Social Media Management for Professional Firms – Q&A
The following series of questions and answers were sourced from meetings recently attended, in particular a panel appearance organised by Infinite Global in London.
Q. Who within the firm should own the social media function?
A. I don’t like the use of the word “owned” because it suggests acquiring a right which can either cause friction with others who have an equal interest in the medium or offer up a “get out of jail free card” for those who feel they don’t own it so don’t need to contribute.
Whomever you appoint to take overall responsibility must do so in the knowledge that they are reliant upon others to support and participate. By way of example, a digital marketing manager may, quite logically, be given the task but if they lack the gravitas and personal authority to generate a response they’ll struggle to deliver. Equal to and perhaps of greater importance than the digital know how are the skills to engender collaboration and communication across the firm? “Soft skills” and application of emotional intelligence (EQ) are absolutely essential in harnessing the collective knowledge and skills to communicate the capabilities of individuals and the firm as a whole. Consider this before appointing the person to take ultimate control of your social media activity.
Q. Should PR professionals be the broadcasters of your social media Channels or just managers?
A. The PR function has moved into the centre ground in thoughts of strategic delivery with the increase in digital marketing opportunities and insatiable demand for quality, engaging content. PR is in essence communication but it isn’t all about the external facing message. Before you consider their role with regard to delivery you need to consider THE most important piece of PR in a firm, the internal campaign to win hearts and minds of key decision makers on the direction of the firm’s communication strategy. Social can, and in my view should, hold a strong part of that strategy but without “buy in” you’re on the outside looking in to those who have the eyes and ears of the senior management team.
Most PR/marketing professionals will have their own twitter accounts and it is expected that they will have a LinkedIn profile. Only by using the medium can you fully understand it but don’t assume PR’s and marketers are all highly proficient with everything social. It is a medium that moves very quickly and deserves to be treated with respect. Outsourcing has its risks as does the handing over of the keys to the firm’s twitter account to the “socially savvy” new recruit. My advice would be to set clear objectives for what you want from your social activity. Here are but a few examples;
Increase in brand awareness by (%)
Monitoring client feedback
Gaining (x) new clients and (y) referrals
Creation, management and communication to a social network that reflects the core target areas of the firm (set realistic size target by viewing peer group leaders)
Achieve greater news media coverage on key service areas (this should feed back to brand awarness and new clients)
Increased traffic to targeted sections of the website (ensure google analytics track social feeds and report regularly)
Once you have your agreed objectives you can decide on who takes the reigns managing or broadcasting or both. That decision is very much down to the make up of your firm and the resources available for such activity.
Q. How do you bridge the gap between those who produce the content (lawyers) and those who are actively promoting the content?
A. There are a few excellent examples of where producer and promoter are actually one and the same. In these situations all the marketing team need do is ensure the practitioner is up to date with the mechanics and protocols of the platforms used. These “thought leaders” can be extremely powerful advocates for the firm showcasing depth of knowledge and experience alongside their connection to social media management.
Typically the above tends to work for smaller practices with entrepreneurial, driven leaders who have identified the potential of social media marketing. Having a solo performance can be effective however it does place a great deal of pressure on the individual and at times of holiday or illness the firm can be left adrift with only the testcard available for broadcast. (anyone under the age of 40 may need to Google “testcard”)
Of course not many law firms possess the individuals who can both create the content and find the time to promote it. Typically the marketing team are charged with making the very most of the “carefully crafted” content. This content, let’s say it’s an article on inheritance, will quite often be first posted and hosted on the firm’s website. It might seem obvious but the authors profile should top and tail the article. A brief introduction to the expert at the beginning followed by a more detailed “cut out” section at the end. Browsing behaviour is such that readers may only take in a few lines so there is no harm in repeating the name and contact details of the author. When posting on LinkedIn the publisher can also share the content on Twitter. If sent on the firm’s main or department twitter account I would recommend a strong headline to draw in the reader and again a very brief bio before the link to the website.
Social media users prefer to deal with real people rather than logos and brands however including a bio of the author and if space allows, a link to either their own twitter or LinkedIn profile will help increase engagement.
Q. What role should lawyers, accountants or barristers play in social media activities?
A. If you have willing volunteers chomping at the bit to tweet don’t dampen their enthusiasm but do ensure they know the ground rules. Be clear and try at all costs to avoid “the tail wagging the dog” as enthusiastic broadcasters monopolise the firms social channels leaving little space for the areas you really need to promote. The firms strategy should point to the key areas requiring promotion, say a specific service area that is topical and requires a greater profile. The marketing team then identify those who have the knowledge and capability to demonstrate expertise, (not necessarily the most senior practitioner or head of department).
On an ongoing basis to better manage the process each service area/ department should have at least one “social advocate” ideally someone who knows the difference between trolls and twitterati. They should be kept up to date with general social trends and specific industry activity to ensure they make the most of their time online and don’t fall foul of any pitfalls i.e. tweeting specific client info or inappropriate comments when “relaxed” after a glass or two.
They should be tasked with helping to generate content in the form of regular articles, news items that can be commented on and any changes in legislation that clients and contacts should be made aware of. In effect they are your radar for their specific area of interest.
Typically you’ll encounter;
a) enthusiastic disappointers, talk a good game but don’t deliver
b) surprising stars, those who’ve kept their social skills secret thinking they were either too junior or simply not capable enough
c) Just can’t be bothered, too busy, too important
d) Steady Eddie and Edwinas who can deliver but prefer to stay in the background
Whichever you identify be very clear as to what is expected and set realistic goals for output. If they fail to deliver don’t be afraid to remove the responsibility and seek out someone who can.
If you don’t appear to have many in the firm with the core skills to contribute and support your social activity relay this to HR and consider building in social media related questions when recruiting to help identify those strengths.
Part 2 of this Q & A feature will arrive next week. If you have any specific questions relating to the above please feel free to comment or simply connect and drop me a line.
Listening to professional service firms across the UK, I hear time and time again of their frustration with social media.
“I just don’t get it, everyone talks about it but no one has the time to do it, even when I do spend time on it I’m not really sure what I’m doing.” Views that may well resonate in your firm. But what is the answer?
You have five main options:-
1. If you haven’t started just don’t bother
2. If you have made an attempt, opened the odd twitter, facebook or linkedin account, stop right now and do no more
3. Hire someone to do your donkey work and outsource your social media activity
4. Instruct all fee earners to embrace social media and open a variety of accounts, throwing your firm head long into all things “social”
5. Introduce a workable approach to using the most appropriate platforms for your firm by setting a plan and working to it
With so many people, businesses, clients, competitors actively involved in social media can you afford to “not bother?” You may well be frustrated by the lack of response to your initial efforts but it’s like trying to drive a car in a busy town centre without having had a lesson, scary and likely to put you off getting behind a wheel forever.
Getting someone else to drive your activity may well be a good way to start but ultimately most platforms require a personality and connection that would be hard to replicate and pretenders are often quickly found out. However compelling the sales pitch and attractive the thought of delegating tweets to third parties, it’s not the way to grow a trusted network.
As for the stick theory, demanding fee earners to “just do it” will result in some activity but for many it will be with reluctance and without effective training, plans or analysis, it will engender a widerspread feeling of hopelessness and confusion.
So that leaves option 5, it seems and is, a sensible approach but that short line of a few words does no more than sentence the one charged with making it happen to a period in solitary where they’ve nothing to do but work out “what the hell do we do about this social media malarkey?”
That in a nutshell is the problem – advice is cheap but effective action is priceless. The added complication is that in general, those working within the professional sector like certainty, don’t like taking risks, however well calculated, and this new communication medium seems fraught with danger.
On the upside there’s no shortage of help out there but a word of caution, not all who speak with marketing tongue can walk the social media walk. Alterian’s annual survey of 1,500 marketers, agencies and consultants last year identified that amazingly a third didn’t understand how to manage social media. A staggering 70% were simply not reporting on its effectiveness to senior management or clients. So beware the sales pitch
The reasons to strive to understand the medium remain compelling. The statistics ever impressive with millions of “friends” “followers” and contacts to “link to” we ignore social media at our peril and risk being left far behind.
A few mind bending stats that suggest social media is far from a fad or momentary medium used by niche groups:-
Linkedin – Launched 2002, 90 million members, 200 countries, 5m in the UK
WordPress – Launched 2003, latest version of the website downloaded 32.5m, 13% of the World’s top 1m websites use WordPress
Facebook – Launched 2004, 500 million users, 48% 18-34yrs, av. 130 friends (big rise in 35+ users)
FlickR – Launched 2004, 5bn photos, 50 million accounts,
YouTube – Launched 2005, 490m users, av. user 20 minutes per day,
Twitter – Launched 2006, 190 million accounts, 55 million tweets per day
Foursquar – Launched 2009, 381,576,305 check ins 2010
If your fear is it’s already too late DON’T PANIC, there is still time for new joiners or those who’ve just scratched the surface to quickly seize the initiative. The truth is that a large number of professional service firms have leapt to join in but not truly understood the potential of the various social media platforms. Trust in your instincts and apply the same level headed approach to this marketing discipline as you would to any other. The focus is all about the conversation, the connection and the trusted network you can build within which, on occasion, you can introduce messages that promote the practice and the people who deliver your services.
I view social media marketing as an altenative form of broadcasting. You have multiple channels, a wide variety of potential audiences and no shortage of material to consider to put “on air”.
Consider your twitter strategy with this broadcast analagy in mind. Which of your fee earners will be tweeting, what is their ideal audience, how best can you hope to engage with that target, what source of material could be of interest and how frequently do you want to send a message promoting the firm or specific service?
Very few of us want to watch a channel that is 100% adverts. But we will tune in to a broadcaster offering interesting comments, observations, news and support and interactivity within the network. Our rule is generally one promotional tweet to every six offering alternative content.
Please don’t worry about how you become a trusted, entertaining broadcaster. The vast majority of twitter accounts are run by ordinary people who have simply spent time understanding the language, tone and appropriateness of the medium. There is no short cut alternative to gaining experience of social media platforms. Many so called specialists in the field can offer advice and training but there is no substitute for getting your “hands on” and starting the process.
This is marketing as a truly participative event, no arms length seminar, newspaper column or e-mail campaign. Here you are engaging in a direct manner and developing not only your firms brand by adopting a social media strategy, but critically establishing yourself as a brand that your network can trust and call upon for advice.
Ready for your close up? Don’t worry no make up required, well not until you establish your YouTube channel.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer Twitter @davidlaud LinkedIn http://uk.linkedin.com/in/davidlaud
Managing Partner – i2i Business Solutions LLP – Marketing Consultancy for Professional Service Firms