Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.02.11

A digest of social media advice and tips for legal marketing.


3 Reasons Why Twitter Auto DMs Are a Bad Idea for Lawyers

In a profession where personal networking is the lifeblood, there are no compelling arguments in favor of lawyers on Twitter using tools that automatically send direct messages to new followers.

  1. It’s insincere – An automated “Thanks for the follow” typically has the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of conveying genuine gratitude and courtesy, it fairly screams “I read somewhere that this works.”
  2. It’s presumptuous – Increasingly, auto DMs contain an invitation and links to “follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn,” or worse, an offer for a “free consultation” — the social media equivalents of trying to go straight to second base.
  3. It’s alienating – Here I’m thinking specifically of TrueTwit, a follower verification service. If you haven’t encountered this yet, when you follow a TrueTwit subscriber, you get an auto DM asking you to join TrueTwit in order to follow that subscriber. Really? You’re so afraid of bots and spammers that real people have to apply to follow you? Pass.

If you really want to express appreciation in a way that will get your new followers’ attention, retweet one of their recent posts. It says more than “thank you”; it says “I’m listening.”
Heidi Cohen also considers auto DMs a social media #FAIL in general, but offers some helpful tips on when they are appropriate.
  1. On vacation or leave of absence. In this case, you need to give people alternate contacts.
  2. Offline for an extended period of time. You may not want to disclose the details but want people to know when you’ll be back.
  3. Changed jobs. If you’re the person behind the brand, you must explain the new contact
  4. Changed Twitter handles. In this case you need to re-direct followers.
If you’re an auto DM believer, I’d love to hear about it.

If Divorce is Becoming a Luxury, How Should Legal Marketers Respond?

UPDATE: This post originally ran Aug. 2, 2010. Last week I had the good fortune to meet David Wells, who practices collaborative law in Austin and recently posted a two-part discussion of the divorce process.

Yesterday I read a New York Times article on married couples who separate but choose not divorce, and it got me thinking about the potential impact of a protracted recession on the practice and business of family law.

“Separations are usually de facto, rarely pounded out in a contract, and family law is different state to state. But even long-estranged couples are irrefutably bound by contractual links on issues like taxes, pensions, Social Security and health care….

Divorce lawyers and marriage therapists say that for most couples, the motivation to remain married is financial. According to federal law, an ex qualifies for a share of a spouse’s Social Security payment if the marriage lasts a decade. In the case of more amicable divorces, financial advisers and lawyers may urge a couple who have been married eight years to wait until the dependent spouse qualifies.

For others, a separation agreement may be negotiated so that a spouse keeps the other’s insurance until he or she is old enough for Medicare. If one person has an existing condition, obtaining affordable health care coverage is often difficulty or impossible. The recession, with its real estate lows and health care expense highs, adds incentives to separate indefinitely.”

One anecdote jumped out:

“One woman, a 39-year-old mother of two from Brooklyn…has stayed separated for nearly two years at the suggestion of five lawyers. [emphasis added]

‘There’s no advantage to getting divorced,’ she said. Both she and her husband are in new relationships. Most people assume they’ve officially split. But given the health insurance issue and the prospect of legal fees, she said, ‘I feel like we could just drift on like this for years.'”

That case got me thinking about two areas where innovative family law practices might differentiate or carve out niches for themselves:

  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around long-term separations as a divorce alternative
  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around cost containment in divorce proceedings and lower-cost alternatives to traditional family law firms.

I’m still looking for examples of the former, but I found two instances of the latter today.

A recent post on the Pennsylvania Family Law blog entitled “Practical Tips for Dividing Personal Property” forthrightly begins:

“Given the current economic climate, divorcing parties are more vigilant than ever about the value and disposition of their marital assets.”

An excellent primer, it outlines issues like depreciation, appraisals, valuation methodology and awareness of one’s motivations — also invaluable advice for couples open to long-term separation.

The second example popped up on Twitter today when family, wills and estates, and general business attorney Jordan E. Watson (@differentlaw) started following me. I was intrigued by her profile:

“A different kind of lawyer, who has created a practice solely using flat-rate billing practices. Despite people telling her she’s crazy.”

I clicked through to her website (www.notyourparentslawyer.com) and found this clarion call of a business pitch:

“I am not your parents’ lawyer. You know, the one who watches the clock tick by, who charges for every phone call, every minute spent in thought about your case, even when you didn’t ask them to. That’s not how I do things. My law office exists for one purpose: To bring quality, affordable legal counsel and care to clients who might otherwise never get the help they need.

With an emphasis on value pricing, I want to bring change to the legal profession. No legal issue is the same, so I likewise bring a unique approach to the practice of law. Competent and approachable, yet determined to get the best possible outcome for you, I will diligently work on your behalf. I welcome your questions and inquiries and the first consultation is always free, whether or not I take your case.

The billable hour is finished. The clock has stopped. This is a law office dedicated to you and to the upstanding practice of law.”

Practitioners attuned to the zeitgeist, plugged in to social networks and willing to take bold chances with their business models and marketing could end up winners in a down market — and fundamentally change legal marketing in the process.

Don’t Panic

Over the weekend I came across an excellent BusinessWeek article by Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, on the maddening complexity of the current marketing mix — particularly the disruptive role of social media. I use disruptive in both a positive and a negative sense. Positive in that the social media juggernaut has fundamentally changed the theory, practice and infrastructure (human and technological) of marketing for the better, and negative insofar as it has also spawned distraction, panic and confusion, causing marketers to lose their strategic bearings.

“Most marketers don’t know that an epic struggle is going on just beneath the surface of the marketing communications industry. Digital agencies are starting to offer more traditional services. Traditional agencies are adding digital capabilities. Ad agencies are offering PR. PR firms are selling graphic design. Design firms are calling themselves ad agencies. And every one is staking a claim to the new ground of social media. It’s a mess out there, with each company kicking the others under the table like too many siblings vying for too few pieces of pie. Somebody has to manage the chaos, and unfortunately, that’s you.”

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog picked up on a similar theme recently, warning “Brace yourself for the backlash against social media marketing.” However, I wouldn’t describe it as a backlash as much as a necessary correction. It’s not as if marketers are wholesale abandoning and disparaging social media and networking. Rather, the tulip frenzy and accompanying fear of missing an opportunity have subsided and marketers are being more strategic and rational about how social media fits into a an integrated marketing mix.

McKee’s simple prescription is also the best:

“There has never been a better time for small marketers to act big. The tools, tactics, and best-of-breed vendors are increasingly available to help you take on larger competitors. But if your approach isn’t integrated, you risk having your plan jerked here and there by the latest tricks and tactics, with no formal analysis of whether (or when) they make the most sense for your brand.

“It’s good to change your tires every so often, but if you neglect to align them, the ride may be rough—and you’ll waste a lot of gas, even if you’re headed in the right direction. Invest the time and effort to develop a properly integrated plan, and you’ll be on your way to where you want to go with a lot fewer bumps.”

Lindsay Lohan Has a Long Tail

I originally was going to call this post “Six Degrees of Lindsay Lohan: Blawg Edition,” but I could not resist a once-in-a-lifetime headline that combines pop culture, jarring wordplay and a substantive lesson about social marketing for law firms.

So here’s the story…

Back in May, Austin criminal defense firm Sumpter & Gonzalez’ website was deluged by Lohan-iacs, all because of an FAQ that had previously languished in obscurity.

Here’s how blogmaster Dan described it in a June 17 post:

“…[W]e had an entire FAQ devoted strictly to explaining the SCRAM device…[In the process of exporting content from their old website to a new one], we noticed that the SCRAM page had been visited about 4 times in 18 months, and decided it was not worth migrating over.

Then, late last month, Lindsay Lohan gets ordered to wear one. Suddenly, the world is trying to figure out what on earth a SCRAM device is, and typing the words into Google. Since apparently the Internet is not full of great information on SCRAM devices, we end up getting massive traffic spikes – thousands and thousands of Lindsay Lohan fans, eager to better understand the tribulation their hero will now be facing, landing on our site.”

A textbook “Long Tail” phenomenon.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Long Tail describes the statistical property behind search engine optimization, the upshot of which is that combining common search terms with obscure or “niche” keywords can rocket your website or blog to the top of search listings.

Clearly Sumpter & Gonzalez’ felicitous result was serendipity, but it underscores how a well-crafted keyword SEO/SEM strategy based on specialization and unique content can pay off for legal marketers.

Party Ideas for Social Media Geeks

Forget game night. Forget LAN parties. And certainly forget paintball and laser tag.

As the content marketing tsunami builds in size and force, there’s not enough time in the work day to stay on top of what you need to — never mind the silly c**p that keeps you sane.

If you want to put a new spin on training, team building — or even event marketing — try organizing a “Webinar Night” for friends, colleagues and Tweeps. Of course, you’ll want to name it something more fun and inviting than that — maybe something with “Lounge” in it — but the premise is simple. Curate a playlist of webinars and videos you’ve seen/liked or have been “meaning to” watch (e.g. TechShow Ignite and  TED Conference presentations on YouTube) then have them play while you socialize, converse or create your own version of internet meme karaoke.

Note to lawyers: If you play your cards right, you might even be able to work a CLE angle into the evening.

Don’t Write Off Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Remember when Barbie dolls infamously started complaining “Math class is tough?”*

Well, that’s probably most law firms’ unspoken default for why they’ve abandoned, or not even tried, pay-per-click advertising. While keyword marketing can be maddeningly complex, unpredictable and time-consuming, it can also generate better marketing ROI than other online tactics.

A story in yesterday’s New York Times detailed how the Rosen Law Firm in Raleigh, N.C., used crowdsourcing techniques to make its $6,000/month pay-per-click program involving 80-100 keywords more productive:

“…[Firm president Lee] Rosen heard a podcast by Niel Robertson, chief executive of Trada, a crowdsourcing firm based in Boulder that specializes in pay-per-click advertising. Trada’s more than 500 pay-per-click experts compete for their advertising clients’ business and take home the difference between what the advertisers are willing to pay for a click and what the experts actually spend to generate it.

In consultation with Trada executives, Mr. Rosen broke his $6,000 monthly budget into a daily amount and determined a maximum rate he would spend on each click and where he wanted to advertise. Trada then posted the campaign to its crowd of experts, who set about creating ads and a list of keywords. If the campaigns come in under budget, the experts pocket the difference.”

Unlike polls and surveys that collect opinions, true crowdsourcing is structured to solve specific business challenges, and frequently incorporates a financial incentives for participants. In Rosen’s case, the firm’s pay-per-click spend is the same, but with better results and lower demands on staff.

So if you’re daunted by paid SEO campaigns, don’t be quick to write it off as too difficult. There’s wisdom in crowds, and letting them do the work for you could more than pay for itself.

* Although the resulting cultural meme is “Math is hard,” the voice recording actually said “Math class is tough.”

You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Lean

I am proud of my GE pedigree, particularly the invaluable training in operational rigor, continuous improvement, measurement and repeatable processes that I’ve incorporated into my marketing practice and use to help clients. While developed to improve manufacturing processes, the key principles of Six Sigma and “Lean” have broad and valuable applications — even for law firm management and legal marketing. As the Lean Enterprise Institute puts it:

“The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

To accomplish this, lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.

Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate….

A popular misconception is that lean is suited only for manufacturing. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. [emphasis added]”

Without directly referencing either Six Sigma or Lean, Debra Baker captured their central tenets in a post today on the Law Firm Transitions blog:

“Law firms who understand their business processes — how they lawyer — and use that knowledge to streamline the way they work have a powerful advantage over those who don’t.

When I refer to business process, I’m talking about looking at the discreet [sic] services lawyers provide and understanding what steps go in to providing that service and for what cost. While there may be no “one size fits all” process, there are certain steps that happen every time and there are variables — most of which are known but not always predictable.

With an understanding of how lawyers in the firm work, it becomes easier to assess costs and evaluate ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness across the firm. And, it sets the foundation for sometimes difficult conversations about timelines, communication expectations and fees.”

Streamlining is essentially eliminating waste, or muda in Lean parlance. That waste can take many forms, including:

  • Unnecessary complexity or redundancy
  • Delay in the work product production process
  • Unclear requirements
  • Bureaucracy
  • Slow or poorly managed internal communication

Less waste means more profit per matter, and a reputation for pricing predictability means more business.

Simple to understand, but very hard to execute (I know). Still, definitely worth the effort, and a significant competitive advantage if done well, continually and consistently.

If you’re interested in getting ideas from people who live the lean life every day, check out the iSixSigma Blogosphere. It’s understandable for laypeople, discusses a variety business management and process topics in interesting ways — and even has cartoons.

Daily Blogging Can Be As Easy As 1-2-3

According to the legions of SEO experts on the Interwebs, Goggle search bots LOVE blogs with frequent posts. Social media maven Liz Strauss believes writing and publishing on your blog every day makes you a better and more successful writer. Both are compelling arguments for cranking out a daily serving of blog.

I fancy myself a nuanced thinker and stylish, economical writer (DON’T JUDGE ME), so I tend to take too long mulling over headlines, distilling ideas into a few concise statements and pouring over bookmarked links for the perfect balance of relevance and link love. That takes time — LOTS of time. So I’m streamlining my blogging process to make myself more productive and my blog more effective. I surveyed as many “top 10” lists on the subject as is could find (until I hit the point of redundancy overload), and developed a “minimum acceptable post” approach to daily blogging that I believe will meet my objectives, and that I can sustain over time. This doesn’t mean I will not do longer posts, but at least I won’t have guilt and cognitive dissonance if I write short.

I’m calling it “The Daily 1-2-3”:

  • 1 hour.
  • 2 links minimum, no more than three.
  • 3 paragraphs (plus an optional closing).

I’ll keep you posted (as it were) on my progress.

Oh, THAT Box…

Blogging and online networking are by far the current “out of the box” darlings of legal marketing, but the discipline remains inside an even bigger box. It’s an ongoing puzzle to me why lawyers look almost exclusively to other lawyers for marketing insights, ideas and inspiration. Survey leading marketers in consumer packaged goods, manufacturing — even other professional services — and you will find that in addition to competitors and leaders in adjacent markets, they look to other industries and geographies for best practices, then innovate for their own products, services and customer/client segments.

My sense is that some of it is rooted in a sense of exceptionalism — i.e. “Lawyers are different, we do things our own way.” Yes, like every other law firm. Everyone uses the same blogging platform, everyone belongs to the same LinkedIn groups, everyone angles for speaking spots at bar association meetings…you get my drift.

If you want to really stand out and break through, then borrow a page from the Apple playbook and “Think different.”

A couple of examples:

  • Like the legal profession, advertising by financial services providers is highly regulated and scrutinized. If you’re struggling with how to make a splash with a Facebook campaign while staying in bounds with bar association rules, check out Genworth Celebrates and Genworth Celebrates Parents for inspiration.
  • The Social Media Business Council’s Business Blogging Blog is an invaluable conduit for case studies and online content with great ideas applicable in law firm marketing from companies like Pfizer, GE and Nokia.

What companies and organizations outside the legal profession inform and inspire your marketing?