Social Media for Professionals

 

“Social Media for Lawyers, CPAs and Other Professionals”

by Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A.

Social media has progressed to the point that professionals can’t ignore its usefulness or impact. A growing number of professional services firms (lawyers, CPAs and others) are using social media to exchange information. However, if you aren’t using social media or know little about it, you are likely reluctant to get started.  This article is designed to help you get up to speed – and be ready to proceed to the next step!

What is social media?
Social media can be defined as “web-based and mobile technologies that enable interactive communication” (note that this definition may change as technology changes).  The essence of it is interactive communication.  Think about how you may have grown up spending hours on the telephone or maybe even e-mailing your friends; the current technology allows many more options of quick dispersion of information to a much broader audience!  For many users, it is a way to communicate when they never would have otherwise (e.g., a quick Facebook post that can be read by hundreds of users, all of whom can respond and see what others wrote!).

You may have heard the term “user-generated content” and thought that it only applied to blogs or similar tools that allow creating and exchanging information.  However, social media is currently in numerous categories, including: social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), blogs and micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter), video-based collaboration (e.g., YouTube); and more!

What is the benefit of using social media?
What does this mean for your firm?  Instead of a website with mostly, in not all, one-way communication, you can have true interaction that is enabled by the internet!  The benefits of social media are constantly developing and growing.  Here are some of the most prominent marketing benefits:

  • - Build your brand, reputation and visibility
  • - Demonstrate your expertise to the world
  • - Maintain contact with an unlimited number of contacts instantly from anywhere!
  • - Reconnect with “lost” business contacts
  • - Keep up with new developments
  • - Build a broader network of active on-line users
  • - Join with other on-line communities
  • - Develop competitive intelligence
  • - Communicate with clients and colleagues
  • - Network with other firms around the country and the world

What are some of the “must-have” social media for professionals?
A basic premise in marketing is that you must understand the needs and wants of your market.  This premise holds true for social media – how is your target market using it?

For example, professionals who serve primarily individuals (such as personal injury or family law attorneys, or CPAs that specialize in tax returns and estate planning, etc.) might find a different use for social media than business-to-business firms.  Talk with your marketing consultant to get a better idea of what will work best for your firm. 

With the current state of social media, not every professional services firm needs a YouTube or Twitter account.  This may change – and there are other social media, that are currently in play or that will develop, that you should likely consider.  Remember that social media is a rapidly developing communications tool that you will need to revisit regularly in terms of developing a successful marketing strategy.

What about Facebook and LinkedIn?
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard about Facebook and LinkedIn.  However, at least half of the professionals at smaller firms that we encounter still don’t have a presence on these social networking sites.  The reason for inaction is typically a lack of information and fear of the exposure in case they do something wrong.  So, here is a brief overview of these sites. 

  • - What makes them so popular? Facebook and LinkedIn are free, relatively easy to use and allow yourself or your firm to quickly become a part of social networking.  A common concern is posts that may be unflattering – but not to worry, both of these allow you to control the information that you choose to be read. They are also free, so there is no cost to start experimenting with them.

 Some mistakenly think of LinkedIn as a “job search” site, which it can be in terms of creating an on-line resume.  Facebook is sometimes considered as only a tool for maintaining relationships with family and friends.  However, both go far beyond that for business purposes including: generate leads; announce new services/products; expand your network; be an information resource, answering questions asked by colleagues; perform prospect or competitor research; build awareness of your firm; and provide recommendations for your connections.

 As you might suspect, mobile applications allow you to use these tools when you’re out of the office.  Mobile use is skyrocketing, making social networking even more valuable for your business purposes. 

  • - LinkedIn – LinkedIn is a business-related social networking site. It has become popular because it makes it simple to network on-line with clients, referral sources, prospects and vendors.  As of November, 2011 over 135 million professionals around the world use the site, including executives from all Fortune 500 companies and more than 2 million companies.
     
  • - Facebook – As compared to LinkedIn, Facebook allows sharing of personal and professional information.  Facebook builds and disseminates information in many ways, including RSS feeds that allow reading updates in Outlook or other e-mail applications rather than having to go to Facebook.  As a virtual “mini-blog,” Facebook is a useful tool for distributing information to your designated on-line “friends.”  Some use it as their primary on-line communication vehicle, using e-mail sparingly if at all.

Look before you leap
One of the biggest concerns that employers have for using social media is liability and privacy.  What if their employees use social media to say bad things about the firm?  What if they disclose confidential client information?  What happens if an employee makes statements that put the firm in a position of defending itself in lawsuits? Employment attorneys will likely tell you that any firm allowing use of social media by professionals or staff should have defined policies in place. 

Lawyers should be aware that in some states, blogs and profiles in social media sites (e.g., LinkedIn and Facebook) can be considered as advertising, so be aware of ethical requirements.  It is also important to maintain your profiles on these sites to avoid any ethics rules violations.  Consider also whether a social media interaction establishes a client relationship.

There are many other legal and ethical issues to consider, such as: disclaimers on all of your practice’s social media and web pages informing visitors that the sites are for informational purposes only and that they don’t constitute advice; control of security features on social media websites; policies for accepting/rejecting “friend” requests and other invitations to connect with users or groups; and separation of the firm from employees’ or partners’ personal social media sites. 

How to get your social networking site up and running
Once you consider the above factors, you are in a position to start on your Facebook or LinkedIn site.  Both of these make it relatively easy to set up a site – but just like websites, it is important to have a social media site that is effective for marketing purposes.  This is arguably even more important for social networking sites, since it can be a launching platform for discussions – which can be based in part on what you say on your Facebook or LinkedIn page! 

As such, far too many firms, selling similar services, lack distinctive social networking sites that set them apart. Is your firm in this dilemma? Are your services explained in a compelling manner?  If you want a social networking site specifically tailored to your firm and target market, contact Kevin Brown Marketing & Consulting. Uniquely, we have an in-depth understanding of professional services firms from our 20-plus years of experience!  We can develop branding/positioning strategies, write your site content, design your logo, design a custom site that represents your firm – and help with other internet techniques, such as website development, e-newsletters, article placement and advertising in on-line directories. We’re your one-stop-shop for internet marketing!  

About the author: Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A. has worked with professional services firms for over 20 years.  His firm, Kevin Brown Marketing & Consulting, is a full-service marketing and management consulting firm that  specializes in serving lawyers, CPAs and other professional services firms. The firm is also a qualified advertising agency and public relations firm. Phone: (714) 965-1556. Website: www.KevinBrownMarketing.com