Archives for June 2011

My State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting Wrap-Up

Last week I had the great good fortune to participate in the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, and live blogged on Twitter — hashtag #sbot11 — a goodly amount of interesting comments and insights from the sessions I attended . It was topically diverse, engaging, well-curated and well-run, with a lot of strong, actionable content.

Since my interest is marketing and business development, I spent my day Thursday in a series of sessions called “The Adaptable Lawyer Legal Innovation/Computer and Technology Track,” and Friday in the Law Practice Management track. While it wasn’t billed or consciously framed as such, the content of those sessions aligned with one or more of four basic subject areas:

  • Mobile computing
  • Social media platforms
  • Content marketing
  • Niche marketing

Mobile Computing

The standing-room-only crowd for the “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” session made it clear. From iPads and productivity apps to cloud-based research tools and practice management systems, mobile computing is transforming the way that lawyers work. While the iPad was still something of a novelty for “geeks” at last year’s annual meeting, it has quickly evolved into an essential operational hub. As Tom Mighell pointed out in his fast-paced and useful presentation, the depth and breadth of applications specifically for lawyers has made the iPad the de facto mobile computing platform for lawyers.

Social Media Platforms

Facebook was clearly the shiny object this year, with Twitter and LinkedIn tied for a distant second. Last year’s belle of the ball — blogging — was hardly discussed. That probably sounds snarky, but it derives from disappointment about missed opportunities. The presenters who discussed the various social platforms could have framed them in an integrated context, drilling down further into one or more and offering actionable guidance and specific counsel about how use cases can differ by social platform, firm size and practice area. Instead, the overall impression was “here are all the social media sites you need to join.”

Content Marketing

As mentioned above, legal marketing tends to focus on the channel rather than the product. In other words, the social media platforms themselves rather than a merchandising strategy for content. While no one discussed content marketing directly, several presenters showed an inchoate sense of the “create once, publish everywhere” axiom of social media marketing. A simple example of this would be to write a blog post, tease it on you Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, cross-post it on LinkedIn groups and link to it on Facebook.

I was excited to hear several speakers mention JD Supra, an online content distribution service for legal topics (articles, white papers, presentations) that is woefully underutilized and deserves serious consideration as an organic search/social signal amplifier.

As a practical matter, law firms are likelier to see quicker, more direct results from JD Supra as a content marketing platform than from Facebook — and with  a lot less effort.

Niche Marketing

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there were several good niche marketing case studies, but you had to really dig for them under generic social media palaver. For example, instead of discussing how focusing on a niche expertise — the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act — led to a thriving international business practice, one panelist spent his time extolling his narrow and idiosyncratic understanding and use of social media.

Since the number of solo and small firms chasing after a declining pool of general business and family law opportunities is increasing, next year’s program would benefit from a session with practical instruction on how to leverage specific interests and expertise into unique value propositions that attract clients.

Summary

I’ll give the last word to Kevin O’Keefe, who tweeted, “Is there a better State Bar Annual Meeting than Texas? Great people, presenters, and connections.”

Law Firm Websites: Bios and Headshots vs. Marketing Speak

Whether by design or by accident, Vinson & Elkins’ use of attorney bios on its home page makes a clear, engaging and — some might argue — innovative branding statement.

Over the past several months the team at website development and marketing firm Great Jakes has been making a persuasive case for fundamentally reconceiving law firm websites as marketing platforms for individual rainmakers (instead of the traditional focus on firm practices/capabilities), and the firm recently reconfigured it’s own services offering to deliver that model.

Interestingly, despite an otherwise unremarkable website, V&E’s home page makes the case for how a simple array of bios can command attention and communicate a brand message.

What stands out:

  • Attorney headshots are the only images on the page and therefore immediately grab and anchor visitors’ attention.
  • As the dominant design element, the “Featured Lawyers” box — by design or default — communicates a unique value proposition: the broad capabilities, professional accomplishments and diversity of its key players.
  • Visitors read bios more than any other website content type, and placement on the front page stimulates click-through to the full bios as well as to additional pages of featured lawyers.

Imagine how impactful this approach would be with a few more graphic blandishments to make the site more visually appealing, and dynamic content to add usefulness and depth, attract search engines, and encourage repeat visits.

What law firm sites — large, mid-size or small — do you believe leverage rainmaker bios to their best advantage?

Who’s Afraid of LegalZoom? And Why?

Mentioning LegalZoom in a group of lawyers elicits a similar reaction to uttering “Voldemort” to magical folk in a Harry Potter book/movie — fear and contempt for “He Who Must Not Be Named.” He Who Must Not Be NamedLegalZoom is the most reviled recent innovation in the legal industry, the bete noire of small business and family law.

But like family lawyer Lee Rosen, I’m puzzled why lawyers seem focused on destroying the business through legal challenges and rhetorical attacks instead of besting it in the marketplace.

 “…The flaws in LegalZoom…are fixable. LegalZoom has resources and they’ve got time. They’re going to fix every issue they identify and, eventually, they’re going to have an excellent product. They’ll build greater and greater intelligence into the service and they’ll, one day, get it right for every client.

“Once they get it right, you’re still going to need to make a living. It’s time to start telling the stories of how you add value and give people a reason to come to you.”

With some innovative marketing — like adapting your service delivery model and sharpening your value proposition — you can actually benefit from LegalZoom’s outsized presence in the market.

  • LegalZoom can only say it’s cheaper; not better, or even as good.
  • If you’re honest with yourself, you don’t even want clients who think online forms are good enough. They would never be happy, you would end up over-servicing the client, and you would likely not get future business.
  • Is anyone actually losing clients to LegalZoom, or is the service model just attracting individuals and small businesses who otherwise wouldn’t consult with an attorney?
  • LegalZoom’s Achilles’ heel is that it cannot provide peace of mind. Leverage that. Create a higher-margin niche in reviewing draft DIY documents.
  • Productize and market your own forms. 
  • Give templates away. It’s a mitzvah to other small and solo firms (and potential referral sources), and a good marketing hook for your higher-value client services.

Do you think LegalZoom is an actual threat to small and solo firms, or are you embracing the challenge?

Blogging for Lawyers: The Bold and the Bulleted

As much as I’d like to believe that all my gentle readers pour over my finely crafted posts from top to bottom, I know better. With so much content out there clamoring for eyeballs, if you don’t quickly capture and hold the attention of your visitors, they’re quickly on to the next Twitter link.

Successful writing for blogs means that at least one key insight adheres to the reader’s memory, and that the insight is associated with you.

Three simple typographic and formatting techniques that engage readers and make blog copy more readable and memorable.

  1. Use bullets or numbers – Lists are our friends. They draw attention. They organize an argument. They’re more inviting to read (and, frankly, they’re easier to write than long passages with smooth transitions).
  2. Use boldface type to flag key ideas – In addition to highlighting the main points of your bulleted/numbered list, don’t be afraid to use boldface (and/or italics) to emphasize a key point in the body copy – Be judicious, though. Otherwise it might look like you’re screaming in print.
  3. Relieve long stretches of copy with headings – You can’t bullet narratives, but long, uninterrupted stretches of copy tax blog readers’ attention. Headings break up the copy into more visually digestible bites, and locate key parts of your argument for the reader.

As I wrote in a previous post, still and video images also draw readers into a story. What are your favorite techniques?

Facebook for Lawyers: Connecting on a Personal Level

It seems Bowling Green, Ky. is a hotbed of innovation in Facebook for lawyers.

In her recent guest blog post here about ELPO Law’s Facebook experience, Robyn Davis Sekula gave a generous shout-out to another local firm, Crocker Law Offices, for the success they’ve had with charity tie-ins on their Facebook page. To me, what elevates Crocker’s approach is that they’ve moved beyond the transactional aspects of Facebook fundraising and are connecting on a personal level with people passionate about the causes the firm supports.

In addition to donating money to the recent American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” for each new “like” on their Facebook page, Crocker invited all its Facebook followers to “tell us who you want to honor or remember.” And followers responded.

That’s the ultimate connection in social media — sharing on a profoundly personal level. It transcends the commercial. Commenters are not talking to the firm, they’re sharing with each other and building genuine, sustainable community.

Please share your picks and recommendations for law firms who are Facebook innovators. I’d love to visit their pages and spread the word.

Twitter for Lawyers: 10 Under-Reported Secrets of Success

While eminently true, the most frequent, obvious and least useful “tip” on how lawyers can succeed on Twitter is “Post great content,” followed closely by some variation on:

  • Choose a focus and become an authority (aka “thought leadership”);
  • Transparency is key in building and maintaining a strong reputation (aka “authenticity”); and
  • Humility and kindness (aka “Follow The Golden Rule” aka “Be nice”).

It reminds me of the SNL retro training film spoof from 2005 featuring Tom Brady as the model for how to appropriately approach female coworkers for a date:

  • Be Handsome…
  • Be Attractive…
  • and Don’t Be Unattractive.

(At one point the video was available on YouTube, but alas, no more).

Given the vagueness of this type of guidance, it’s not particularly surprising that there’s been so much debate lately about whether lawyers should incorporate Twitter into their marketing mix.

The Shorthand Version of My “The Untold Story of How to Succeed on Twitter: Lawyers Edition” Presentation

Background:

Twitter was designed for and works best as a platform for broadcasting short messages to both mass audiences and specialized communities of interest. While it can be adapted for marketing purposes, IT IS NOT NOW NOR EVER WAS PRIMARILY A LEAD GENERATION PLATFORM. For professionals like lawyers, Twitter works best for 1) professional networking and 2) reconnaissance and research.

Put another way, don’t dog Twitter if you’re not getting as many new business inquiries as from your blog or other sources; you’re using it wrong.

If you get some business leads out of your Twitter activity, consider it a bonus.

Step 1: Based on your overall marketing objectives, decide what types of people you want to engage with and — most importantly — what topics you want to follow and conversations you want to participate in. This will inform and shape your following and follower acquisition strategy, as well as your content strategy.

Step 2:Create a complete profile before sending a single tweet. The first thing tweeps check out when considering whether to follow you is your profile. Samantha Collier’s recent post is an excellent primer on writing an effective Twitter bio. Even if it’s lame, include an avatar; you can always change it. No one will take you seriously if you’re operating under the default “egg” graphic.

Step 3:Create an inventory of useful/interesting tweets before you start following anyone. Right after potential followers read your bio, they check out your tweet stream. Even if you don’t have many — or any — followers yet, tweeps that you try to engage with are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and follow you back if you demonstrate you’re serious about Twitter.

Step 4: Maintain an average of at least two tweets a day. Several services that rank the “quality” of Twitter accounts use two per day as their benchmark for serious engagement.

Step 5: Approach follower acquisition methodically. Identify one or two “influentials” — individuals with high authority/followship in your target segment — and go through the inventory of who they follow and their “lists” to identify prospects.

Step 6: If you want someone to follow you, first let them know you’re listening to them. Retweet one of their posts with your comments added, then follow them right on the heels of that retweet.

Step 7: Don’t continue to follow people who don’t follow you back. Give them a few days to deliberate after you’ve started following them, then unfollow. Don’t extend the courtesy of following to the ungrateful, the uninterested or the lazy. The few exceptions would be news feeds — which don’t follow anyone back — and some “influentials” who tweet content useful to you.

Step 8: Don’t accept every follow request. Block the obvious spammers, and ignore the off-topic “experts” and vendors. A well-curated list of followers makes you more interesting and valuable to potential followers.

Step 9: As your follower and tweet inventory grows, go back to the “influentials” who didn’t reciprocate your initial follow. They might look at you in a different light.

Step 10: Evaluate and adjust your strategy and tactics quarterly. That’s enough time to see what is/isn’t working. Waiting longer means you’re missing opportunities for improvement.

What practical advice do you have for Twitter success?

Blogging for Lawyers: Surprise and Challenge, but Don’t Provoke

A blog post about Twitter for professionals, entitled “Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too)” ,  is a great example of the law of unintended consequences in social media marketing. The commentary on the post’s content and the SEO strategy behind it is far more interesting and insightful than the original (Check out Samantha Collier’s and Adrian Dayton’s thoughtful treatments of the kerfuffle), and the author has been pilloried and likely suffered damage to her reputation in the process.

What the author, forensic accountant Tracy Coenen, did is not new nor particularly controversial. Executed with prudence and skill, “linkbaiting” and taking contrarian and controversial positions on your blog can be extremely effective for driving word-of-mouth traffic and building influence. Top-tier bloggers do it all the time.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here. But we can learn from Coenen’s mistakes.

How to Win Friends and Influence People with Challenging Blog Posts

  • Don’t play dumb: If you promote yourself as one of the most successful online marketers in your field as Coenen does, it’s either disingenuous or dishonest to act surprised and affronted when called out for behaving like it. An obvious linkbaiting headline, provocative content, cross-linking the post on other online properties (it was cross-promoted and continues to be discussed on a LinkedIn group), and responding to commentary about it on other blogs demonstrate an intentional strategy for creating “buzz.”
  • Don’t be prescriptive: Especially if the “data” you’re using is just the anecdotal opinions of you and your friends. Just because something hasn’t worked for you (or, as in Tracy’s case, she’s doing it wrong in the first place), don’t presume your position is definitive for entire classes of people.
  • Leave yourself some outs: When it looks like the tide of opinion has turned decidedly against you, there’s nothing to be gained by doubling down to prove you’re right. People forgive a little hyperbole and polemic license as long as you acknowledge that you might have overstated your case a smidge. Which leads me to my final point…
  • Don’t play the victim — or demonize people who challenge what you wrote: If you’re going to make bold, provocative statements, then your skin should be thick enough (and your rhetoric smooth enough) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous opinion. In her comments on the LinkedIn thread, instead of addressing the merits of their arguments, Coenen attempts to discredit her detractors by labelling them as social media “cool kids” in the thrall of latest fads, or as professional marketers out to dupe unsuspecting lawyers and accountants. What would Dale Carnegie say about that?

Notwithstanding, Coenen’s done professional services marketing a great service (albeit unintentionally) by demonstrating how provocative commentary can generate interesting and insightful discussion, but that it can also backfire on the author if not executed well.

The ROI of Legal PR: There’s Still Value if You Look for It

Just a short meditation today…

I’ve been involved in a LinkedIn group discussion thread that has veered into calls for comparative ROI data on the range of social media marketing platforms — Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn vs. blogs. Conspicuous by its absence from that discussion is the comparative value of traditional media relations. Although online social media has eviscerated traditional media, law firms still spend not insignificant amounts of time and money chasing trade press, local print and broadcast outlets and — the Holy Grail —  national publications and news programs.

As I’ve written before, apart from trade outlets, media relations for law firms is a low probability proposition at best. And even when you do get a good mention or score an interview, how much is that worth? Whatever your reasons for pursuing a media relations strategy, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of garnering general media coverage while streamlining effort and reducing costs:

  • Calendarize your opportunities: Your odds of getting included in a story are significantly higher if you time and customize your pitches for holidays and annual events (Tax Day, back to school).
  • Have bulleted content and a media relations — not website — version of your bio ready for opportunistic pitching: “Top 10” lists — the actual number of items can vary —  are a staple of what now passes as news. So if a local or national story concerning your practice area breaks, you can immediately send you media target list some ready-to-run content instead of calling up to explain why you’re a subject matter expert.
  • Pitch trend stories: Use your handy dandy “Top 10” lists to sell your feature story ideas.
  • Pitch morning shows instead of news programs: Morning shows feature extended interviews, while news reports just need soundbites.
  • Focus on trade media outlets that also post their content online for free: Online content that requires a subscription cannot be readily added to your site, publicized or shared. Nothing galls visitors more than slamming into a pay wall when they click one of your website or Twitter links.

How much time/money do you spend on media relations? How do those efforts compare with your social media results?