Blogging, Small Law Firms, Social Networking Websites, Technology

Attention Small Law Firms: Beware the Social Media Marketer

Small law firms have many of the same management issues as Biglaw firms, but often deal with them differently — for example, setting billable hour requirements and adjusting pay scales to keep their lawyers happy (or at least just happy enough not to quit). One such issue that keeps coming to my attention is social media marketing.

Biglaw firms have formal departments to handle logos, social media, and the overall direction of their firms’ brands. Small firms have… well, they have the attorneys and maybe a do-it-all firm manager (like we had at my old firm). Thus is born a market for the web and SEO experts.

But wait, this is not what you think! This is not another self-help article about how to fix your website or use Twitter (like a pro!). There are more than enough of those.

Instead, I want to explore a less popular position…

… that social media, and the “gurus” who want to pull your small firm into web marketing are, on the whole, useless for small firm attorneys. Of course, I said “less popular,” not unique, so a bang of the gavel to Brian Tennebaum who is shouting exactly what I’ve been thinking. From his November 23rd post entitled “The Finest Expose (Ever) Of The (Fraud That Is The) Social Media Guru”:

I’ve been writing about [the social media scam] for a long time, wondering if anyone else saw what I saw. Some did, but many are just so enamored with the possibility of making money that they don’t care that the industry is a complete fraud.

The point comes across as abrasive, but is certainly more than just fiery rhetoric. If I have this right, his rancor is based on the ideas that social media marketers (1) are undercutting the professionalism that should go hand in hand with practicing law, and (2) are useless because lawyers either do not need them, or can do this stuff themselves.

To his first (imputed) point, social media gurus are everywhere and, due to the expanse of the internet, are largely unregulated. I picture it as being a bit like the nineteenth century gold rush, where everyone sees money to be made, nobody is sure quite how to do it, and people are willing to kill their own to get in on the action. Tannebaum provides a nice example of the problem here.

So, why are these online professionals so dangerous? From the “expose” that kicked off Tennebaum’s rant:

The gurus are hired, and promptly set about cutting and pasting “social media strategy guidelines” into Powerpoint presentations and swanning around the office instructing secretaries about “social media for social good” and how Twitter’s going to change the world, all the while leeching off the productive bit of the organisation.

Cutting and pasting? Surely not, but look at this video and tell me whether you think the woman inviting you into her living room actually has 30 unique ideas. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t.

To Tannebaum’s second (imputed) point, I agree. Now I’m not quite as pessimistic as he is about the motives of these consultants, but why not try it yourself first? You’re a lawyer, which means you have some semblance of intellect. Many of you are entrepreneurs, meaning you’re not scared of the new. My guess is that it’s simply taking the time to learn and/or implement a system yourself.

In those situations, it’s possible that a small law firm could use a nudge in the right direction about the benefits of social media, how to blog effectively, and how to manage the your firm’s message to clients. After all, we’re lawyers, not marketers.

If you do happen to be one of the minority that might actually benefit from such a nudge, Tannebaum has a handy checklist of what to ask your marketing suitor.

It was also through his tweet yesterday that I discovered Erika Napoletano, who is among the very few social media consultants that I’d consider contacting after reading the first line of her bio: “I keep companies from looking like assholes online.” Useful.

The important idea for small firm lawyers here is simply not to let yourself get caught up in the social hype. If you don’t have a strong online presence, don’t let someone who wants your money convince you that you should give it to them. Assess your business and where your potential customers are. Then, try doing it yourself first (or hire an intern). If that doesn’t work, and you’re still convinced you need a Twitter feed, see Tannebaum’s checklist.

I’m just tossing this out there for discussion. Are the social media skeptics correct? There are certainly rebuttals out there to them (like this one, by Adrian Dayton). Feel free to share your opinions, pro on con, in the comments.

As for me, I’m a blogger now, so I’m pretty much required to be on Twitter. Send me your tips and small firm news there, or via email. Thanks!

P.S. Monday’s survey on small firm bonuses is still open and awaiting your response!

The Finest Expose (Ever) Of The (Fraud That Is The) Social Media Guru [My Law License]
Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus [The Daily Telegraph]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of small law firms

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