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DLA Piper outdid its competitors in digital marketing in 2019, according to a new report, while law firms in general are using Facebook far less and using LinkedIn, Instagram and paid social marketing more. Firms are also measuring the impact of their social marketing efforts more closely, the report found.

Consultancy Good2bSocial has released the annual report card, the Social Law Firm Index, since 2013, though this year it includes more firms than ever. The group measures law firms’ social media reach, engagement, and marketing performance on their own websites and on public social media platforms.

The latest rankings, released Tuesday, place DLA Piper at No. 1, followed by White & Case, Norton Rose Fulbright, Baker McKenzie and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Norton Rose Fullbright, which topped the overall rankings last year, came in first in 2019 when it came to “thought leadership,” while Baker McKenzie led the pack in SEO optimization.

Ranked by their reach and engagement on individual platforms, Squire Patton Boggs was No. 1 for Twitter, Quarles & Brady for Facebook, Baker McKenzie for LinkedIn, Jones Day for YouTube and DLA Piper for Instagram.

By now, the researchers noted, major firms are already marketing themselves on most if not all of the major social media platforms. Now that adoption is widespread, the firms are beginning to get more sophisticated with usage, the report found.

Guy Alvarez, Good2bSocial’s founder and CEO, said that more firms are taking advantage of automated marketing systems such as Hubspot or Pardot to improve management of leads and to fine-tune messaging by office and practice.

He also said the most successful firms are beginning to dig deeper into performance metrics to gauge their return on investment.

“Law firms are actively doing things on social media, but very few know how to measure ROI and how to use [social media] as a marketing campaign to get the results they want,” Alvarez said in an interview. “Before you figure out what your ROI is, you need to know what your business purposes are.”

He said firms typically use social media for one or more of four reasons: to build brand awareness, to generate more leads, to provide more value to clients through cross-selling practice areas and to help differentiate themselves from their competition.

Each of those goals can require a different strategy and a different platform, he said, depending on the audience and the desired outcome.

Alvarez also said that although adoption rates are high, law firms often lag behind other professional service industries, particularly the Big Four, when it comes to effective usage.

“A lot of firms are still using social media as sort of a one-way content marketing tool,” he said. “The ones that struggle are just putting up promotional content. Social media is meant to engage and be social.”

Alvarez said the firms that struggle the most tend to have a couple of things in common. First, they usually make decisions that are not based on data. They miss out on opportunities to course-correct or change strategies if a campaign doesn’t bear fruit. If you don’t check the data, he said, how will you know if it is working?

Another common pitfall is a basic lack of content—whether on a firm’s website, within lawyer biographies or on social platforms. Having content that is robust, useful to clients and search-friendly can go a long way in driving traffic to a firm’s site, he said.

While social media can be a marketing blessing, Alvarez also said there are also elements that can make it dangerous.

“If some bad news about your firm is out there, it will get around quick,” he said. “Getting on top of that can be difficult.” He also said that firms can be concerned about what their attorneys might write that could come back to haunt them (see: Frank Aquila).

Alvarez said more and more firms are putting social media training into their professional development programs and hiring consultants to work with attorneys to maximize their marketing advantage and avoid social media peril.

While many of the latest trends aren’t brand new, there were some elements from the 2019 report that Alvarez didn’t see coming, he said.

He said he was surprised at how many firms had “jumped on the Instagram bandwagon.” Firms such as DLA Piper and White & Case have done a good job, he said, of telling stories on the platform and even using it as a recruiting tool.

On the flip side, “I was surprised at how much and how quickly firm usage of Facebook has declined,” Alvarez said. “Cambridge Analytica and privacy issues helped move that along. We saw some decline last year, but this year was a huge drop. Some firms have given up on Facebook completely.”

For top-ranked Good2bSocial firm DLA Piper, which spent years beating back a Facebook lawsuit when Mark Zuckerberg was at his peak, that may just be the icing on the cake.

Download the full report here.