WEB 2.0 AND THE RECESSION. LITTLE GUYS CAN FINISH FIRST.
AIG. Lehman. Freddie Mac. Citigroup. GM. When giant institutions are falling like bowling pins, begging for bailouts and shedding staff in numbers higher than an eight year old can count, it's not surprising that insecurity is spreading rapidly amongst small businesses as well. Law firms are no exception. If it can happen to them, it can happen right here, right? But, take heed, there is a way to survive today and position your firm for the future. In today’s volatile economic environment there is a need for experts of all stripes to help explain, predict, navigate and connect people to one another to help them solve their problems. Thought leaders can come from anywhere, from a lawyer in solo practice just hanging out her shingle to a practice head at a mid-sized firm to an associate in a major law firm. If approached in the right way, the current recession provides an opportunity to stake a claim as a thought leader that will serve you well today and for years to come.
The size of your firm doesn’t matter, nor does the size of your marketing budget. Because while money is certainly tight, smart lawyers and other professionals are finding that it doesn’t take a lot of money to get attention on the Web as an expert. Web 2.0 marketing tools, such as blogs, podcasts, tweets, social networks and interactive websites are most cost-efficient and, when used properly, can help do the marketing work for you.
This is called social media and it’s going to change the way people make buying decisions for everything from their new car to their legal services. And, make no mistake, the change is already well underway. You may have been reading a lot about lawyers who are blogging. The truth is, for all the attention they’ve been getting, lawyers who blog are few and far between. An ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, released in September 2008, found that only two percent of all lawyers in this country maintain professional blogs and eight percent of law firms maintain firm blogs. The survey also found that the vast majority of lawyers aren’t using the Internet to market themselves either. Only 15 percent of lawyers have joined social networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn; four percent of firms are using social networks to its best advantage. The dearth of penetration in social media by members of the legal profession indicates that there is a huge opportunity for lawyers today and at almost no additional investment in technology. The web is particularly useful for small firms and individual lawyers because, for the first time ever, anyone can be an authority and garner influence because of their expertise and not because of where they work or whom they know. The web allows you to become as big as you want to “look” and be.
Consider the case of Jaffe itself operating in this new 2.0 environment. As a firm, we’re our best case study. Recently, we wrote guidelines for social media policies that can be used within law firms. We were using a very similar document here at our firm already. One of our associates saw a query on the Legal Marketing Association’s listserv regarding social media policies. We quickly posted a notice on the listserv that our policy was available to anyone who wanted it and, within three hours, we had 30 requests for the document from members of our targeted audience. Our experience demonstrates that when you have something to offer, the Web is a very efficient means to get it to those who can benefit immediately from that information. You don’t have to start by launching a blog. Blogging is a great way to demonstrate your singular point of view. But it can come later. A smart first step to engaging online is to pinpoint your goal by focusing on what you want to talk about, and understanding why this will help your business grow and enhance your reputation. Then, go to the Web and more precisely identify to whom you want to talk, be they your peers, potential clients or colleagues, and engage with them where they are congregating online.
The best way to get comfortable doing this is to head to places where lawyers gather on the web to see what they’re talking about and to add to the discussion: Legal OnRamp and the soon-to-be-launched Martindale Hubbell Connected offer social networking features. LinkedIn, for example, has a few groups for lawyers: Legal Marketing, with 2700 members; and Legal Blogging has close to 2000. Numerous law firms and lawyers with various specialties, such as personal injury law, host groups on Facebook. To find them, search “groups” in Facebook. Another way to discover where stakeholders are congregating is by listening to what’s happening on the web. Through iGoogle, you can easily set up a personalized Google page to deliver a “Google Alert” to your inbox. Every day, you’ll receive a list of news sites, blog posts and websites that mention your special topic. If, for example, you specialize in family law, Google will sift for you and send you the newest links on the topic.
The goal is to reach out to everyone online that does what you do or, better yet, is looking for someone who does what you do. On the web, they’re not necessarily competitors, they’re your community. Once you find communities that match your communications objective, join the conversation by adding to it, being useful, offering insights. Share your expertise broadly. Sharing is not just facts and opinions. The 2.0 Internet is about interaction and connection. Along with your insights, create a call to action. Provide a link back to your website, or one to a recent brief you wrote and recently posted to JD Supra, for example.
Ask for comments and feedback and respond to that. If you’re commenting in all the right places, chances are you’re already reaching your target audience, making an impression and sparking their interest in learning more about you, the expert. And, at the same time, search engines are finding your work and your presence on the Internet, expanding your network in a viral way. In today’s Web 2.0 environment, your web work isn’t merely for a far-flung network. It’s possible to build a presence locally using Web 2.0 marketing techniques. Content matters. Provide relevant content that clearly indicates the state or states where you work. So, if you are a real estate lawyer in Duluth, Minn., you can use keywords on your website to help potential new real estate developers find you in your hometown. They’ll be searching for “Real Estate attorney, Duluth,” and your listing will pop up.
You can also take advantage of mapping tools that go hand-in-hand with your website listing. Visit the Google local business center. It’s free to have your business listing alongside a Google map, for example. If you’ve done your work right, and are engaged in all the right places, there will still be more people out there listening to what you have to say than are actively commenting on what you are saying.
Even though Web 2.0 is all about conversation, only slightly more than half of the people who use the Internet are contributing content. Forty-eight percent of adults in the U.S. who are online are what Forrester Research terms “Spectators,” that is, they consume content on the web, rather than contribute to it. (Forrester’s North American Social Technographics Online Survey, Q2, 2007, Groundswell, Harvard Business Press, 2008).
“Creators,” the people who are contributing original content to the web, comprise only 18 percent of online U.S. adults, the same study found. In between are “Critics,” people who comment on blogs, in communities and forums, representing 25 percent of online U.S. adults. And 25 percent of U.S. online adults are also “Joiners,” meaning they’re on social networks.
Forrester predicts that all activity is likely to grow. Clearly, there is a hunger to be on the web and a growing movement to do what the Web does best, encourage involvement. Once you start building your profile, then it’s time to start that blog and extend the community onto your territory, giving them an opportunity to provide direct feedback to bigger thought leadership pieces from you. The best thing about sharing in the Web 2.0 world is the feedback. You’re not just trumpeting. You’re conversing, and feedback can be of lasting value. It can open up new areas of opportunity and enable you to forge new connections and start new conversations.
Today, even though marketing dollars are tight, it’s more important than ever to stay in the conversation.
The web is there for the taking. Now, it’s time for lawyers from firms of all sizes to do the listening, the sharing and the talking.
By Jay M. Jaffe President & CEO. Jaffe Associates. Inc. Jay M. Jaffe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 301-881-6991. Jay can also be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jayjaffe or at Twitter @jaffej.