clicking share buttonThis is the next post in my Social Networking for Attorneys series. In my last article I discussed why social networking matters to an attorney’s online marketing. In this post we’re going to take some basic ground rules on how to build the online relationships which matter to your law practice. Over the next several posts we will discuss a higher level of specifics in regards to individual social networks. Before we dive into particular networks it’s important to understand three things. First, we’ll look at how to gauge your social media success. Second, we’ll discuss how to build a quality following. The final part of this post will look at a few common mistakes to avoid. Let’s get social.

Most attorneys who try social media in their practice experience one of three things. First, most initially put in some time posting random items on various social networks (without much of a plan) and then stop when they see no return. Second, many lawyers use social media as a “broadcast service” where they post a link with no commentary and no effort at interaction. Third, some attorneys do find ways to interact a great deal online but have not seen any return in terms of business.  One thing that’s common is that attorneys in these three groups are engaging in social media because they know it is “important” to their firm. They haven’t, however, established a game plan or an idea of what social media successes they need in order to grow their practice. If you want to reach a destination then you don’t jump in the car and start driving randomly with no map or sense of where you’re going. Social media is the same way. It’s important to have criteria by which you can ensure you are going in the right direction.

How attorneys can measure if they are using social media correctly

Attorneys largely gauge their social media presence by how many followers they have. The truth is that if those followers aren’t clicking on links to your site, sharing your content with other people, or paying you a retainer, then sheer number couldn’t matter less; as a tech geek I like to break things down into mathematical formulas so consider this equation:

10,000 followers x zero contributions per follower = NO RETURN FOR YOUR LAW PRACTICE!

What matters is the number of “quality” followers you have and not the raw total. A quality follower, put simply, is someone who follows you because they are interested in your content. These are the people who will click, share, link their site to yours, retain you, or refer you a case. They mean more web traffic to your firm’s site, more exposure to the public, better SEO through back linking, and more money in your trust account. Building a quality following is the means that will help you reach that end.

How attorneys can build a quality following through social media

Close up of a businessman celebratingI discussed social media at length in our eBook Modern Marketing for Today’s Attorney. I stressed one important point in the book that I will stress here – when you are using social media it is important to remember that there are other human beings on the other end of the computer connection. As human beings we’re not going to meaningfully follow someone or something unless they have something that is interesting to us. In other words, be interesting. Likewise, if someone is sharing something that you are genuinely interested in then it is important that you show that interest. People in the physical world aren’t interested in co-dependent relationships, where one person does all the talking while the other does the listening. Likewise, people aren’t interested in such relationships through social media either.

Right now you’re probably wondering “how can I make my law practice sound interesting?” This is where it’s important to remember the point made in my previous article. Generally attorneys should use social media to build professional relationships, that benefit their practice, rather than to target the general consumer. This means a few things. First, your focus should be on the networks which contain people with whom you can establish a meaningful professional relationship (we’ll discuss various networks, and what relationships you should build, in future parts of this series – so now you have a reason to stay tuned). Second, you should have a source of interesting information already; I discussed in my Blogging Basics for Lawyers series how attorneys can make their blog content valuable. Sharing your blog content online is a great way to establish yourself as interesting. Be mindful, however, that there’s a right way and a wrong way to share your blog posts that we’ll talk about momentarily.

I could write more about this concept of “be interesting and interested” but I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel so I’m going to share a very eloquent explanation of this concept. Darren Rowse is one of the most influential bloggers in the world and has written extensively on the use of social media. While he doesn’t deal in the space of legal blogging this discussion of “be interesting and interested” is worth a watch (again, being mindful of the fact that you will use social networking to build professional relationships).

One more point as to being interesting and interested is to understand that social networks are not all built the same. It is important to share content that is interesting to a given audience. You wouldn’t walk into a professional networking mixer and start showing off photos of how you spent your Friday night. Similarly, the professional crowd on LinkedIn is very different from your group of personal friends on Facebook. It is important to be mindful of your audience.

Mistakes attorneys should avoid when using social media

There are a few common mistakes that attorneys, and most business people for that matter, make when trying to establish themselves on social media. Let’s take a look at three big ones:

Don’t shout. By this I mean that many lawyers and law firms who use social media completely forget to interact. They simply drop a link to their blog or website on their social profile, or in an online forum, with no commentary or other interaction. This is no different than walking into a crowded room, full of people you don’t know, shouting your name at the top of your lungs and walking out the door. When you share a piece of content then it is important you add some commentary to it. It is also important that you interact with any comments that come in. Also, don’t forget that “being interested” is as equally important as “being interesting.”

Don’t follow someone simply because they follow you. There are plenty of people on social media who think the best way to get followers is to follow everyone in their niche out of hope that the person they followed will reciprocate. If someone is following you, simply to get a “follow back” then they are the low quality followers we discussed above. They’re not going to read your content or engage in any meaningful way. If someone is genuinely interested in your content (which is a high quality follower) then they will follow you regardless of whether you follow them back. That being said, if they are interesting to you then by all means follow them back.

The last common mistake I want to discuss is that you shouldn’t try to “game the system.” An article was recently shared with me on a social network and the subject was “how to get more people to share your content.” None of the tips in the article had anything to do with ensuring that your content may actually need to be interesting to promote sharing. Instead it dealt with “spammy” techniques such as making people special offers in exchange for sharing content. Putting time and effort into trying to build such a spam network to get your content shared is counter-productive. First, it’s unlikely to be read by anyone as most people your content will be going to are spammers themselves. Second, the time and effort you put into such a plan would be more than it takes to generate good content in the first place. Look at the internet. Plenty of people try these techniques and they haven’t gotten anywhere as a result.

Following these simple rules will go a long way towards building your social media presence in way that will benefit your practice. In my next post we’ll get into the “meat” of this series by discussing how to manage, and the benefits, of the most important social network for attorneys, which is Google+.