I’m feeling sort of black opal today. (Am I a shiny object of some kind? Am I the combination of all colors? No. That’s just my way of saying that I am going to write a really long blog post now (in two parts, no less); so, it’s my own adjectival form of “opus”.)

On September 21, I presented, with attorneys and social media marketing proselytes David Harlow and Bob Ambrogi, on social media marketing for lawyers, at the downtown Boston office of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. And, for that presentation, I made up some presenter notes, as I am wont to do–especially because I couldn’t possibly go on without a script, for fear of screwing up. After having done so, I thought back over the vast amount of media we’ve dropped here at LOMAP; and, I realized that, although we have written about aspects of social media marketing here before (most explicitly about Facebook (here and here) and Twitter (here and here)), and although we have a templated email covering the topic, which templated email I often pass along to our clients, I’ve never written about social media marketing, in a broad way, at this blog. So, I said to myself, “Self, Why must you selfishly hoard your program notes on this topic?” (I agreed that that was selfish.)

So, this has got a con-version version factor of two:

It is true, nearly 100% of our clients have marketing questions of some kind. (Hence the large numbers of attorneys flocking to our LOMAP Marketing Group.) It is not true that all of our practice start-up clients have no money. But, a number of them are, certainly, working within very limited budgets. It is not true that none of our clients are particularly tech-savvy. Some are very strong in that area; some are not so strong. And, surely, the negatives of those propositions represent two very large stumbling blocks. So, What do you do if you want to advertise effectively, but you’re short on cash and you’re not tech-savvy? Or, even if you’re smart? Wait . . . What? Yes, that’s right. Even if you’re smart. What do you do? Enter social media. Social media is generally free/cheap. It’s easy to use. Best of all, it’s effective. Nobody uses the Yellow Pages anymore. (Well, maybe some people do.) Hell, even “the new” Yellow Pages knows that the web is the future, and that the future is now. People get found now via the web, through Google searches (page 1), through profile websites (like LinkedIn and Avvo) and, increasingly, through communities of interest aggregating across social media websites. (Did you know there is a Second Life Bar Association? Well, there is.) And, these are just some of the reasons that I feel like, more than defaulting to the standard of getting online with a website, you really need a web presence, more than anything else.

Marketing, branding . . . it’s always been about perception. How do you present yourself? What is your professional image? But, it’s not really about your own vision, respecting those things; it’s about what others see in you. How are you perceived by the public, specifically, your targeted clients? (Those are who you are really trying to impress anyway, right? Potential clients. Potential referral sources.) That is the question. Social media serves to ramp up the “them” side of the equation. Social media is not really a method for the release of presentation pieces, where you’re talking “at” people; with social media marketing, you really need to be talking “with” people. By dint of its very name, social media necessitates a conversation. The watchword here is engagement. You must, if you are to be effective in social media marketing, begin to think of your advertising as interactive. This is, certainly, part and parcel of living in a world where the arenae for private and personal access become narrower and narrower. This is, also, however, an outgrowth of the economy. The economy is still terrible, and everyone knows it. And everyone is looking for a deal. So, your potential clients flock to the internet to find those deals, or to find information (= empowerment) that will get them those deals. Plus, they also know other things . . . Like the fact that you’re probably hurting for business, because the legal field ain’t so good right now, either. Customer service, then, becomes paramount. And, modern customer service represents a recognition of the fact that that the playing field between service provider and consumer has leveled. Engagement and interaction, then, meeting clients on their terms, in significant ways, become essential to marketing. You’ve got to compete at a number of levels: pricing, collaboration and convenience, to name a few. So, you’re offering alternative fees, you’re moving your practice to the virtual and you’re engaging (truly) in social media marketing. Of course, that is only the foundation. You not only have to be unique; you now have to bring that uniqueness to the people, much on their terms.

Neither is social media going away. This is not a fad (well, everything popular, in the long lens of time, becomes a fad; but, you know what I mean). Now, you may not have noticed, if you hadn’t been watching for it, but over the course of the last couple of years, social media has become mainstream. Watch any television show, or any commercial, for that matter, and you’re bound to presented with, at least, some derivative of a Twitter account or Facebook page for that television show/commercial product. What this means, other than being an identification of the flow of a culture, is that, if you’re not doing it, too, you’re missing out on the largest percentage of the social conversation. And, you’re missing the younger side of it; this is, incidentally, the same age bracket that will come to support your practice, perhaps, even, as their parents once did.

Let’s take a moment, then, to talk about the evolution of legal advertising over, let’s says, the period of the last fifteen years. It used to be that you had to be on Martindale-Hubbell to have arrived online. (And, I hardly remember that; I’ve mostly been told.) Then it was that you needed to have a website, to display your bona fides. Now, you likely don’t even need that website; but, rather, as alluded to above, what you require, instead, is a broad web presence. (What, then, becomes of your website; well, it can become a relatively simple version of an online business card–your major contact points (probably including social media anyway), and some other brief information, the rest of who you are and what you do, being spread over the vast reaches of the interwebs. I frequently tell people, as well, that I like the Facebook for business page interface so well, that I think that it would work as a primary website. That, and your remaining social media presence, would get you up and about on the web pretty durn well, and fast–especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of time designing a website.)

So, everybody’s doing it. But, the question for you to determine is: Where, exactly, are they doing it? . . . so you can do it there, too. There are, certainly, a lot of social media sites, and lots of social media-built communities. When you consider the number of people who use the internet, and how often they use it, and their diverse range of interests, the numbers are likely staggering, perhaps not even truly measurable by human tools. So, when you seek out where you want to promote your niche, you have to keep in mind all those good things laid out in your marketing plan: who your target clients are, what makes you unique, how your fee structure sets you apart, etc. But, very simply, you want to be where everybody else is, so you can reach the most people possible. Start there, and that will, at least, give you a platform from which to launch. From there, you’ll begin to see which specific communities of interest you’ll need to engage more deeply, which are the places where your message will drop most effectively. Once you begin to engage these communities of interest, it’s that old matter of figuring out your return on investment again, to see what works and what doesn’t work, to know where you need to stay, and when you need to go, and where. But, you can’t figure that out until you make a start. It’s like the answer to which came first, the chicken or the egg? It don’t matter.

Oh, but, I haven’t told you where to go, and what to do, yet. My bad. These are the places you need to be/the things you need to do: (1) blogging; (2) LinkedIn; (3) Facebook; and, (4) Twitter: “the Big Four”, as I so uncleverly call them (no, I don’t mean the audit firms). Why do you want to be on them? Because this is where the most people are/what most people are doing regarding social media, sort of. I’ll explain.

. . . Next Week.

To Be Continued . . .