Jim Jarrell of Barnes Thornberg LLP on Law Firms Using Social Media (Part Two)

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John McDougall interview photosocial media icon illustrationJohn McDougall:  Hi, I’m John McDougall, and I’m back for part two with Jim Jarrell, and he is the business development manager at Barnes and Thornburg LLP in Chicago. Welcome back, Jim.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim Jarrell:  Thanks, John.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  We’re going to be chatting a bit now about law‑firm content, social media, and blogging for trust and rankings. How important is social media for increasing trust for attorneys, and at the very least, is it a negative when you click social‑media icons on a firm’s site and it reveals zero followers on Facebook or Twitter? Is that sort of a big deal, not a big deal?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  First of all, I will say that at my firm, we sort of discourage our attorneys from using Facebook for business use, referencing themselves as attorneys, just because, of all the social‑media platforms, it’s probably the most dangerous in terms of protecting the integrity of our attorneys.

That said, I’m not sure still that social media has made it so far that people are making judgement calls about trust, based on clicking on that social media icon. That said, I’m not sure, I’m not sure, still, that social media has made it so far that people are making judgment calls about trust based on clicking on that social‑media icon and seeing the number of followers. I do think, though, that social media is going to continue to play a major role in our digital content programming strategy, particularly as our marketplace gets flooded with more and more decision‑makers coming from the Millennial generation. Those are the people who are the most sophisticated and the most plugged into social media, and as they become the decision‑makers, we have to find ways to reach out to them.

Of course, our challenge as a firm continues to be helping our attorneys develop that brand recognition in social media in whatever platform they choose to use. We actually have focused mostly on LinkedIn and Twitter, and we’ve had some modest success, but I would say, just like most every firm on the Am Law 100 list, we have more work to do if we’re going to make that compelling case to those Millennials.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  No, absolutely. I’ve been hearing that a lot, the Millennial issue. Firms are trying to reach out to younger people. There’s pretty much no way around it that they are absolutely dialed‑in on mobile phones and different social‑media applications. They’re evolving continually.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  In some respects, it’s become the preference for communication, which is so strange for people like me who are used to more direct, personal contact.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  I hear you. It’s tough to get used to, but amazing how Facebook, for example, younger people love to just communicate on Facebook instead of email, or text instead of email. Look at WhatsApp, the huge multi‑billion dollar application that Facebook bought.

That’s where the young people are. They’re chatting and/or, instead of email, it’s a lot of times, communicating directly through Facebook.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I totally agree. It’s definitely a driving force behind our social media strategy going forward. I can say that for sure.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  That’s good to hear. People buy from those that they know, like, and trust. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, being an attorney is supposedly among the least‑trusted occupations in America.

Can attorneys gain some of that trust back and initiate the influence principal of reciprocity, by giving of their knowledge through website content?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I think if you ask consumers who only need to hire an attorney when the chips are down or something’s wrong, there’s definitely always going to be a question of trust. Nobody wants to be told that their claim against the insurance company for damages to their house that weren’t covered by last year’s storm is going to cost them X dollars, especially when they’re already pretty solid and hurting by the lost.

I’m not sure that sort of dynamic is always going to be something that you can make go away, or that attorneys can ever gain leverage or an upper hand to get some of that trust back. On the consumer side, there’s still the stigma that providing some of their knowledge through website content opens them up to a bit more liability.

Now, on the business side, I would say that that’s definitely an angle that some law firms are taking to get an edge in terms of attracting some of the bottom of the consumer food chain, in that they’re building these websites that provide client access or customer access or web traffic access to some of their information, either through customized contract building applications, or whatever it may be.

They’re having some great success to it. I would still argue, though, that most of those decision makers who are purchasing legal services for their companies still do have a great deal of trust in their attorneys, particularly as it pertains to their expertise and their ability to solve their legal problem.

What they don’t trust any longer and this has been something that’s really taken the market by storm since about 2007, 2008, and it’s an issue that every law firm on the Am Law 100, 200, or even lower is facing today. It’s the question of whether we’re providing efficient legal services at the right price. Our clients don’t trust the value of what they’re getting anymore, and they’re questioning it a lot more. We see the tide turning, though. Some law firms are listening to their clients, including mine, and making the effort and the investment to figure out how to apply project‑management principles to some of these legal services so that we’re delivering them in a way that’s cost‑effective for our client.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  That’s good to hear. Sounds like you’re in the crowd of people making big changes as the legal market goes through all kinds of pricing issues and just transition in general.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  We’re doing what we can. I wouldn’t say we’re on the cutting edge or blazing trails, that’s for sure, but we’re listening, along with a lot of our fellow law firms. We’re listening and taking the steps to try to address some of those concerns, we do recognize that our clients don’t trust the value anymore. It’s a big topic of conversation here.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  That’s good to hear, again. Sounds like you’re taking the first good steps to listen and go from there. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and researchers indicate that over 70 percent of what we communicate is through our tone and body language, not just through our words, doesn’t that make images, audio, and video an incredibly important part of influencing website visitors?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I do, absolutely. I think that that’s one of the ways that our law‑firm website is making headway and doing a better job than some of our fellow Am Law 100 and 200 competitors. We have not a totally robust library of video clips, but we do have video embedded in our website that are compelling discussions with attorneys in each of our offices that talk about the sense of value that we bring to an engagement and the type of people that we have and what our law firm stands for. Hearing those words from a person that has a face, and it’s not just words on a page on a website, is much more compelling for our website visitors, and we see them coming back.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  I tell the story a little bit of how we were running a mesothelioma marketing project and we had done user testing on the landing pages, and it was amazing to see the users as they were clicking the site and comparing it to another site, that when they got to the video of the attorneys and the attorneys were speaking, instantly you could hear, in particular in this one woman’s voice, just how, “Oh, wow, listen. They sound I think I could work with them.” The change in attitude, from seeing a photo, reading the pictures, all of a sudden hearing the words and seeing the person speaking, just seemed to instantly change the opinion of this particular user. I find that interesting, and glad to see you’re doing that.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I mean, we’ve taken a lot of steps to try to include as much of that interactive quality in our website, because we recognize that that’s what helps make the most compelling case to some of the visitors that come along. What we’re challenged with, obviously, is making sure that that content is of a high enough quality and a standard that we’re comfortable distributing to the people that come to our website. Like a lot of law firms, we don’t have an unlimited font of resources from which to produce some of this content, but we’re making our way slowly but surely.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  There’s so much to do in marketing these days, with YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus. There’s just so many different options. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. I think that alone says a lot, that people are looking for Internet video content, and it certainly helps you rank better in the search engines for a law firm if you have content as well, so kills a lot of birds with one stone, if you will.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  Exactly.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Finally, does thought leadership and blogging matter more to B‑to‑B or business‑to‑consumer attorneys?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I think thought leadership matters to both. To the extent that it has to be done through blogging, I think I mentioned a little bit ago that there’s so many blogs from law firms out there anymore that it’s almost become a ubiquitous platform for thought leadership. The challenge that we’re going to have to face is that every attorney and their brother has a blog, and a lot of them are saying the same things. The challenge that we’re going to have to face is that everybody, every attorney and their brother has a blog and a lot of them are saying the same thing.

Where the real thought leadership comes into play is the creative ways that you broadcast the thought leadership that you’re trying to communicate and making sure that it gets to the audience that you actually want to hear the message. I don’t think that matters any less to B2B or B2C than the other. If we’re talking strictly about blogging, it’s probably more prevalent and more important to B2B law firms.

I think on the consumer side again, and I mentioned this earlier, so much of what that consumer’s looking for is either related to results or price. Maybe they’ll read a blog post written by a divorce attorney, but unless it’s giving them tips on how to do it themselves, they may not come back.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Are there any key areas you guys are blogging about?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  We are. We have a couple of different blogs for our employment and labor practice, one of them related specifically to employment issues and the other on the labor side.

We have, actually, a brand new blog that we just launched recently for our insurance recovery litigation group. We have a very successful blog for our securities and government enforcement litigation Group that we call the “Government Enforcement Exposed” blog.

I believe we have a couple of other blogs for some of the other practice groups. Our intellectual property group is working on a blog and our health care practice group’s had a blog for quite some time.

We’re not plugging away in every practice group. We’re picking and choosing our target areas based on thoughtful strategy. I think it’s been successful for us so far.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Do you have good luck getting attorneys to write or is that always a challenge to get content timed right?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  You mentioned earlier talking about attorney passion about the subject matter. That’s key, for sure. If the attorneys just view it as just more busy work, then, absolutely, it becomes a struggle to try to get content written.

What we’ve had some success with is, when something has gone well with one of the blogs, making sure that we are loudly and clearly communicating that to the attorneys who participate, so they know, “Here’s what happens when you blog.”

If a particular blog post gets picked up by a national re distributor or some trade association newsletter, those are some of the things that make a compelling case to the attorneys who are writing for the blogs that this stuff matters. That it’s getting out there to the people who need to see it, and that it’s not just other attorneys at Barnes & Thornburg clicking on the blog and reading the posts.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Do you also encourage the attorneys to share blog posts like they might a newsletter?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  Absolutely. It’s a huge part of our strategy when we blog that a direct link to the blog post itself goes out to the bloggers and they’re encouraged immediately to broadcast it out on their social media channels.

I can tell you, at least for the Government Enforcement Exposed Blog, because that’s the one I’m directly involved with, because I support that group directly, is that among our top referral sources are social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We’re getting traffic from those referrals and those broadcasts out to social media so the message is out there and it’s working well.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  That’s good to hear. That’s pretty unusual, as well, to get that much traffic from social media. The blog is spurring social referrals, which really speaks well of the writers then, so people want to share it.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  I think that they recognize that too, which is why it’s probably been a little easier than most to keep the content going.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  What about a last little extra question here. As a business development manager, do you push them to share it also in emails, not just on the social channels, but use it also as a new business tool, a business development tool, to pique people’s interests?

“Hey, you know, I wrote this new blog post. We had talked some time back. I just wanted to share the latest greatest that I’m thinking about.”

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  That’s a key part of what we’re doing as well, encouraging attorneys to use this as an opportunity for personal outreach, either with an existing client or a former client that they haven’t heard from in a while.

It just gives them that extra touch and it’s personalized and direct, to helps strengthen a relationship, to continue to build a reputation with those clients and prospects and develop opportunities for new business. It’s definitely part of our strategy.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  So, deepening relationships which is the heart of it all, right?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  Absolutely.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Nice to create a relationship with you today, Jim. I really appreciate your thoughts. What’s your website again, the web address?

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  It’s www.btlaw.com.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Good. I appreciated it, Jim, and I’ll send you a link to the blog post when it’s up.

Jim Jarrell interview photoJim:  Great. Thanks, John. Have a good day.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  All right. Good. Nice talking to you. Talk to you later.

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