Law firms leaned in hard on webinars, paid LinkedIn campaigns and podcasts, and overall content creation was through the roof during the pandemic in 2020, according to the annual Social Law Firm Index (SFLI) study by internet marketing consulting firm Good2BSocial. But signs don’t point to an outbreak in legal-themed TikTok videos just yet.
The study, which Good2BSocial has done annually since 2013, examines law firm usage of various social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube as well as establishes rankings on areas like thought leadership, search engine optimization and podcasts.
As one would expect, the pandemic muted firms’ traditional methods of marketing, such as conferences, client events and in-person meetings. So, they leaned on digital and social.
“The global pandemic had a significant impact on all aspects of our society, which included marketing at law firms,” Guy Alvarez, CEO of Good2bSocial, said in a statement. “Firms had to pivot and shift their entire practice online and figure out how to still connect with and build their client base. We saw firms embrace webinars, write and promote content, increase their social media advertising budgets and launch podcasts. Digital marketing is here to stay, and it’s great watching firms embrace it and learn from best practices and opportunities to grow.”
The rankings, established by measuring each firm’s digital footprint and then reducing that to numerical measures which are then weighted and incorporated into an algorithm, found some familiar names at the top of the 2020 list.
Baker McKenzie ranked first among major law firms for its use of various social media platforms in areas such as recruitment, client outreach and general firm marketing. The firm had been ranked number four in the 2019 study.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, DLA Piper, White & Case and Norton Rose Fulbright rounded out the top five. Those firms also occupied the top five spots in 2019, although in a different order.
Content is King! (If You Have a Plan)
Content generation, brought upon both by firms’ increased understanding of the importance of relevant content to clients as well as the need for information during the pandemic, was way up, according to Alvarez. But that doesn’t mean it was all good content.
“All law firms on the SLFI 2020 have increased their use of social media,” Alvarez said in a statement. “Some firms really upped their activity creating massive amounts of content. And everyone and their mother started doing webinars.”
While most firms found success using webinars as a way to stay in touch with clients and tout subject matter expertise, many also lacked a plan on what to do after the fact, Alvarez said in an interview.
“When I talked to people, there was no plan for after the webinar,” he said in an interview. “How do we follow up? Most firms had no clue on that.”
There was also a massive uptick in podcasts, Alvarez said, as firms looked for ways to cut through the glut of written content and reach constituents in new and more convenient ways.
But again, simply having a podcast isn’t enough.
“The biggest mistake I see law firms make when it comes to their podcasts is that they create one channel for them,” Alvarez said in a statement. “People do not listen to podcasts that way. People subscribe to podcasts if they are interested in the topic of the podcast, not the firm or company that is producing it.”
LinkedIn and Facebook
While savvy firms used various platforms for differing reasons, the general consensus was that LinkedIn was the place to be when it came to client outreach.
“For the Am Law 200 firms, they are all business-to-business, and LinkedIn-sponsored posts really give the ability to hone in on a specific industry or role in a company,” Alvarez said.
He also said that some firms have allocated upwards of $100,000 per month to LinkedIn paid campaigns, and they are seeing strong results for their efforts.
Aleisha Gravit, chief marketing and business development officer at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said the platform is the primary form of social media outreach her firm has taken when it comes to client interaction.
“We found LinkedIn to be the social media platform that resonates most with clients,” she said in an interview. “We took it a step further this year to build it out and showcase other elements of the firm, such as diversity and inclusion content.”
The build worked, as Akin moved from being ranked number 143 in thought leadership in the SFLI 2019 to No. five this year.
“It was a confluence of us already being focused on increasing our visibility and working on SEO, particularly with regard to LinkedIn,” Gravit said of the jump in ranking.
Facebook, while still a major component in most firm’s digital marketing strategies, saw some decreased usage year over year, the study concluded, as some firms moved away from the platform because of its reputation for disseminating misinformation and strong results from other platforms such as Instagram. This was also true in the 2019 report.
But Alessandra Almeida Jones, London-based director of marketing at Baker McKenzie, said that Facebook still plays a role in the firm’s coordinated social media efforts.
“Facebook is still important in a number of areas,” she said in an interview. “Particularly for recruitment, sustainability efforts and pro bono activity.”
In addition to ranking firm’s overall performance, the SFLI 2020 also examined individual platforms and which firms seemed to utilize them most effectively.
When it came to Instagram usage, White & Case topped the list, followed by Bracewell, DLA Piper, Norton Rose Fulbright and Orrick.
Baker McKenzie, Orrick, Thompson & Knight, Latham & Wakins and DLA were tops on the list when it came to Facebook, while Mayer Brown, White & Case, Baker McKenzie, Hogan Lovells and Jones Day day were the top utilizers of YouTube.
Squire Patton Boggs, Orrick, Norton Rose, Holland & Knight and Baker were the top five when it came to Twitter, and DLA; Baker McKenzie; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Orrick; and White & Case were tops on LinkedIn.
The study also ranked thought leadership and SEO. Reed Smith; Baker McKenzie; Orrick; Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart; and Akin Gump were tops for the former, while Jones Day; McKenzie; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Holland & Knight; and Norton Rose rounded out the top five when it came to SEO.
“While SEO is no longer a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ strategy, it does have the potential to drive traffic and leads on autopilot,” Alvarez said in a statement. “But by digging in and better understanding what your audience actually needs, and optimizing your website for high-traffic keywords, you can expand your reach and boost your authority online.”
You Can Do Better
While law firms are getting increasingly more sophisticated in their social media use, there are still some common pitfalls that many firms fall into when it comes to their social strategies, Alvarez said.
Tops on that list were a lack of clarity or target audience for business goals, underutilization of available data and technology and only focusing on lead generation.
“Marketing departments spend almost their entire budget on top of funnel activity, trying to tackle one of their biggest challenges: generating traffic and leads,” Alvarez said in a statement. “But marketers have focused so much on the top of the funnel, they have ignored the middle-of-funnel prospects. Middle-of-funnel prospects are already in the buying funnel and are perfect candidates for targeted marketing campaigns. They need attention that is unique and relevant to them.”
As for moving forward, the study concluded that firms will likely see increased emphasis on SEO, more social media advertising and greater technology adoption as they march into 2021.
In particular, Alvarez noted, firms must learn to use the existing data they have on clients and constituents in order to drive effective campaigns.
“This requires companies to embrace creativity, incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) tools, and tap into new markets while improving operational efficiency and managing risk,” he said in a statement. “The success of law firms’ efforts hinges upon the ability to extract the right insights from the data they already have on their ecommerce, CRM, and DMP platforms.”
Sadly, as noted above, Alvarez did not believe that attorney-created TikTok videos were poised to make a breakthrough in 2021. Maybe next year.
The full report can be seen here.