Archives for December 2011

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.31.11

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

  • Legal technology predictions for 2012 | Legal Currents
  • SEO Copywriting Tips for Improved Link Building | SEOmoz
  • The KISSmetrics Guide to Keyword Research – Part III: 40 Top Keyword Research Posts of 2011 | KISSmetrics
  • SEO Strategies and Inbound Marketing Best Practices for 2012 | Kaiserthesage
  • Top 25 Social Media Blogs For Businesses / Flowtown
  • 50 Awesome Posts on Email Marketing | Unbounce
  • 5 Steps to a Better SEO Strategy| Quicksprout

 

 

 

Law Practice Management: Fortune Favors the Bold

If you believe Vivia Chen’s recent post on Careerist, neither chief legal officers at corporations nor their outside counsel firms are seriously interested in alternative fee arrangements. Chen bolstered her thesis with an opinion from Corporate Counsel writer Nigel Holloway: “True, more than three-quarters of legal departments surveyed are initiating talks with their law firms over alternative fee arrangements, but these rarely bear fruit.”

What this perfunctory analysis elides is that even if clients are not aggressively pushing for AFAs, that doesn’t mean they are unquestioningly paying whatever bills they get. There are other reliable, time-tested ways to lower costs. As long as outside firms are willing to write off billable hours, clients can achieve their cost and productivity objectives without the trouble of negotiating complicated new service agreements.

While the profession dithers with what to do about the billable hours pricing model, a few firms are pioneering a wide range of technology-enabled efficiency and cost saving applications. As Hamlet observed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

Hal M. Stewart, Chief Operating Officer of Chadbourne & Parke, recently offered a more action-oriented take on  how innovative law firms are lowering operating expenses. His excellent post outlines nine innovative technology applications already in use by some law firms that offer significant opportunities for cost reduction and organizational effectiveness:

  • Full digitization of incoming mail
  • “Hoteling” office space arrangements
  • E-billing for law firm vendors
  • Workflow automation for billing adjustments and A/R write-offs
  • Automated notification for AFA threshold reporting
  • Unified VOIP communication, collaboration and messaging infrastructure
  • Social media for recruitment and associate communications
  • Workflow-enabled transaction experience systems
  • Data mining for alternative fee arrangement pricing

The pressure on both in-house legal departments and outside counsel to deliver exceptional legal services at competitive rates is real and growing. AFAs are only one piece of the puzzle.

Do you think there’s a tipping point coming for bold moves into cost control and reduction, or will it continue to be  more talked about than acted on?

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.28.11

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

 

News from the LexisNexis Social Media Survey That Didn’t Make Headlines

The recent LexisNexis/Vizibility survey of social media for law firms deservedly generated a lot of headlines, buzz and discussion in the blawgosphere. While many legal bloggers identified a pending deluge of new legal blogs as the key takeaway, some of the most interesting information in the study has been overlooked.

Worth Considering More Closely

  • Video – Despite being an even more nettlesome and expensive enterprise than blogging, nearly half of respondents indicated they plan to incorporate video into their marketing mix — a percentage more or less consistent across firms of all sizes.
  • QR Codes – To be honest, I don’t think Vizibility was a good partner for this survey because QR is a mobile technology for accessing online content through physical media. Despite Vizibility’s pitch, QR is not a social media networking or marketing platform. But the bigger issue is that even if you consider mobile applications to be social media marketing, there is no compelling data to indicate QR technology has staying power, let alone growth potential. The infographic distributed with the survey results announcement misleadingly correlates QR code growth with smartphone market growth, when its future is more directly tied to advertiser choices. While QR code-based gaming and discounting applications were popular with consumer product marketers over the past year, smartphone users themselves have not enthusiastically embraced their use, and the future of QR is uncertain.  Notwithstanding, the survey suggests that 80 percent of law firms will have QR codes in their marketing mix by the end of 2012, predominantly for mobile access to online marketing materials and business card data. So are legal marketers riding the tail end of a gimmick?

Notable for Their Absence

  • Budget and Resourcing Plans – A single five-minute branding video can cost as much or more than the out-of-pocket expenses for an entire year of blogging. Even low-budget productions can cost several thousand dollars apiece. Combined with aggressive movement into blogging and social networking engagement, does that mean marketing budgets will be increasing, or will it be funded through cuts to other marketing tactics? Which ones? Will there be new marketing hires, or a greater reliance on outside contractors?
  • Non-Blog Content Marketing – Content distribution and SEO optimization platforms like JD Supra and SlideShare are bona fide forces in content marketing for law firms. However, the survey did not mention them by name, nor include content marketing as a category.

Worthy of Its Own Category

  • The infographics accompanying the survey results press release literally and figuratively animated the narrative, and elevated the overall impact of the announcement. It would be great to see adoption and utilization of infographics in law firm marketing explored in a future survey.

What did you think of the survey results? Anything surprising? What kinds of questions would you have asked?

Social Media for Law Firms: Maybe the Geezers “Get It” Better Than the Magpies

Apparently Wall Street Journal legal affairs writer Jennifer Smith was in a hurry to start her Christmas vacation last week when she slapped together a couple of headlines from other publications and called it a legal marketing trend for 2012. The thesis for the post was based on the comments of a professional speaker who derives his livelihood from pushing social media for law firms, and that big trend for 2012 is — wait for it — social media.

The link-baiting headline  for Smith’s story tellingly framed the issue in terms of trending topics, not the soundness of the underlying premise: “2012: The Year Law Firms Ditch Geezer Image And Get Tweeting.”

The case for law firms and individual lawyers to engage in social media is compelling — but so is the case against it. So instead of representing some sort of woolly-headed risk aversion, the decision not to push foursquare into social media — particularly the briar patch called blogging — is just as likely to be a well-considered strategic decision based on a clear understanding of the firm’s capabilities, and of client needs, behaviors and expectations.

As with most endeavors, you’re usually better off not following a course of action that you don’t fully support than you are proceeding without conviction. In the age of social media ubiquity, untended and orphaned blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages are more detrimental to your brand and marketing efforts than having none at all.

In a recent Social Media Today post headlined “Not Tweeting, and Not Feeling Guilty About It,” Liz Wainger noted:

“If enterprises don’t have the resources (time and energy) to engage on social media, or are unwilling to fully embrace social media, it is better to use other means to communicate until you do.  And for goodness sake, stop feeling guilty about it, and think positively about the ways you are engaging your stakeholders.”

So what are some telltale signs that shouldn’t (or aren’t ready to) launch or expand your social media activities — or that you should consider quitting:

  • Lack of an intuitive personal connection to the potential of social media – If you’re not “feeling it” even a little bit at the outset, you’re highly unlikely to work hard enough at it or be patient enough to give it a fighting chance of success. It’s not an acquired taste.
  • Lack of an intuitive connection to the potential of social media by your employees and peers – If you can’t accomplish what you need to without the participation of colleagues, you should not proceed if you have reservations about their buy-in and level of participation. You know that you’re in trouble when you’re told “All they need is some training.”
  • A pattern of starting and stopping – If it dawns on you that you’re going days at a time between tweets and weeks at a time between blog posts, it’s time to either recommit or cut your losses and shut it down.

It’s OK, really. Trust your gut and take on social media when it feels right. It’ll still be there.

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.23.11

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

Thought Leadership for Law Students: An Interview with Online Law Journal Editor Sarah Eli Mattern

The scarcity of strong law student voices in legal social media is conspicuous, so when I encountered the online law journal The Student Appeal on Twitter, I was immediately interested to learn more. Comprised of articles, op-ed pieces and a blog, The Student Appeal serves as a beacon and “town square” for thoughtful content and discussion that might not otherwise be available or relevant to law students.

In this conversation, The Student Appeal co-founder and editor Sarah Eli Mattern discusses her vision and mission for the journal, and her insights on content curation, online community building and thought leadership marketing for law students.

Q: The mission statement on your website begins “We founded The Student Appeal to give law students a professional way to get their names and writing noticed.” What’s the background for that choice? Did you see a lack of opportunity for law student writers? A lack of professional focus by law students in their social media engagement?

 A: I did see a lack of publishing opportunities for law students. While the majority of law schools require students to write at least one legal article before they graduate, students have limited publishing opportunities for those papers. A student can try to publish with their school’s law journal, many of which will publish a handful of student notes annually. What caught my attention was that if almost every student has to write a paper and the majority of students can’t get published, then the effort and arguments those papers contain largely become nothing more than trash.

Keeping in mind that many students don’t wish to publish their papers and some student’s articles are not quality scholarship, I’ve still found that a large percentage of students didn’t feel like they had publication options.

Q: In addition to bringing legal discourse by law students into higher relief, your approach also seems to have an eye toward personal branding. Is that a fair statement? Do you believe law students can improve their career prospects through content marketing?

A: Absolutely. Personal branding is imperative in today’s job market. Any time students can distinguish themselves from the masses by presenting specialized knowledge or accomplishments, they stand a better chance at getting hired. By publishing articles on a topic of interest to lawyers within a specific area of law, students can demonstrate their hard-earned and well-researched knowledge, while also marketing themselves to those same people who may one day hold their resume.

Q:  How do you describe your target audience(s)?

A: We made The Student Appeal an online journal because we want to give anyone the opportunity to access this information. Almost everyone starts his or her research online when they want to know more about something. We want lawyers, law students, and all who care about law and policy issues to read, submit, and interact on our site.

Q: Generally speaking, blogs have relegated long-form content to the periphery of social media. While your site has a blog component, the emphasis is on articles and op-ed pieces. With so much competition for eyeballs and sustained attention, what’s your strategy for attracting and retaining readers?

We expect to attract and retain readers by publishing the most interesting and timely articles possible.

Traditional law journals publish papers with articles upwards of fifty pages. We decided at our inception to limit the length of even our traditional articles. We definitely try to be cognizant of our readers’ time, so we cut pieces to keep them as short as possible while maintaining their integrity. At the same time, we do appreciate the different nature of longer-form content, and we feel it has an important place in legal conversation. Though not everyone will be interested in all of our 10+ page articles, we hope that the breadth of subject matter, combined with the shorter-form opinion editorials, will present enjoyable reads to scholars of all walks of life. It’s this ability to delve into a subject and explore links to other websites and information that we feel brings the most value to our readers.

Q: While not affiliated with an academic institution, do you follow that editorial model? What’s your submission/review process, and what are your criteria for evaluating submissions?

A: Yes and no. When we receive a submission, three editors preliminarily review the article. Those editors send me a brief write up with their impressions, comments, and recommendation on whether the article is publication worthy or not. Then, if approved for publication, we email the author our publication agreement. After the author formally agrees to publish with us, we complete a full edit on the entire piece and send the article back to the author to review our notes. The publication process varies based on the length of the piece, but full articles usually take around two and a half months.

We accept articles and opinions from all political spectrums and ideologies, on any law-related subjects. In our publishing criteria, we do not care if our editors agree or disagree with what is written, only that what is stated is well-thought-out and clearly articulated. We desire to open our audience to many different viewpoints and allow them to come to their own conclusions. We do not promote any particular agenda and we do not answer to a school board, which really gives us a lot of flexibility in publishing more controversial or non-standard legal articles.

Q:  The site launched in April 2011. How have you approached recruiting potential contributors and building site traffic? Do you use the site’s blog and your Twitter participation as marketing tools?

A: Most of our contributors find out about us by word of mouth, but Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites have played a large part in helping us get the word out.

Q: You’re a freshly minted (2011) JD from Florida A&M. What was your inspiration to launch an online law journal? Is publishing your full-time venture, or are you also pursuing a legal career?

A: In the future, I would love nothing more than to work on The Student Appeal full time. Right now though, I want to practice. I know that what I learn from practicing will only help me to grow the site to its full potential.

 Q: Can you share any “Aha” moments you’ve had so far?

 A: On the web side, I have learned a lot about what does and does not work well in a publishing/blog sense. Originally, we wanted to focus more on strictly long-form legal articles. Through our analytics we began to realize that topics covering more current events, and the shorter-form editorials received the most interest. So though we are still committed to publishing full legal articles, we expanded our focus to include shorter-form pieces.

We also originally started the site with a community forum. But after a month or two working in the forum, we decided to replace our forum with a site-wide Facebook-based comment system. This allowed for easier discussion of our popular or more polarized articles, and has helped to create more dialogue between the article author’s and our readers. It’s always humbling to remember that as a publishing site, you are only so great as your authors and readers allow you to be.

Q: Do you have any plans to add other media to your mix (e.g. videos, webinars, conferences)?

A: Nothing definite, but my business partner, Dawson Henry (aka our Web Ninja), and I have discussed it. We would like to see The Student Appeal grow in many directions in the future.

Sarah Eli Mattern is a graduate of Florida A&M University College of Law and a member of the Florida Bar. She co-founded The Student Appeal Law Journal as a way of pursuing her passions, writing and legal research. She currently writes, edits, and manages the online law journal in hopes that it will grow to become a prominent source for legal discourse.

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.21.11

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

  • 14 Quick Tips for Kick-Ass Lead Management | HubSpot
  • 36 Social Media Sharing Resources for Business People | SEOptimise 
  • 5 Tips for Injecting Personality into Your Online Presentations | Content Marketing Institute
  • 6 Reasons Why ‘Less Is More’ Will Be the Social Marketing Mantra in 2012 | ClickZ
  • 5 Effective SEO Strategies to Optimize Your Business Blog | Entrepreneur.com
  •  6 Simple Mistakes to Avoid when Creating an Online Video | Jeffbullas’s Blog
  • Turn Staff Contributions into Social Media Gold | Heidi Cohen

Escalation Nation: Twitter Response as Crisis Communications vs. Customer Service

Over the years the scrappy, enterprising advocates at The Consumerist helped consumers escalate their customer service issues by  publishing the direct e-mails and phone numbers of corporate executives, board members and PR folks. Now thanks to Twitter, the extrajurisdictional  (i.e. outside normal customer service channels) royal road to dispute resolution is at everyone’s fingertips 24/7.

Now that anyone can @ message company reps at will, and companies employ ever more sophisticated tools to monitor social media conversations and intercept rants in real time, companies face real questions about how to record, triage and respond without creating new and different problems for their employees.

A tweet by Jeremiah Owyang last year reminded me that a very public pillorying by an über-blogger isn’t necessarily a win for consumers in general, and could lead companies down an expensive, counterproductive dead end if they overcompensate for what might happen if they cross a social media celebrity. In commenting on the debate around the very public dustup between mommyblogger Heather Armstrong (@dooce) and Maytag/Whirlpool  (summarized succinctly by Forbes), Owyang observed, “When Dooce called Maytag’s support line, they didn’t factor in her PR impact –support and marketing MUST be aligned.”

Several only mildly facetious questions come to mind:

  1. Is it now the responsibility of front line customer service reps at large consumer goods companies to escalate every call from someone claiming to have a million Twitter followers? Is that a “red flag,” automatic escalation, or do they have to verify it first? Or is that  up to the first line supervisor? Second line?
  2. What’s the cutoff for special treatment/escalations? 1 million followers? Ranges (e.g. 250,000-499,999 followers gets a free replacement, 500,000+ gets a freebie plus donation to the charity of their choice)?
  3. If customer service reps are now expected to have the skills of online community managers, are they being trained enough? Paid enough?
  4. Should IT departments incorporate a social media ranking look-up as a desktop app for customer-facing personnel?
  5. Is not responding to/escalating all Twitter complaints now considered poor customer service?

Whether twitterati and prominent bloggers actually deserve special treatment is a question for moral philosophers, but social media celebs certainly expect and increasingly receive it because of actual — or merely potential — PR flaps like that one. And social media partisans fan those fears.

But for all their buzz, do these episodes have a statistically significant impact on sales and/or customer satisfaction? Greater than widespread/systemic problems (e.g.  the complaint of an individual with a personal grievance and a large bullhorn vs. large numbers of customers experiencing a pattern of similar problems)?

The Forbes article made two important observations:

  1. Armstrong suffered her own backlash/crisis communications episode as a result, and
  2. Whirlpool’s stock price didn’t take an immediate hit, even in this headline-driven, jumpy market.

I agree with Owyang that customer service and marketing must be aligned, but not to ensure white-glove treatment for celebrity bloggers. Rather, first align them to ensure all customers get the responsiveness they expect, then let positive word-of-mouth do the hard work for you when the inevitable social media diva moment happens.

Social Media ROI for Law Firms, Part 2: 3 Tips for Measuring Return on Relationships

I recently read a blog post on social media ROI for law firms that concluded, “Measure the ROI of social media in a real and meaningful way. Base it on developing relationships and trust.”

That’s certainly an admirable sentiment, and it might be good enough if you’re engaged in social media for personal fulfillment and growth, but it’s not a useful business development metric. If you’re engaged in social media to build your practice in a systematic and rigorous way, you can’t be content with collecting potential referral sources and building your e-mail and “let’s have lunch” lists.

You cannot control what you do not measure. In other words, trust, but verify.

Unless you track how productive current and potential referral sources are and adjust your engagement strategy accordingly, you’re wasting time and money that could be spent on acquiring and cultivating active promoters for your practice.

Here’s how family law blogger Lee Rosen recently described his epiphany about long-term nurturing of potential referral relationships:

“I’ve been having lunch with this guy, on and off, for four years. We’ve probably been to lunch eight times, met for coffee twice, talked on the phone a dozen times, and e-mailed back and forth every few months. He is, theoretically at least, a referral source. He’s an accountant with a pretty good practice.

“I say he’s “theoretically” a referral source because, a few weeks ago, I realized he’s never referred a case to us. He’s a good guy, and I like him. He acts like he’s going to refer, but still—no referrals.

“Sadly, I’ve learned a hard lesson here. Unfortunately, not every referral source refers.”

3 Tips for Measuring Return on Relationships

Conversion rate – The total number of referrals from a source is not as significant as how many of them convert into billable matters. Divide the number of billable matters from a specific source by the total number of referrals from that source, and you get the conversion rate. A source that sends you a lot of leads that go nowhere is far less valuable than a source that sends very few, but most of them convert into business.

Net referrals – Referrals are a two-way street. You can’t expect a referral source to become/stay motivated if you don’t reciprocate. Ideally you’d be at parity — you’re referring as many opportunities to each contact has he/she is to you. Lunches, bar tabs and event tickets are nice pump primers and expressions of gratitude, but nothing nourishes your incoming referral ecosystem like your  outgoing referral stream. Conversely, if you’re giving more referrals than you get, don’t be bashful about dialing back significantly. They’ll get the message.

Opportunity aging – Create a timeline and assign milestones for converting potential referral sources into actual ones. Decrease the frequency of contacts and “rewards” as time goes on. If you’ve not received at least one inquiry directly attributable to the source within three of four months, your probability of future referrals is quite low. A clear litmus test of where you stand with a contact is how they handle a request from you for an introduction to someone in their network (online or offline).

What’s your process for nurturing your referral pipeline?