Archives for April 2010

Grammar Griefers Make Headlines with NYT Piece on “Twetiquette”

Yesterday I saw several tweets about a New York Times piece by a John Metcalfe on Twitter’s spelling, usage and grammar vigilantes, “The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds.”

“A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them — tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.”

One blawgger I follow on Twitter called it “douchiquette.”

Notwithstanding, to borrow a phrase from the “fellow traveler” handbook, while I don’t agree with their methods, they do have a point.

Back in March I wrote a post inspired by National Grammar Day (March 4th).

“Yes, there was some adolescent know-it-all-ism in there too, but over time I came to realize that grammar — like manners — is ultimately about making people feel comfortable. So even now, in the age of 140-character, thumb-typed communication, attention to spelling, usage and grammar are valuable because they make for clear, easy and enjoyable reading, and they inform the way others perceive your personal and professional brand.

  1. Sloppy writing conveys inattention to detail. What does that say about the quality of the product or service you’re selling?
  2. Glaring mistakes trip the reader or listener, and distract them from your message. A few days ago I was reading a post by a relatively well-known law marketing blogger and encountered the phrase “for all intensive purposes” — and that’s all I remember about it.
  3. Tolerances vary widely. Even if some — or even most — friends and business associates don’t care about spelling, punctuation and the occasional mangled sentence, some will. Is irritating or alienating even a small fraction of your clients due to lazy communication an acceptable loss?

For the record, I don’t profess to be a grammar expert or master prose stylist, and I am certain that martinets in the gotcha brigade could pick this post to pieces. Rather, for very concrete business reasons I am advocating vigilance and continual improvement in written and oral communication. Presentations and writing are products. Regardless of the power of your ideas, the color, fit and finish also matter, because they differentiate and distinguish your brand.”

And as the Twetiquette griefers have demonstrated, there’s an app for that.

The “One Fruitcake” Theory of Social Media Marketing Blog Posts

Even accomplished chefs are always on the lookout for new and exciting dishes. New techniques and novel applications of classics. Interesting ingredients and unexpected combinations. All in the service of surprising and delighting customers, and advancing the profession.


Sadly, social marketing bloggers seem content to warm up the same basic dish over and over again, just seasoned and garnished a bit differently.

It is said that Johnny Carson first posited that there is actually only one fruitcake in the world; it’s just passed around a lot. You see where I’m going with this…

The basic recipe for a blog post on how to be successful in social marketing:

Ingredients

  1. Generalized invocation of social marketing’s importance
  2. Quote by social media and/or marketing “guru” (preferably Chris Brogan or Seth Godin)
  3. Statistics on blog readership and the number of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn subscribers
  4. Authenticity bullet point
  5. Listening bullet point
  6. “Join the conversation” bullet point
  7. “Content is King” bullet point
  8. Thought leadership bullet point
  9. SEO bullet point
  10. ROI bullet point
  11. Reference to parties who “get it” (i.e. enlightened heroes) and/or “don’t get it” (i.e. willfully ignorant objects of pity and derision who need your help and mentorship)
  12. Warning about the perils of not embracing social marketing
  13. Local seasoning (e.g. reference to the intended audience’s specific challenges/opportunities)

Cooking instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients
  2. Whip into a froth
  3. Serve — over and over again.

Come on “Top Social Media Chef” wannabes, here’s a “quickfire” challenge for you: Reinterpret this bland staple of social marketing blog posts and make a signature dish.

Can’t Afford Market Research? Take a Fundraiser to Lunch

Listen to any public radio fundraiser and you’re going to hear a steady drumbeat of law firm business partner names. Listen to their news programs, and you’ll frequently hear plugs for law firm underwriters. My local NPR station, KUT, currently lists 60 legal services firms in it online business supporter directory, and eight firms as corporate underwriters.

Let’s be clear. It’s not the good-natured on-air wheedling and cajoling that got these firms to pony up — it’s the result of a sophisticated development organization (nonprofit-speak for marketing) that works year-round to identify prospects, solicit introductions and cultivate relationships. Sound familiar? It’s just like law firm marketing.

So if you are active in a nonprofit organization — particularly a large one — it’s worthwhile to see whether/how much the development director is willing to share with you on the art and science of targeting and segmentation for local businesses.

Companies that help nonprofits with their fundraising and marketing can be great free resources, too.

Convio is a software as a service (SaaS) company focused on online marketing and fundraising for nonprofits. Check out their Nonprofit Sector Research library. Their just-published 2010 online nonprofit benchmark study is a trove of information on e-campaign results and trends. Also worth perusal for useful nuggets is their 2008 study “The Wired Wealthy: Using the Internet to Connect with Your Middle and Major Donors.” Given the rapid growth in social networking adoption and social media usage rates over the past two years, the data is probably out of date, but it still has some interesting insights that could inform your strategic planning.

Blogs Aren’t Magic: What South Park and SNL Can Teach Us About the Follies of Social Media

We can learn a lot about the pitfalls of law firm social marketing from satirical television shows.

It seems that any discussion of law firm marketing these days begins with “You gotta get a blog!” (a la the Saturday Night Live “Chandeliers” skit).

Lawyer blogs are classy, smart, cutting-edge, convey status and make a statement. “OK,” you say, “I’ve launched one. What now?” A few weeks ago I saw an actual LinkedIn post that posed the question, “How do I convert my blog subscribers into clients?”

How indeed.

There’s a lot of rhapsodizing in legal marketing circles about social media as the new PR, and the power of blogs to generate speaking opportunities, media coverage, new business leads and new clients, but painfully little specific discourse on the mechanics of how it works. South Park skewers that business model elision in the famous “Gnomes” episode:

  • Phase 1: Collect underpants
  • Phase 2: ?
  • Phase 3: Profit

The fact of the matter is, blogs perform a lot of very important marketing tasks very well. They can:

  • Make it easier to be found by potential clients (aka SEO).
  • Efficiently organize and display information.
  • Demonstrate capabilities and expertise.
  • Convey a sense of who you are, how you think and how you work.
  • Provide a mechanism for contacting you.

What they don’t do so well is:

  • Get the right information in front of the right person at the right time.
  • Follow up.
  • Persuade.
  • Identify new opportunities or paths for advancement.

In other words, blogs can’t close the sale. They can make marketing more effective and efficient, but that only goes so far.

  • Journalists and bloggers still need to be motivated, engaged and informed through PR outreach.
  • Potential clients still want to meet you in person or at least talk to you in real time.
  • Conference organizers still need to be persuaded that attendees will find you interesting and your presentation valuable.

So while magical — kind of like the iPad — blogs are not magic. You still need magicians to make them work. 

 

Wolfe Law Group Uses Social Media to Walk the Talk of Passionate Client Focus

I love a good case study, particularly when it demonstrates the integration of strategy and tactics. A tweet this morning by Scott Wolfe Jr. alerted me to an excellent one.

Let’s start with the tweet itself:

“New Blog Post: Celebrating Our 5th Year Blogging – Simplified Look and Free Construction Resources http://bit.ly/aqySsO

  1. It’s good practice to alert your Twitter followers to new content on your blog.
  2. Five years blogging is pioneering, even for tech blogs. For a law blog it borders on visionary — and as the saying goes, it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.
  3. The message telegraphs tangible end-user benefits.

Of course I clicked through. They had me at “simplified” and “free.”

The post outlining the key improvements to the Construction Law Monitor was refreshingly clear and concise, and powerfully reinforced the firm’s unique value proposition:

“Our firm is fanatically focused on two things: construction & you. We center our practice
on serving those in the construction industry, and unlike representation you might have
encountered in the past, Wolfe Law Group is concerned about results, because we’re
concerned about you.”

Nice words, but how does that translate into action? Through a sophisticated, well-executed integrated social media strategy. Not just their own blogs — they have eight — but also through tools like a free comprehensive database of construction law blogs across the world, free legal guides on Avvo, free forms and documents on JD Supra and free presentations on SlideShare.

If you are new to social media, this is how it’s done well. Major consumer brands could take a few lessons.

Curb Your Appetite: Social Media Will Devour Your Time Only if You Let It

To paraphrase Mame from the eponymous musical, “Social media is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” But with a bounty of social networking and media platforms that we can feast on for law firm marketing, we also need to keep our appetites in check. Lawyers already have a lot on their plate, so how do we keep from overloading with social media?

As with any buffet, survey the whole spread before you start filling your plate, pace yourself and don’t fill up on bread.

Randall Ryder on Lawyerist.com observed that the siren’s song of social media and e-mail will disrupt your workflow unless you make behavioral changes to close yourself off to the chatter, or organize your schedule to harmonize your existing work habits. And I noticed that Lawyer coach Debra Bruce, a keen observer of technology’s role in productivity and effectiveness, recently provided time management tips to the Law Practice Management Section of the Houston Bar Association

Extending my dietary metaphor, following are some simple tips for managing your social media diet:

  • Portion control: Consciously budget and monitor the total amount of time you spend on social networking/marketing. Assign an amount of time and time of day to each activity — blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook — based on inherent requirements (e.g. drafting blog posts needs larger blocks of time than tweeting).
  • Cut out empty calories: Don’t waste time trying to bulk up on Twitter followers quickly.
  • Limit snacks: Foursquare , Gowalla and Farmville are “sometime foods.”
  • Find a support group: Tap into your network to learn about best practices from friends and colleagues. The LegalBlogging Group on LinkedIn is active and interesting.
  • Boost your metabolism: Scheduling tools like SocialOomph can increase your social media productivity.

Law Firm Blogs: Why You Don’t Need a Website

Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed numerous tweets announcing small and solo law firms launching or relaunching their Web site. In turn, I took greater notice of the commonplace and repetitive exhortations from Web-design-firms-cum-online-marketing-experts to optimize SEO on your law firm website.

Taken together, these episodes have me wondering, “Why?”

I’m not arguing that websites are obsolete, or questioning SEO — to the contrary — but rather, I am wondering why expensive, complex, static websites are still so entrenched and central to the online marketing and identity of solo and small firms. The best explanation I’ve come up with is 1) conformity and 2) habit. Websites are virtual “shingles.” EVERYBODY has one. If you’re in practice, you must have a website to show you’re legit and to help people find you. As a result, blogs usually are undertaken in addition to — not instead of — websites. No wonder, then, that social marketing for law firms is viewed as an additional expense and resource strain.

But there’s another way to look at it: You don’t NEED a website.

Law firm blogs meet the same key functional objectives as websites — aka brochureware — at a fraction of the cost. They are dead simple to set up and manage, they look professional and they have the critical advantage of dynamic content.

Publishing company HarperStudio asked fans of its blog that same question when it began contemplating how best to elevate its online marketing and community-building strategy:

“Why do we ‘need’ a website? We’ve been looking at proposals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I am still not clear what we would accomplish with a website that justifies that amount of money. I certainly understand the difference between their functions [blogs and websites], just not the ROI.

Nearly everyone who’s opinion on the matter I highly regard says we need one. Certainly the companies we’ve looked into hiring say yes. And yet no one seems to be able to explain to me ‘WHY’ in a way that makes sense to me.”

A few months after asking followers for their opinions, HarperStudio announced its decision:

“Your comments to the question were AMAZING. I read and used every one. The result is that we decided to forgo the expensive website and instead build a WordPress site….The whole thing came in under $10,000. It’s easily maintainable by all of us and our authors. We hope it’s a fun place to hang out. It’s a work in progress.”

Marketing blogger Trish Jones begins her case in support of blogs over websites with a key point:

“First of all, I need to make this ultra clear … a blog IS a website. In fact, I want to take that a stage further and say that blogs are “dynamic” websites. You can have pages on a blog and, with some of the great blog software on the market today, it can sometimes be difficult to tell some blogs and websites apart.”

My own elevator pitch for the advantages of blogs goes something like this:

  • Operational: Even non-technical people can set up a creditable blog through providers like WordPress, TypePad and Blogger in less than an afternoon — for free and by themselves — and maintain/update it just as easily.
  • Financial: Basic blog packages and hosting are free, but even custom design and hosting costs a fraction of what’s required for a full-blown website.
  • Functional: Blogs are more than narratives. They incorporate tabbed pages just like standard websites.
  • Aesthetics: Very attractive, readable themes are plentiful and available for free; customized/branded themes are very affordable.
  • Agility: You can add, delete and update blog pages by entering text into forms on the fly, while Web pages need to be programmed and tested before being published.
  • Marketing effectiveness: Dynamic content like blog narratives and comments give followers a reason to follow and continually visit a blog, and — this is important — search engines index blog content more quickly than website content.

Standard websites are still the way to go if the required functionality and/or user experience is complex:

  • Dropdown menus
  • Numerous and complex groupings
  • Complex branching and cross-referencing
  • Microsites
  • Sophisticated graphics and multimedia
  • Forms
  • Downloads

So while they are still useful and necessary for some purposes, fully featured websites don’t need to be the default setting for law firm online branding and marketing any longer.

No More Excuses: Texas Bar Journal’s Social Media Primer Provides Much-Needed Nudge

In a conservative profession bound by strict codes of conduct concerning solicitation of business (aka advertising and marketing), it’s easy to avoid or postpone innovation.

That’s what makes the March issue of the Texas Bar Journal about social media so interesting, helpful — and slightly provocative. I say provocative in the sense that in an understated way, it almost dares the profession to find ways to apply new tools in the practice and business of law.

The whole issue is a keeper, but of particular interest to me is an instructive overview by Debra Bruce of how the Advertising Review Committee’s Interpretive Comments help clarify how the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct apply to social media. Bruce does an admirable job of balancing reassurances and cautions:

LinkedIn profiles – You probably don’t have to file for pre-approval with the Advertising Review Department as long as you’re not overtly soliciting business.

” Using social media to build and enhance relationships and to engage in discussions about topics of interest can be distinguished from advertisement or solicitation.”

And if you’re not sure, file your profile for pre-approval and you will be deemed compliant.

Blogs – They’re fine, as long as the content is editorial, informational, educational or entertaining, and not false, misleading or deceptive ( or a solicitation for business, of course).

“[Indeed,] blogs have become a useful form of communication for attorneys to get information out about subject matter or events relating to their area of practice.”

Videos – Just as with blogs, keep it informational, truthful and not promotional.

User-Generated Content – UGC — ratings, reviews and recommendations — is the hot spot of social marketing for consumer goods, but poses unique challenges for lawyers. While Texas allows the use of testimonials for lawyers, you’d be well-advised to screen LinkedIn recommendations before they get posted for public view.

“For example, Rule 7.02(4) prohibits comparisons to other lawyers’ services, unless substantiated by verifiable objective data. Therefore, if your client enthusiastically reports that you are “the best trial lawyer in town,” you will need to diplomatically as for a revision before publication.”

Bruce ends her article with a key insight and simple advice:

“In summary, some lawyers may be rusty in their recollection of the advertising and solicitation rules because they normally rely on traditional one-to-one networking for client development. As you venture into social media, it’s a good time to give a fresh read to Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct to help you recognize novel issue you may not have encountered.”

In other words, have fun, but be careful.

Law Firm Uses Microtargeted Social Media Ad to Reach Social Media Marketers

I was surprised and intrigued by two HARO (Help a Reporter Out) e-mails this week , both sponsored by Saunders & Silverstein, an Amesbury, Mass.-based law firm specializing in trademarks, copyrights, licensing and domain names:

“Law is scary. Hide-under-the-blanket scary sometimes. That’s where our awesome HARO family member Saunders & Silverstein come in. They handle issues with trademarks, copyrights, licensing and domain names. They can also help you set up a solid legal strategy to meet your goals. You’re going to be in good hands, since they handle domestic and international trademark and copyright protection, as well as Internet and entertainment law. And it doesn’t matter if you are one person or a publicly traded company – they work with them all and tailor a plan accordingly. Check out http://bit.ly/d3B25O and if you are a new client and mention this HARO ad, they will give you 25% off their fee for your first U.S.trademark application filing. SWEET!”

If you’re unfamiliar with HARO, it’s a social media service that distributes inquiries from information seekers (e.g. journalists and bloggers) to potential sources (e.g. PR folks, marketers and subject matter experts of various stripes). Like Craigslist classifieds for stories and storytellers.

Saunders & Silverstein might not be the first firm to try running a coupon special on HARO, but they’re certainly the first I’ve noticed. And it makes perfect sense on several levels.

Highly qualified, highly targeted distribution – HARO subscribers trade in intellectual property, and even if they do not have a direct need for legal services, they likely have clients who do. As the HARO advertising sales pitch notes, sponsors are reaching “Engaged, active members of a community who will read their ads, listen to our unique perspective on the sponsor’s offer, and then take action and buy something.”

Trust and Loyalty – HARO subscribers are social media professionals and true believers, and founder/CEO Peter Shankman is something of a cult figure. Social media types remember the businesses that take them seriously, and they reward that engagement with positive word of mouth.

Eyeballs – HARO claims a “75 %+” open rate for its e-mail distributions, and the folksy feature lead of each message is derived from the sponsor’s message/offer.

Since legal services aren’t an impulse buy, it might take a while before Saunders & Silverstein see the ROI they’re hoping for. I hope they’re at least getting some click-through traffic that trends in the right direction — and that they will let me know how it turns out either way. This would make a very interesting case study.