Archives for March 2010

Parenting Tips for Law Firm Marketers: 3 Ways to Help Your Social Marketing Reach Its Potential

I recently read the book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children,” which uses recent social science research to debunk pillars of conventional wisdom about parenting. It got me thinking about how some of those findings apply to law firms starting out in social marketing.

Let’s be honest, marketers: big platforms and programs are our babies.

For most law firms, the Web site is the firstborn social marketing platform, and is subject to the same parenting challenges as firstborn children: high expectations, hypervigilance, strict rules. Add one or more siblings — a blog, Twitter, Facebook — and those challenges morph and multiply. So what can we learn from current parenting research?

Early success is great, but most high achievers develop over time: Viral videos and internet memes are like fashion magazine covers — enemies of social media self-esteem, which propagate unrealistic expectations (Our team is very creative; we’ve invested a lot in site design and AdWords). Everyone wants to start big — massive organic SEO, retweets, a popular fan page — shortly after launching a new social media program.  But prodigies are rare, and prodigious early success is very difficult to replicate and maintain over time. Give your social media platforms the time and permission to experiment and mature. With the proper support and encouragement, it will hit its stride in great shape. AttorneySync has some helpful observations about this phenomenon.

Don’t overprogram: Word-of-mouth. Thought leadership. SEO. Lead generation. Community building. It is unrealistic and counterproductive to expect each of your social marketing platforms to perform well against all marketing objectives. Web sites, blogs and social networks have distinct strengths and weaknesses depending on the marketing objective. Select one or two key proficiencies to focus on for each platform. If they generate halo benefits (e.g. clickthroughs from the blog to the Web site, or vice versa), that’s upside. Then add stretch objectives when the platform’s performance shows it can support them.

If you’re having trouble supporting the first, plan the next carefully: The surging interest in blawgs (law blogs) is an encouraging trend for law firm marketing as a discipline, but it presents significant operational pitfalls, too. Many firms underestimate the additional resources required to support multiple communication platforms, and overestimate the resources currently available. “We’ll hire a blogger who can do Web programming as well,” “We’ll get the partners and senior associates to contribute every week,” “We can use press releases from the Web site on the blog.” Any of that sound familiar? The sad, unspoken secret is that far too often, adding a blawg either pulls focus and resources from the Web site — resulting in outdated copy, broken links and lack of updates — or the blawg quickly becomes a dark, lonely place no one visits, distinguished by stale content separated by long pauses between posts.

Practice Management Literacy: What They Don’t Teach You in Law School

Tom Mighell made an impassioned case  last night at the Ignite Law 2010 conference for better practice management instruction at law schools, and it strikes me that the topic has particular resonance now that the structure of the profession and the underlying business models are undergoing fundamental changes.

Given the scarcity of jobs at established firms and the related rise of  solo, networked & virtual gigs, young lawyers need to be prepared to make their own way as soon as they get their diploma. Even young associates at traditional firms, who couldn’t count on mentoring even in the best of times, cannot now expect to learn about the complexities and implications of alternative fee arrangements when the partners are grappling with the issue themselves.

While practice management education was not its focus, a recent post by David Koller on the Small Firm Business blog makes the point clearly that the “business” of law is a glaring gap in legal education. Koller’s is a great first person entrepreneurial success story, but it demonstrates the signifcant challenges lawyers face if they do not have a grounding in marketing, cash flow planning, accounting and all the other hidden joys of running a law firm profitably.

While some commentators on the #ignitelaw Twitter thread seemed to fret that law schools might need to be lobbied/pressured into incorporating practice management into the curriculum, it seems to me like a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurial and innovative law schools to further differentiate themselves and attract top candidates.

How better to enhance a school’s job placement story than with a strong platform for supporting and encouraging your graduates’ entrepreneurialism?

Of course, that’s going to take a while. In the meantime, there’s great info for autodidacts on sites like Jeff Krause’s Practice Management Blog.

So Long, Blank Checks: Clients Saying Get with the Program, or Get Out of the Way

Over the past week there’s been a lot of social media discussion about the impact of lean, cost-effective, agile and highly capable non-traditional law firms and service providers on the business of law — particularly on traditional big firm, profits-per-partner models.

Last week Larry Bodine hosted an interesting and lively Martindale-Hubbell Twitter discussion about virtual law firms and alternative fee arrangements, and this week presenters at the Georgtown “Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual” conference are hammering the point that disruptive innovations — and clients’ receptiveness to them — represent a fundamental shift in the industry.

As Rachel Zahorsky at ABA Journal writes today:

“If Susan Hackett, Association of Corporate Counsel vice president and general counsel, is correct, outside firms have only another 18 months before client patience runs out. ‘The window is open for another year to year and a half for firms before clients start walking and looking at firms they’ve never looked at before,’ Hackett says, citing legal service companies and nonlaw entities as viable alternatives to traditional firms.

‘Whenever a firm says [it] can’t hold to a budget number because of unpredictability, the GC still has a busted budget,” Hackett says. “It’s not unpredictable. It’s unforgiveable that they don’t know and unforgivable that we haven’t held them to that.'”

That’s a critical insight: It’s the clients who are changing, and the “winners” will be the firms who understand, respond to and anticipate that change, and who manage and market their firms innovatively.

A few thoughts on how clients are changing:

Tighter cost controls: Although it has been slower in coming to legal departments than other areas of business, aggressive cost containment is finally reaching the general counsel’s office. Overall budgets are constrained or dropping, and cost overruns for case management are not tolerated any more leniently than are higher component costs. No more blank checks.

Outcomes vs. outputs: Companies have successfully moved other professional services providers — mosted notably marketing — off hourly rate-based compensation models, reducing costs and improving productivity.

People Like Us 2.o: The new generation of general counsels (and the internal teams who work for them) are lean, virtual teams, and are continually pressed to do more with less. They value and seek out partners who understand and complement that dynamic. Good post by Timothy Corcoran on this topic.

The issue for clients is not structural — small/virtual law firm vs. traditional firm, or billable hours vs. alternative fee arrangementss. It is quite basic: How do I get the results I need with the resources I have? Help them answer that, and let those answers drive your business. 

A Community Manager and a Social Media Manager Walk into a Bar…

Specialization categories can be useful for practitioners within a field, but incomprehensible — if not outright silly — to clients unless there are clear differences in roles, responsibilities, capabilities and outcomes.

My favorite example of this comes from the episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “Homer vs. Dignity.” Homer and Marge are seeking financial advice from recurring business “suit” and jargon-slinging character Lindsey Naegle, who indignantly informs them,  “I’m a financial ‘planner,’ not a financial ‘consultant.'” 

 This week Rachel Happ posted a  very thorough and well-reasoned post on The Community Roundtable outlining the differences in roles and responsibilities between community managers and social media managers.

While I am not clear on what the practical applications of those definitions are other than job postings and departmental alignment, her analysis makes some important points about how organizations should approach their social marketing engagement model based on the program’s business objectives  and the type of product/service/transaction/issue they address.

“In low complexity markets and use cases (think Sharpie pens) the focus is on social media because the relationships desired between Newell Rubbermaid and Sharpie customers does not need to be that deep – and the business model cannot support deep relationship development (i.e. spending hundreds on developing a relationship with a customer who buys $25 worth of products doesn’t make much sense).  The goal is providing infrastructure and management that drives awareness and a sense of connection to the brand with tens of thousands or millions of customers.  Furthermore, proactively connecting customers with other customers doesn’t do much for Newell Rubbermaid because customers don’t need deep references from other customers to make the decision to purchase or to use the product itself. This example is managed by someone who aggregates UGC, publishes content, and responds to people talking about Sharpie – either on the site itself or on a public social network.

“In high complexity markets or use cases, communities make more sense. If the decision-making process is complex and long to reach a conversion, customers benefit greatly by interacting and building relationships with other customers – as well as getting introduced to affiliated product and service providers who can help them maximize their value.  Adobe’s design tool communities are a good example of this – customers help each other maximize the use of the tool, creating better adoption and affiliation. Because the price point of the product is higher, the business model can support richer relationship development.  These communities are managed by people who are connecting members to each other and to relevant content but may be doing very little content creation themselves.”

So unless a community manager gets paid more than a social media manager, or vice versa, the title is only important as an indicator of the core skills and responsibilities required to address the specific marketing and communications objectives.

In Rachel’s useful formulation:

Social Media Manager:

  • Content Creation  (Blogging/vlogging/podcasting) designed to spur conversation/viral sharing
  • Responding to conversations about the brand and the content
  • Ensuring input/feedback gets channeled to the appropriate internal functional group
  • Curating and promoting UGC
  • Managing tools – mostly social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) and blogs
  • Reporting/measurement
  • Planning and developing strategies for increasing engagement and conversion

Community Manger:

  • Welcoming members to the community & acclimating [sic] them
  • Building relationships with key members of the community and influencers
  • Moderating conversation and encouraging specific topics
  • Promoting members, making introductions to other members, and encouraging relationship formation
  • Running regular programming/content/events
  • Finding internal resources to respond to specific community discussions and coordinating cross-functional needs
  • Enforcing guidelines/boundaries
  • Managing tools – might be a combination of enterprise & social networks (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)
  • Reporting/measurement
  • Channeling input and response from community into other organizational processes
  • Planning and developing strategies for increasing engagement and conversion

Create Once, Publish Everywhere

Sun Microsystems‘ dictum  “Write once, run anywhere” (WORA), or sometimes write once, run everywhere (WORE) works as a metaphor for publishing social media content as well it does as a slogan to illustrate the cross-platform benefits of the Java programming language.

Today Foster Pepper PLLC tweeted out a link to their upcoming speaking engagements, and it reminded me that most law firms do not fully merchandise online the content they create and distribute free to the general public through events.

If you are going to the trouble of creating a Powerpoint deck for a keynote, why not get some SEO goodness out of it  by posting it on slideshare? And while you are practicing, why not add an audio track to it?

Maybe record a rehearsal on video, break it into short segments and create a YouTube channel for all your external presentations?

Of course, put it up on your Web site, blog it and tweet it out.

And make sure to automate the “create once, publish everywhere” process through the plugins that work best for you. Patrick Kelly recently posted some helpful observations for automatically posting your blog content on your Facebook page.

Working smarter AND less work.

Hyperbole is the Worst Thing in the World…Ever

The bloggers and Tweeple I find most interesting, credible and persuasive are those who communicate from a position of confidence and genuine subject matter authority (not the Twitter “I have a lot of followers” faux authority). That is why I cringe when people claiming to be social media “experts” overuse words and phrases like “amazing” and “I was blown away.”

Really?

It seems to me that experts should be able to take in stride most new ideas, information and experiences, reserving expressions of wonder and awe for the profoundly moving, revelatory or miraculous — rare occurences indeed. “Amazing” is a word best reserved for magicians at children’s birthday parties and hucksters shilling chamois cloths.

A single word or short phrase is certainly useful and sometimes necessary for prefacing a retweet, but if you feel strongly enough about something you viewed or read to share it with your fans/followers, then show them the courtesy of taking a few moments to articulate a clear reason why you’re recommending it — or at least choose a few words that aren’t rhapsodic-sounding but meaningless throwaway lines.

Excessive use of hyperbole and superlatives can make you look like:

  1. You’re cynically sucking up,
  2. You’re credulous and easily impressed,
  3. You’re trying to get a follow back,
  4. You’re a lazy speaker or writer, or
  5. You think your followers are suggestible bobbleheads.

If that’s what you’re going for and it works, good for you. But my hunch is that you’re alienating some people in the process. Me for one.

Reminding People Why They Need a Lawyer

On Saturday the Austin Bar Association, UT Law School, the Lawyer Referral Service and Austin TV station KEYE presented the People’s Law School at the UT Law School, a free semi-annual community event featuring basic classes taught by lawyer volunteers in many types of  law. I’d first learned of its existence the night before from a blurb about it on KUT radio, checked out the Web site and figured it would be a worthwhile
field trip — always looking for interesting topics and people. Sessions included family law, immigration, wills, business contracts, bankruptcy, debt modification and intellectual property.

In the day’s opening session, Judge Orlinda Naranjo of the 419th District observed that the People’s Law School concept was predicated on the belief that regardless of financial means, everyone should have access to justice, and that sharing general information and knowledge was an important means of supporting that vision. She went on to note that individuals attempting to represent themselves in court has become such a trend that the Texas Judicial Council has increased its attention to resources for pro se litigants.

The particular genius of this approach is that rather than dissuading people from consulting lawyers, it subtly helps attendees better appreciate the necessity and value of professional legal advice.

For example, despite a few gratuitous (IMHO) pointed asides about online legal document template vendor LegalZoom, in his presentation on basic contracts Jason Snell was able to demonstrate through a few “dos and don’ts” slides that no matter how simple a contract seems, there are any number of subtlties that can be overlooked and prove costly down the line. For example, an improper signature on a contract could make you personally liable rather than your company.

So instead of dreading and maligning the legal DIY trend, enterprising lawyers could profitably co-opt it.  In the example of “basic” contracts like contractor agreements and leases, there is a general public perception of high cost/low value to engaging a lawyer to draft what is perceived as a simple document. However, a competitively priced service that reviews agreements might seem like a prudent and attractive bargain.

While the general public might be reluctant to pay for a lawyer’s contract writing skills, they will pay for peace of mind — even if the cost ends up being the same.