We have reached a certain level of maturation within the world of social media. Some social networks have thrived, while others have floundered. Google+, despite its initial buzz, has proven to be a bust, marked by high-profile personnel exits and service uncouplings, including YouTube. Meanwhile, Twitter has been faltering as of late, with reports that revenue is shrinking and users are becoming disengaged.  

Meanwhile, newer platforms are gaining dominance, particularly Instagram and Snapchat, due in part to a younger demographic that appears to be more enticed by filtered images and short videos than text and links to articles. In fact, as of this writing, Snapchat boasts 100 million daily active users, though its estimated that only 18 percent of U.S. social media users are on the platform.

Given that the social media landscape of today is already drastically different than the social media landscape of three years ago, how should legal marketers invest their time and money in order to derive the greatest return on their investments?

The answer starts with a thorough look at a law firm’s social media goals.

The Status Quo

As a content consultant to law firms, I see a lot of social media strategies. And by and large, most law firms play it very safe. The vast majority use social media as a way to attract more site visits by distributing content that is largely housed on the firm website. The thought is that if you hook them with your social media post, then you can bait them with the content on your site. It’s a good strategy, one that helps usher visitors through the sales cycle, starting at awareness (“This social media post is relevant to me. I should click on it.”) to interest (“This article that I clicked on is of value. Maybe I should check out the rest of the site.”).

But is there more we can be doing with social media than just sharing the content that exists on law firm websites? Is there other content we can create that statistically performs better on social media? Can we take advantage of new platforms in a way that doesn’t require too big of an investment – since, after all, who knows when the next big thing will come along and disrupt the market? To answer these questions, law firms need to first reassess what they hope to get out of social media.

Choose Your Goals

The first place to turn is your content strategy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of law firms do not have a written content strategy, which means they do not have an actual set of goals codified that dictate their social media usage. Legal marketers who work without a set of guidelines are operating on a relatively ad hoc basis with no clear way to discern success or failure. Furthermore, if “success” is calculated at all, it’s often arrived at by counting click-throughs and impressions, which are good metrics, but with specific goals comes specific key performance indicators that can better help legal marketers evaluate and refine their executions.

To aid you in this effort, here is a list of social media goals that legal marketers might want consider:

  • Awareness: I call this use of social media “PR 2.0.” It’s what most law firms are already doing, creating posts that update its social media following about news relating to the firm and its attorneys. Posts are usually text-based, with the occasional use of a standard image.
  • Brand Building: This tactic is a form of community building, where law firms try to build affinity around their brand using social media channels as a primary vehicle for their messaging. More adventurous law firms aim for this goal by creating share-worthy videos and images. Many develop a unique brand voice that separates their posts from the competition and represents the ethos of the firm. The goal here is to not only generate new followers but to generate engaged followers.
  • Client Retention and New Business Development: For law firms that have clients and prospects who actively use social media (a demographic that is growing every year as Gen X and millennials start to assume decision-making roles), social media can be a client and prospect engagement tool as long as lawyers and legal marketers use it strategically by sharing information that is of actual value to the reader in his or her role, e.g. industry news, legal developments, etc. Direct communication, such as private and direct messages, can also be good tactics if used judiciously.
  • Recruitment: Recruitment is probably one of the most valuable uses of social media. This is in large part due to LinkedIn, which has grown to become a dominant force in the recruiter-prospect relationship. Any law firm interested in recruiting today’s top talent should have a LinkedIn Company Page and actively advertise for open position on the network.

Execute Your Strategy

Law firms don’t have to pick a singular goal with social media. Different platforms can have different combinations of goals because each network claims its own unique audience each with a unique set of motivations. For example, Facebook is the catchall social network where people go for everything, from sharing baby pictures to reading the latest New Yorker column. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is more niche. It’s dominated by professionals seeking job opportunities and career information.  

But codifying your intentions for each social media network in a content strategy – one that is of course always evolving – is critical. And part of your social media plan should include execution strategies, i.e., who do you want to target, why are you targeting them, what are you targeting them with and how are you measuring your success.

Below are some tips on how to use social media to achieve your specific goals.

  • Awareness and Brand Building: These relatively top-of-the-funnel functions are meant to accomplish the bare minimum – inform the market that you exist and encourage a positive perception of your brand. The challenge is that social media is a crowded place, so just posting text-based content is likely not going to cut it. This is where developing multimedia, e.g., videos, infographics, photos, etc., comes in handy. Consider conducting a survey of general counsel, and develop an infographic from the data you receive. Interview your managing partner on camera about why law firm culture is important, and be sure the story he or she shares is genuine and not a well-recited speech.
  • Client Retention and New Business Development: To connect with your clients and prospects, you need to speak to their interests. Of course, you can’t be all things to all people. You have to go niche, and one way to do this is to develop an industry-specific blog, co-authored by a cross-section of attorneys. The blog content should not merely recite something that happened in the news. It should contain analysis written in an engaging voice and tone that reflects your firm or practice’s brand. Attorneys who work within the industry can post blog links to their own social media handles or create a handle specific to the industry or practice.
  • Recruitment: As mentioned, LinkedIn is the social network for recruiters and job hunters. Having a LinkedIn Company Page is a good start, but it’s not enough if you want to recruit the best talent. You have to express the values and culture of your firm genuinely, as paying lip service will only hurt your brand in the long run. To do this, consider sharing posts related to your firm’s culture and the culture of the legal industry as a whole (e.g., diversity issues, compensation issues, etc.). Don’t be afraid to have an opinion and to share it. You can also have firm management author a long-form post on the network’s blogging platform.

Looking Ahead

Staying educated on where social media is today and where it appears to be going is of the utmost importance for legal marketers. The strategies you created just a couple years ago might be outdated and certainly need to be revisited.

You also need to create a written content strategy, one that speaks to your social media goals, executions and analysis. And you need to incorporate information about the newer social media platforms. Yes, it’s likely that your firm is not going to use Snapchat anytime soon, which is perfectly understandable given that the platform is largely populated by a market outside of your target demographic. But that could change sooner than you think, as the young and tech-savvy are always the earliest adopters of new technology. Still, newer platforms could potentially offer your firm value, such as Periscope. The service, which allows users to live-stream content from their devices, could be used to affordably live broadcast a speaking engagement.

The world is changing rapidly. If we want to keep up, legal marketers need to continue to look ahead and anticipate what tomorrow might bring.  

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Marketing the Law Firm.