Building trust and authority through content marketing continues to be at the heart of the legal marketing conversation.
At the keynote by Kat Cole from Cinnabon, she said something along the lines of “I know lawyers freak out about blogging and things like that, but the opportunity to be a thought leader even in a small way could be a game changer for your firm.” I thought her enthusiasm and leadership example was fantastic and couldn’t agree more on the thought leader front.
Kat outlined some key things that she felt were important in growing a business that she learned from her amazing experience running Cinnabon.
- Build your brand through relevance and differentiation
- Operate an awesome core business and wow your guests
- Build partner profitability
- Expand points of distribution
- Positively impact your employees and global communities
- Understand your clients’ business
Being relevant in this current economic climate and having a very strong unique value proposition is critical off-line and online. She discussed how she knew that when the economy turned downward that if she didn’t change her franchising model and reduce the pricing to franchisees that she would have serious financial problems. She reduced the franchise fees by 80% because that was what was relevant in this economy, and she ended up having double-digit growth and many of the smaller franchises started to trade up and spend more with her.
She said if you don’t do this someone else will, and even though the partners of your firm may be hesitant to change pricing models or the way they do business, in order to be relevant you have to think outside the box and do things to keep a competitive advantage.
She went on to say that trust is the most important thing in building a brand, and I think that is also critical online because if people see your website and don’t feel an immediate connection and sense of comfort, they will just click away instantly.
Tim Corcoran, the principal of Corcoran Consulting Group, spoke just after Kat and he said that the new normal of difficult times for pricing and law firms now just needs to be called normal and that we have to get used to it.
What they both were saying essentially echoes what Prof. David Wilkins said at last year’s keynote for the Legal Marketing Association in Las Vegas, which is that because of the tough economy and changes in the law firm marketplace, you have to be prepared to think completely outside the box and try new things.
Tim also said that because the legal marketing world is now so broad and diverse, you can no longer even pretend to wear all of the hats and need to build better teams.
Social media for law firms
The next talk that I went to was the social media master class by Randall Craig of 108 ideaspace. Randall discussed how important it is to have a competitive advantage. He said that you need to consider price, expertise, and trust. He was passionate that he feels many people do blogging in a way that does not build trust or show expertise and that is a mistake. Blogging and content are a great way to build trust and show your thought leadership. He asked the audience to raise their hands if they did not have a blog and he seemed surprised when there were even a small handful of people that still didn’t. Basically almost all law firms have a blog and are blogging now. He said that large firms can do blogs offsite because they can afford to pay for multiple entities and marketing campaigns, but smaller firms must make their blogs a part of their main domain name, such as domain.com/blog, so it will also help them with their search engine optimization.
Randall recommended that everyone should make sure to get at least five recommendations from LinkedIn and be sure that any endorsements you get are for the main things you do so that there is congruency and trust. Also recommended were looking up people on LinkedIn for key meetings that attorneys were about to go to, as a general practice and ideally connecting with those people on social media. The point was to get attorneys in the habit of taking small actions related to something they are already doing.
He also mentioned developing personas or target groups and then mapping out the following items for each of a handful of personas:
- Current challenges
- Key message
- Social sites that they use
- Action plan
- Benchmarks for success
By generating content for specific targeted groups, your content will resonate more deeply and you can take deeper actions to satisfy specific needs.
Marketing automation was another key takeaway, and he suggested using it at least when people download a piece of content from your site to automate keeping in touch with them and turning them into a more serious lead.
A very actionable takeaway was to secure your profile or create one at ZoomInfo because a lot of these type of sites are creating a profile for you or for your firm that can be scammed by people if you do not keep control of them. He said there about 10 of these sites to look into.
A favorite tool of his is HootSuite and he logs in first thing in the morning and monitors firm partner names, researches prospects and candidates, etc.
He didn’t seem to want to dive too deeply into tactics for each of the main social media sites, which I thought was a little bit disappointing, but his strategy and overall ideas were good. As a master certified conversion optimization expert, I am a big fan of persona development and marketing automation, but I was surprised that these were more heavily talked about than more specific takeaways on social media specifically for law firms. They are not talked about enough, so it was welcome content, but just surprising because of the title of the talk.
Delving into niche practice areas to redefine and strengthen your brand as well as online marketing
Next up was expanding your strategic driver practices by Ross Fishman, the CEO of Fishman Marketing Inc. I was really excited about this talk because I am a firm believer that firms try to be all things to all people and that makes it very hard to have deep success in a few key areas, especially online.
Ross suggested that it is important to find small wins even in one practice area and with one attorney that is comfortable with content marketing so you can be great in that small area and then potentially cross-sell when you get new customers in the door.
He had a funny story for one of his clients Borkan & Scahill, who defend police officers, where the attorney Steve Borkan agreed to get tasered! He mused that who doesn’t want to see an attorney get tasered?
This landed them national publicity on an extremely low budget. Not that viral videos are often the best way to go for attorneys … his point was to think outside the box and to get really known in a niche area.
Ross also mentioned that you need to brand the practices and not just the firm, as well as work backwards from a rainmaker so that when you get leads from the web ,the rainmaker will close them.
An example of a legal micro site around one topic is the following for Drinker Biddle healthcare:
Compare that to the services page on their site and you can see why niching it down can help customers in that practice area really feel more connected to you and that you get their particular industry:
Ross likes to interview attorneys one-on-one to get a better sense of their ideas and brand positioning before he starts to develop content. Here are some of the interview questions he uses:
- Tell me about your practice.
- Give me three adjectives to describe your practice.
- Who are your competitors?
- What is your unique value proposition?
- Tell me about the firm in general.
The main takeaway is to not go too broad and there is a lot of money to be made in the niches, especially where that will make it easier to compete online.
LinkedIn for lawyers
John Corey of Greentarget, who is considered one of the top 30 PR professionals in the United States, led the next talk with the panel that included Patrick Baynes of PeopleLinx, Lindsay Gotwald of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Megan McKeon of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, and Michelle Woodyear of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
This was perhaps the best talk of the day. The room was absolutely packed.
Greentarget did a general counsel survey where they asked how people are using social media and what content they find valuable. They started doing this in 2010 and this year 189 general counsels and deputy general counsels responded.
They also did a separate survey of law firm chief marketing officers and 79 law firm marketers responded.
Check out digitalandcontentsurvey.com where the data will be released Monday, April 21, and where there is currently an infographic with some of the preliminary results.
I have five pages of notes but I will keep it somewhat brief. One of the main takeaways is that more attorneys are using LinkedIn than any other social media channel. Despite a massive surge in this area, 71% are listening only and 29% are both listening and engaging. Considering most people are just consuming content and listening, those that actually do share original content and engage people are poised to dominate. This will definitely change as more people get on board with being thought leaders in this area.
General counsels highly value LinkedIn, Wikipedia, and blogs, and there are more than 1,000 legal blogs today!
In addition, the age is leveling out and a lot more older people are jumping on board. Older people are definitely using LinkedIn to look for work.
The survey reveals that nearly half of general counsels view a future in which LinkedIn connections and activity play a very important role in influencing prospects. It also indicates that it is important for building thought leadership and getting media pickups.
The types of content the general counsels find most valuable are as follows:
- Practice group newsletters, 77%
- Client alerts, 63%
- Blogs, 38%
- Website content, 36% (while blogs aren’t number one on the list, it is fascinating to see that they are more important than your website content)
- Social media, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn groups, 8%
- Video, 6%
- Other, 3%
John said that there is no question the general counsels find blog content very important and that content from practice group newsletters and client alerts can be repurposed into other types of content for the web. Overall it is clear that budgets for content marketing are increasing and lawyers and staff are doing more content themselves as well.
Despite the findings that content marketing and LinkedIn are critical, only 25% have a content marketing strategy and 32% have a linking strategy. Surprising since lawyers have for decades been one of the most consistent publishers in any industry! He said that it is helpful if the rainmakers at the top of the firm jump in and help push in this area.
Some of the key things that people are doing on LinkedIn are as follows:
- Build connections
- Activity in groups
- Researching outside counsel
- Looking for jobs
- Listening and consuming
Takeaways were to start small and not necessarily firmwide and to start with the most interested and get success stories where LinkedIn produces media pickups on FOX News in the Wall Street Journal, etc. and even sales.
One of the panelists commented that an attorney shared that he connected with a guy from high school and he turned out to be a general counsel … those kinds of stories help get other attorneys on board.
Some key things to track:
- Ask for a checkbox to be added to your intake form so people can indicate if LinkedIn is one of the ways that they found you.
- Use tracking URLs to your website.
- Track shares of content.
- Track the number of clicks from attorney LinkedIn pages to bios on the firm’s website and vice versa.
Also emphasized was to have a complete profile on LinkedIn, as well as monitor the amount of network connections and activity.
One audience member asked about Facebook for law firms, and it seems clear that many but not all of the panelists push mostly for community-focused and personal info to be shared on Facebook and to put more business content on LinkedIn.
Endorsements are a bit flaky, and so attorneys are often not allowed to use them and many are restricted from using recommendations as well. Personally I think recommendations are very important. They’re essentially testimonials, but I can see how firms might not want to have their thought leaders stolen.
Michelle said that she likes to use HubSpot and use marketing automation, while Lindsay likes HootSuite.
All agree that authenticity is key.
Networking with law firms and vendors
Some of my networking highlights are finally meeting Kevin of LexBlog, who is one of my favorite thought leaders in the legal marketing space (if you haven’t seen it, check his priceless State of the AmLaw 200 Blogosphere), numerous interesting software vendors like professional CRM invisible thread, as well as countless law firms with a lot of awesome questions about their marketing.
One audience member asked during the social media master class if there was a way to handle situations when Yelp gets out of control and is hurting you. I was able to chime in because I had just read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal at breakfast a story called Yelp Reviews Brew a Fight Over Free Speech vs. Fairness, and you can read where Yelp is in serious hot water for their unsavory practices of filtering positive reviews out after people turn them down for advertising.
Law firms have also been negatively affected by this Yelp practice. I have personally seen about a dozen companies complain of this in various industries.
That wraps up my experience with Day One, and I am just running out the door to start another action-packed day!