I did a webinar with my colleague Chris Grant this afternoon, talking about our most recent report into the content marketing and social media habits of the top 100 UK law firms.

The title above is one of the questions that we received, and we made an attempt at answering it towards the end of the session. Essentially, law firms do seem to struggle with two particular features of social media: 'real-time' and 'engagement'. I think these come from a) fear and b) a misunderstanding of what social media is. Social media is no longer some hip fancy thing, most networks have been with us for over a decade and are fully integrated in many people's lives. Here's how I think they should work on those two features:

Real-Time

By 'real-time', I mean that social media is pretty speedy. It's the first place I check when something big has happened, as I know it'll be faster than newspapers at getting me an answer. You can't have a five-step process for sharing content that's time-sensitive, and that can be scary for law firms to get around. The key is to have some simple guidelines for this: what is definitely not ok, what language is appropriate, who can tweet etc.

One of the big things we talk about in the webinar is employee advocacy. It's really important that law firms not only allow but encourage their staff to use social media to share and promote content from the company. This means they need to be empowered to use their own voice and personality to promote their workplace. The advantages of this are several fold: 

  • people trust employees more than brands (because they're people)
  • encouraging employees to share content extends that content's reach organically (i.e without paying a dime)
  • and finally, it helps to establish those employees as experts in their field. 

It's a win-win really, and all it needs is a bit of planning and training.

Engagement

Ben Davis did some great research at econsultancy into the top 10 UK law firms and found that they do not really engage with their Twitter followers and instead just use it as an outlet for their press releases. In other words they share news about their firm without tailoring the tweet to suit the medium, and without encouraging interaction. There were a total of 2 replies to followers among this top 10, which, again, is pretty shocking. It's such a wasted opportunity as social media is a networking and customer service platform rolled into one.

To use social media effectively, law firms have to look at the content they're sharing too - the two are inextricably linked. Of what value is a press release to the average follower, compared to a blog that simplifies a complex topic for them? Making their social media platform the go-to place to get advice and news on a topic that's useful to their target client should be the priority.

Again, as with'real-time', being effectively engaging requires a social media manager who has been empowered to respond to trending news, and to respond to people's queries. It's not a one-person role though that you can delegate and forget about, you need content created by the experts in the firm to back it up.

Ultimately, law firms are missing an opportunity if they not only ignore social media, but also use it without thought.