How to Maximize the Marketing Benefits of Blogging and Social Media

Feb 13th, 2014 | Law Firm Marketing, Legal Marketing in Brief

A new survey reveals 27 percent of law firms are now blogging, nearly double the number that were two years ago, and 39 percent of those law firms have received work directly from their blogs.

The 2013 American Bar Association Technology Survey also reveals 19 percent of firms have received work through LinkedIn and 56 percent of firms are actively managing their firm’s LinkedIn profile and helping their lawyers maintain an effective presence there.

This article discusses how these components fit into an integrated overall firm communications strategy. It also suggests how firms can get even more work from the content created for their blogs. Other data we found indicates there still is a role for a law firm using direct mail.

In law firm marketing plans we develop, we urge firms to post diverse information on their blog. Among other things, we encourage them to consider:

  • case results and transactions – assuming clients approve
  • firm-centric news – rankings, ratings, awards
  • discussion of recent trial results and appellate decisions – not your own cases but those affecting day-to-day business decisions of your clients and prospects
  • thoughts on lawyering – discussing advocacy, issues in professional conduct, for example. This will clearly convey your firm’s personality, make you approachable, demonstrate competence and accomplishment, and, most importantly, reveal how you think. How you think is what you sell.

A good example of a law firm’s blog is Seattle-based litigation boutique Savitt Bruce & Willey, www.sbwllp.com. (If the whole idea of blogging feels uncomfortable, note that you can create a News page on your website that if properly optimized will function much like a blog.)

Blog posts have an intrinsic promotional weakness that must be addressed. They are passive communications, sitting on the Web waiting to be found. Our recommendation is to find ways to repurpose each and “push” them out to clients, prospects and referral sources.

Specifically, we recommend:

Every time a blog post is written, the firm should create a version of it as a LinkedIn “update.” All interested lawyers (or someone with access to all of the LinkedIn accounts of all of your interested lawyers) would then enter the copy into the Update box on their accounts. That means the post will go to all of that lawyer’s Connections, to be seen the next time the Connection opens his or her LinkedIn account. You can use up to 700 characters to write an Update. Under the Update will appear a link back to the full blog post on your site.

This process can be automated using Twitter. However, Twitter has an annoying 140-character limit with which to contend. (This might be why only 14 percent of lawyers surveyed told the ABA they maintain profiles on Twitter for professional purposes.) The first 140 characters of your blog post can be made to go to a Twitter account which will automatically post those 140 characters into lawyer LinkedIn Update boxes, assuming the lawyers want this to happen. Below the Update on LinkedIn will be a link back to the blog on your site. If you exceed the 140-character limit, only the first 140 characters will be visible on Twitter and hence in the LinkedIn Update. Most of our clients avoid this system due to the character limit.

By the way, we recommend you have an email subscription request box on your blog. In the alterative, an RSS feed will suffice. The problem with RSS sign-ups is they are anonymous. You can’t see who is subscribing in this manner. The trade-off is some research indicates RSS feeds are less frequently read by recipients than emails. We urge email over RSS for this reason.

Next, every quarter we recommend the firm pick three or four items from the blog. One might be a post that’s firm-centric, one about a case/decision and one about lawyering. Put them together as a newsletter sent to your firm’s clients, referral sources and prospects. We fully recognize firms can be reluctant to add to the deluge of email people receive, but you will be able to see how much people like this idea if you execute this strategy properly.

This newsletter could be either an email or a hard copy postcard. Recent research suggests hard copy may work. That said, most of our clients prefer to avoid the cost of postage and printing and opt for email newsletters.

If sent via email, the newsletters must be CANSPAM compliant and have an unsubscribe feature. Using one of the numerous commercial programs available, such as Constant Contact, you will get a detailed report after each is transmitted showing the number opened, click-throughs to the firm website, the unsubscribes and forwards. If your firm doesn’t have a healthy open rate after trying it a few times, something we have yet to see happen, we’d say drop the tactic. No client of ours has ever stopped doing an e-newsletter once starting it. We find 20 to percent of recipients open and read e-newsletters.  And yes, a few people unsubscribe.

Certainly some people will get your stuff more than once depending on which alternatives suggested above are adopted by your firm. In our experience, ramping up frequency like what we describe above comes without risk. Instead, all firms that have done what we recommend report positive feedback, referrals and retentions as a direct result over time. Client surveys we have done also reveal your clients, referral sources and prospects appreciate a well told story reflecting their interests.

We think it all goes back to Dale Carnegie’s maxim: “Tell the audience what you are going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.”  Frequency and repetition of a message is just basic to strong human relations. It’s why you have to tell your spouse and kids you love them, and tell them every day. (As an experiment, try cutting back on frequency of that message and see the reaction!)

The research suggesting direct mail may be better than email for a newsletter comes from a 2010 study by three university researchers published in the Journal of Marketing. (Alyn-Weiss employs direct mail as described.) The study analyzed the purchasing habits of customers for auto dealerships via customer surveys and dealership records. It measured the impact of direct mail, telephone calls and email marketing on the purchases and spending of those customers. Additionally, it determined what the ideal frequency was when using the three marketing channels together.

The results of the study indicate that businesses should communicate mostly through direct mail and less via telephone and email. The ideal mixture, according to the research, appears to be nine to 10 postal mailings, three phone calls, and three to four emails all over a period of three months. This provided the highest positive impact on the spending of the research subjects, thus indicating an ideal point for frequency and advertising mix.

According to co-author Andrea Godfrey, a University of California at Riverside assistant professor of marketing, “… the results are applicable to all types of business, particularly service businesses.”

We understand retention and referral patterns and target audiences for most law firms are not the same as for purchases from an auto dealership. We have found consistently over the past 20 years that marketing models that apply to products – for branding, pricing, life cycles, marginal return, etc. – can be directly applied to professional services with slight modifications. In this case, that’s why we reduce frequency a bit and eliminate phone calls from the mix recommended above.

Interestingly, one of the theories put forth by the researchers in the article is that customers view physical mail as less intrusive than calls or email and thus, are more likely to sit and consider the messages. These results offer strong support for including direct mail in your overall communications strategy.

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