in the middle of the pyramid.

“Tweeting” is next. The Twitter website allows participants to broadcast short 140 character texts, called “tweets,” which are read by their “followers” – interested souls who have signed on to receive them. Most tweets are brief, diary-like updates designed to keep the followers informed about the poster’s life and range dramatically in levels of importance, from, “I’ve just finished lunch and I think I’ll wash the dog,” to “I’m watching President Obama deliver his State of the Union Address.”

The value of Twitter for attorneys is that it allows them to build a network of dedicated information providers who can offer immediate feedback to questions. By following the leaders in their fields, an attorney can track new trends in the law and participate in shaping those trends. This turns Twitter into a research tool which allows the attorney extraordinary access to individuals he or she might never meet in person.

To maximize this tool and be taken seriously, attorneys should fill out their profile with their professional information, post a picture of themselves and provide links to their firm website or blog.

The ability to build a personal brand and stay in communication with your networks has never been easier. What we gain in convenience and reach with these new forms of communication we may lose in clarity of meaning, nuance and the ability to build real intimacy. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful — it means we have to be better informed users. Keep the pyramid of effectiveness firmly in mind when you consider the dazzling array of ways to communicate. You’ll never go wrong if you communicate with clients and referral sources in the way they most prefer. And while nothing replaces the relationship-building power of face-to-face communication, a tweet here and there couldn’t hurt.

Mark Powers is the president of Atticus, Inc., author of The Making of a Rainmaker: An Ethical Guide to Referral Marketing for Small and Solo Firms, and facilitates a marketing roundtable program for attorneys requiring a simple, focused approach to attract new clients. He can be reached at mark@atticusonline.com mailto:mark@atticusonline.com or by calling 352-383-0490.

Shawn McNalis is a former Imagineer with Walt Disney Co., Shawn credits her 15-year career with Disney for her creative, collaborative approach to advising attorneys. In partnership with Mark Powers for 12 years, Shawn is a senior practice advisor, curriculum developer, speaker and trainer for Atticus. Shawn co-authored “The Making of a Rainmaker” and numerous articles for a variety of legal publications.

One comment

  1. In my mind, there shouldn’t be any question – Social Networking sites and other internet marketing tactics are not only a great marketing resource, but they are becoming more and more essential. So many people choose representation based on the recommendation of someone else who had a positive experience. Social Networking has made it even easier to obtain this ‘social proof’ and decide to go with a particular lawyer based on the thoughts of others (often complete strangers).

    As in most areas of life, the internet and Social Networks play a huge part in any kind of buying decision, why should legal representation be any different? Nice post.