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Lost in the Wasteland?

Five Principles of Smarter Social Media Marketing

By Dustin Cole

Social media marketing has, unfortunately, become the techno-version of “marketing by wandering around.” It can be immensely time-consuming while producing an extremely low return. You can spend considerable time chasing down likes and followers instead of using methods that produce actual business. In fact, social media without a plan can become an addiction, wasting time and creating dozens of distractions and interruptions every day.

Antidote to Aimless Social Media Marketing

Tired of aimlessly wandering the social media landscape? Here are five principles to keep in mind when formulating a more focused plan.

1. Who you should be talking to. A strength and weakness of social media is that it is globe-circling, so it is not unusual to have followers from around the world. Unless you practice in a rarefied practice area, however, most of your clients will be located reasonably close to your offices or have some kind of interest — property, business, family — in your region. Also, unless you practice at the federal level, you are likely licensed to practice in your home state only. So, when using social media for business development:

  1. Seek to interact with prospects in your geographic market area.
  2. Engage individuals who have some identified potential need for your services. For instance, if you focus on estate planning, you may seek — or develop — channels to reach older people.
  3. Interact with people who have the potential to refer clients — that is, professionals with target markets, client bases and professional interests that overlap with yours.

2. What your messages should be about. Remember that clients come to you because of synchronicity — there is an intersection of their need for and their awareness of you and your capabilities. Your social media plan should revolve around periodic communications that maintain top-of-mind awareness so that people remember you when they need your services. The challenge is doing this without becoming an “Internet boor.”

Today, most social media for business has moved away from conversations to bald-faced promotion — that is, one-way conversations. It has become the equivalent of the highway billboard: a sales message looking for an audience. But if your message is all about sales and self-congratulation, your audience will disengage — either officially, by unsubscribing or blocking, or unofficially, by ignoring your communications. If this happens, you are just whistling in the electronic wind.

To keep your audience connected, your messages should seek to engage, inform and support. Provide information that is of interest or value, and engage in conversations that are helpful or useful. This information need not always be about your professional capabilities. It could be about community activities, events or problems, or point to other useful information.

3. When you should communicate. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and similar platforms promote the ultimate in narcissism. The narcissists post on social media when something happens to them. Savvier people who use social media for business will post when something happens out in the world — especially in their community — that provides fodder for conversation, and will be of current interest to their audience. For instance, on Veterans Day, a post linking to a thoughtful article about war veterans or a supporting website makes your message topical, and hopefully, it makes you memorable, too.

4. Where you should interact and post. Your social media posts will be most valuable when they focus on your target audience and market. Seek out or create interest groups that best relate to the business you wish to attract. A business attorney, for example, might seek forums for business owners, corporate CEOs and counsel, and other related professional groups.

5. How often you should post. All of us are bombarded daylong with countless messages of all types. How to do? Post frequently because occasional posting does not build top-of-mind awareness. But post briefly because attention spans have gone from minutes to seconds, and from paragraphs to “sound bites.” And post interestingly because other people are narcissists, too. They are only interested in communications that are relevant, valuable, interesting or intriguing to them. If it’s not, you will be forgotten.

Avoid the Social Media Impulse Trap

Your time spent on social media should be organized and managed, just as you manage the time spent on your legal work. Rather than falling into the “impulse” trap — wandering from site to site, or posting on impulse — schedule specific blocks of time each day or week with a specific purpose, following a plan of action.

Don’t allow social media to become an addiction or an escape. One simple tactic is to track the time you spend, just as you track your billable, marketing and administrative time. Also, those endless notifications from social media apps can feed social media addiction. If possible, set up notifications to retrieve feeds and messages only when you are ready to review then, and don’t let them be a constant attention disrupter. Social media management tools can also help.

Rethink Your Use of Social Media

There is a shift occurring in the use of social media. Some early adopters are either terminating their accounts or rethinking how they use it. And many more of us are discovering that our social media activity has consisted of immense amounts of time with disappointing results — coupled with a “need” (addiction) to follow it all.

So here is a last observation: While our society has long been criticized for needing immediate gratification, social media is one place where you should seek just that. If your many hours of swimming in the social media torrent is not yielding direct results — that is, business and revenues — change it up. Think about how you can better address your marketing and revenue goals. Then decide which aspects of social media are helping you and which are simply time-sinks that get in your way.

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Dustin Cole Dustin Cole

Dustin Cole is President and Master Practice Advisor with Attorneys Master Class. For nearly 25 years, he has delivered CLE programs on practice management, marketing, risk management and succession planning for bar associations and organizations. He has keynoted and trained at nearly all of the nation’s solo and small firm programs, worked with more than 400 attorneys, and conducted operations and marketing analyses for more than 100 firms. Email him at

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