Social media has become deeply integrated into our personal and professional lives. Clients are increasingly using social media for research, networking and to make legal provider hiring decisions. Since a law firm’s most critical assets are its clients, who are the source of both today’s business and tomorrow’s referrals, attorneys are joining their clients and leveraging social media as an integral part of their business development efforts.

But don’t take our word for it …

• 76 percent of adults looking to hire an attorney go online (LexisNexis)

• 73 percent of in-house counsel use LinkedIn as a listening and research tool (Greentarget/Zeughauser Group’s 2017 State of Digital and Content Marketing Survey)

• Social media is the #1 driver of website traffic (Shareaholic)

• 45 percent of traffic to law firm websites is driven from LinkedIn (Law Firm Suites)

Revenue growth in today’s legal landscape is difficult for any firm—and lawyers have many tools available to assist them, such as content marketing and social media. Social media is a two-way street giving lawyers the ability to communicate, interact, observe, learn and, most importantly, amplify their messages, which cements them as a thought leader in their respective areas of expertise.

How does a law firm use social media to bring in new business and leads? Strategically, using a multi-pronged, detective-like approach where the client is always the top priority and focus.

A good business development detective is ahead of the trends, constantly scouting, scouring, reading, learning, observing and in many cases, setting the trends before they happen.

Attorneys and legal marketers alike need to look ahead—keep track of the behaviors and the businesses of clients and prospects and follow trends to be able to effectively anticipate their future needs. Social media is the ideal outlet to quickly pivot and proactively innovate in real time, enabling a lawyer to have a clear business development advantage over competitors. For example, share relevant articles or legal developments with key clients and prospects. Share it directly with a note addressing relevancy. This is how to become a trusted business advisor.

How to Craft a Business Development Plan Utilizing Social Media

There are five steps for law firms to follow in order to craft, implement and measure a strategic and effective business development plan utilizing social media.

(1) Determine your goals. Define and agree upon the following:

• What are the firm’s business goals and can they be supported through social media?

• What does the firm want to accomplish using social media?

• Which lawyers/industries/practices/special initiatives does the firm want to support with social media?

• Who is your target audience?

Only then can you map out a successful process and approach for social media that will lead to new business.

(2) Conduct a social audit. A social audit is important for law firms to identify their engaged target audience and where and how they are communicating. Your target audience consists of clients and prospects, alumni, recruits, referral sources, media and others. Your engaged target audience are those in your target audience who are interacting and researching on social media. Identifying where they are communicating is just as important as understanding who they are and what they are sharing/following online.

For example, the target audience for a corporate transactional law firm is vastly different than that of an estate planning firm. Yet, both may use social media effectively and successfully. In-house counsel use LinkedIn as a listening tool to stay informed of the latest news, developments and conversations while individuals seeking lawyers for personal matters are more likely to research and engage on Facebook. The lesson here: Know your audience and go where they are with a customized message. One size does not fit all on social platforms. Adjust your message to the medium.

Once you have defined your audience, you can determine what types and sources of content are relevant, valuable and available. Sources of content can include anything from client alerts, blog posts, podcasts and videos to CLEs and firm-sponsored seminars and events. The type of content that an audience wants and needs is dependent upon the audience you are trying to reach.

Keep in mind that we now have five generations in the workforce from Baby Boomers to Generation Z and everyone in between (including Generation X and Millennials—where many of your clients will fall in the next few years). Adjust your message and social platform to reach your target audience or your efforts will not be effective.

(3) Develop a lead-focused content strategy. A successful content strategy can be developed by answering the following questions.

• Which social platforms are used by our target audiences?

• What are the firm’s business goals and can they be supported through content marketing?

• What type of social media posts will work best to meet your goals?

•√What problems can you solve for your target audience with your content?

• Which social networks will work best to share this content in order to reach your audience?

• How and when is your audience engaging on social media?

• How comfortable are your lawyers with social media and what tools do you need to help them engage effectively?

Go where your audience is and be selective with the platforms on which you choose to focus. You can’t be everything to everyone—a narrower content focus is more effective. For this purpose, use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (for consumer lawyers) to help provide reasons to reach out to important contacts. For all firms and lawyers, the goal of social media engagement is lead generation and business development. You can get there by building relevant relationships, staying top of mind, providing helpful content and consistently adding value.

Social media allows you to stay in touch regularly or periodically with former clients and important contacts. You don’t want them to forget you. Social media enables you to easily stay in touch. Monitor what is happening with your clients and prospects using social media platforms (such as job moves and news from LinkedIn notifications) and adjust your strategy based on the information you gather from your due diligence.

The key to being successful in social media is to find consistent touchpoints where you can demonstrate your value and expertise while helping clients. The goal is to keep the relationship with prospects “warm” to ensure they keep your law firm and lawyers top of mind for future work. It may take months or years for someone to become a client, so personalized, light touches through client-centric content is key. Clients don’t notice attorneys who don’t add value or insight to legal issues that impact their business. Don’t create posts that constantly focus on how great you are and all of the fabulous awards that you have won (aka the humble brag). Share client-centric posts that show (not tell) the audience that you add value and stay front and center with them. Hiring an attorney is a needs-based decision and, as such, you want be top-of-mind when the needs arise.

(4) Implement tactics. Now that you know what you want to accomplish, who you want to reach, where you want to engage with them and the types of content you wish to share, give your clients what they want, how they want it and when they want to have a meaningful impact

Create an editorial calendar based on your content strategy. It can be a simple table in a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, a shared firm-wide calendar, or you can subscribe to more elaborate cloud-based software. Your editorial calendar should be actionable and relevant. Include evergreen content (blogs, holiday posts, event photos, articles, speaking engagements, press releases, videos, etc.) and timely content such as Supreme Court decisions. Also include the author or responsible party, deadlines for drafts and dates for sharing, assets needed (copy, photo, video, infographic, etc.), and the platforms on which to share the content. Use color coding to help you categorize the posts. Be sure to schedule each post multiple times—keep the golden rule of content marketing in your head at all times, “create once, publish everywhere.”

In addition, address all of the following:

• Implement a social media policy (including ethical considerations).

• Reuse and repurpose content.

• Think “show vs. tell” and be client-centric.

• Use online tools that streamline your process and schedule posts

• Adjust messages across social platforms.

• Engage with the target audience when appropriate or necessary.

• Train lawyers and staff how to use social media effectively.

(5) Monitor, track and adjust your efforts. Two of the most common myths among lawyers relating to social media are that social media does not work for business development and that social media efforts are not trackable and measurable. The very opposite is true. Social media engagement can and does result in client retention and acquisition and social media engagement is measurable and should help accomplish your firm’s KPIs.

Social media can be tracked and measured using relevant tools and the social media platforms themselves. A firm can also look at its Google Analytics to see if traffic is coming to their website from social media sites. You can also evaluate content performance and monitor client interactions. Analyze engagement and open rates. Use data collected to measure success against your goals and then refine your plan to focus on what works best.

Social Media Business Development Best Practices

Here are some of the many ways law firms can empower its lawyers to utilize social media for business development:

• Include share buttons on content on your website.

• Craft strong headlines/titles that matter to the target audience.

• Utilize videos and podcasts.

• Create visuals to accompany your posts to increase engagement. Use online tools to create infographics, word clouds and properly sized photo collages such as Canva.com to quickly and easily bring your content to life visually.

• Use hashtags (check out Hashtagify.me).

• Include calls to action.

• Create content—use conferences, updates in the law, competitive intelligence and conversations with your clients to inspire you.

• Share the content of others’ in your network. This helps to build strong relationships and eliminates some of the time and effort for you to have to spend the time to create content from scratch.

• Share at the right time of day (For example, in urban areas where public transportation is used, this is during commuting hours when you have a captive audience glued to their mobile devices).

In the digital world in which we live, networking online is just as important as making in-person connections. It should come as no surprise that we must integrate social media into law firm business development efforts. Don’t overdo it and don’t give a weak handshake. Have a consistent presence that provides value to your target audiences. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for law firms and their lawyers to differentiate themselves, to disseminate information to key target audiences and ultimately lead to new business. Use it wisely, use it often and be patient.

Liz Cerasuolo is director of marketing and business development at Goulston & Storrs. Stefanie Marrone is director of business development and marketing at Tarter Krinsky & Drogin. Gina F. Rubel is CEO of Furia Rubel Communications.