When 2020, and its accompanying pandemic, ushered in a resurgence in legal digital marketing and social media use, it was expected given the circumstances. But not all firms are managing that content effectively.
The annual Social Law Firm Index (SLFI), created by internet marketing consulting firm Good2BSocial and ongoing since 2013, released its findings and rankings Monday. Many of the trends noted in the 2020 study, such as the increase in the creation and use of podcasts and video, held true in 2021.
New strategies emerged as well, for effective engagement and platform usage, as well as new issues arising from the generation of so much content. Not all content is effective content, and some of it can actually be detrimental.
“This year was just as challenging and unique as 2020,” Guy Alvarez, CEO of Good2bSocial, said in a statement. “We saw Am Law 200 law firms generate a huge amount of content, even creating COVID-19 resource centers to provide valuable insight and advice to their clients and prospects.”
But while “law firms have learned how to effectively use social media to build their businesses,” Alvarez said, they need to move to the next step.
“They need to participate and help strengthen their existing relationships while strategically growing new relationships,” he said in a statement. “We think this index shows firms how important it is.”
The SLFI looks at law firm’s usage of digital and social content and assesses their effectiveness relative to peers. That results in an overall ranking, and breakdowns by platform: Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
The study also measures law firms’ social media reach, engagement, and marketing performance on their own websites and on public social media platforms. And it measures how effective firms were in promoting thought leadership, their acuity with podcasts and how they utilize search engine optimization.
The top 25 firms in overall ranking can be seen in the chart below. It shows little change at the top compared to last year, other than some reordering of the top five.
There were nine new entrants into the top 25 firms, with the largest jump in ranking being the 112-spot jump that Knobbe Martens (No. 129 in 2020 to No. 17 in 2021) made.
Perkins Coie, ranked No. 126 last year, also had a massive climb, coming in 106 spots higher at No. 20 in 2021.
The past two years have seen firms generate more content than ever, Alvarez said. Some of that content, such as microsites for COVID-19 updates, are useful and make the firm a thought leader and go-to source for information.
But too often content seems to be out there simply because firms think it should be, and not because it serves the firm or the client.
“Most firms are basically just posting press releases,” he said. “But I have spoken to a few firms that are being smart about it. They are trying to figure out how to use the data to create business development opportunities.”
Alvarez said at the beginning of the pandemic, firms were creating massive amounts of content. But, after things “settled down,” the amount of content they were creating was “not sustainable.”
And that is an issue, not just because of overstimulation or congestion, but because those microblogs or resource centers still exist in the ether and, when found, might produce a negative impression on those who come across content platforms that have essentially been abandoned.
“There is all this content without a focus or strategy,” he said. “That is something firms are going to struggle with over the next couple of years.”
He said many firms “lost focus” and “went back to doing what they had always done” once the content fervor dialed back a bit.
“If it is no longer being resourced, firms need to take it down,” he said referencing dated blogs or microsites. “And if it is still important, they need to put resources and strategy behind it to make it a valuable ongoing resource.”
Platforms Have Their Purpose
Much like last year, firms have been seen moving away from Facebook and toward Instagram to promote cultural news—like involvement in special causes and DEI efforts.
Many firms over the past year used their respective social media presences to tout DEI efforts and hang a banner in support of (or opposition to) various causes, Alvarez said.
“Firms are certainly going to keep pushing DEI,” he said. “It is a big thing every firm is super invested in. They are taking every opportunity to put content out around it. But, they should realize that DEI shouldn’t be their whole content strategy.”
Firms gravitate more toward LinkedIn for promoting thought leadership, Alvarez noted. He said the platform is used for client outreach and awards promotion, which makes sense given the platform’s purported business-first audience.
“Like we did the year before, we are seeing a significant increase in using LinkedIn advertising to better target audiences,” Alvarez noted. But not all attorneys are behind the move, he added, citing the concept that “advertising is beneath them.”
“That is a misconception among lawyers,” Alvarez said. “But all you are doing is targeting your content to a specific audience. It is still thought leadership, you are just paying to make sure your intended target audience is reached.”
Video and Podcasts Rising
Alvarez said the years-long trend of increased video usage by firms has not abated.
“Because there is so much competition on social media, video makes you stand out,” he said.
In conjunction with firms realizing video on various platforms can be an asset, technological advancements have made it less cost prohibitive.
“A lot of firms are even doing animated videos now,” he said. “No lights, no headphones. You just need a good graphic designer to create the content. If you are scrolling through LinkedIn, for example, and you see movement, you are going to stop. It’s a differentiator.”
Alvarez said that podcast utilization is also continuing to increase, although not all firms are using podcasts in the most effective way.
“What we are seeing is the smart firms are creating casts on particular topics,” he said. “They are launching not one but multiple for various industries and topics. The not so smart firms are doing the ‘Firm ABC podcast.’”
The study found that roughly 75% of Am Law 100 firms have an active podcast, and many, as Alvarez suggested, have multiple spanning various topics.