Your prospects and clients are interacting daily on social media channels, regardless of your opinion on the matter. It’s time to get over yourself and invest a little time and money in this marketing platform, because it’s about your prospects — not you.
A healthy marketing strategy does several things at once, like growing brand awareness, increasing market penetration, establishing a unique selling proposition and creating sales. Social media plays a role in all of this. But you can’t just go about social media marketing blindly. It requires planning, a strategic approach, analytics and a budget. No marketing campaign will work without that.
Not for the Casual Marketer
In 2016, your law firm should be equipping the office with the appropriate tools for success and drafting a plan of action. This article is not for the casual marketer. Before you can really take advantage of a social media marketing campaign, you need to have your online presence in order. That means branding, a good website, mobile responsive design, directory listings, and all the social media profiles claimed.
If you are serious about building a stronger practice, then keep reading.
The New Social Marketing Mediums
Podcasting, live video streaming and Instagram (yes, Instagram) offer big opportunities for law firms this year.
PODCASTING. While not new, podcast consumption is on the rise. According to recent research, more than 60 percent of listeners are between 25 and 64 years old, and the podcast consumer is a lot wealthier compared to the average American. It is a huge opportunity for law firms in 2016. There are some rules to podcasting from a marketing perspective, and you will need to keep the following things in mind.
Audio quality is critical. You could create the best podcast in the world, but if your audio levels are terrible, people will stop listening. Getting the right equipment makes a difference. Here is a walk-through I recorded for our Legal Coffee Break podcast to help you understand the importance of audio.
Be strategic about your podcasts. It is not a good idea to just ramble every episode. You should decide on a topic ahead of time. Here is a list of issues to consider:
- How often will you podcast? It doesn’t really matter as long as you are consistent. Can your listeners expect you to publish every day, once a week or once a month? No matter what you choose, it is crucial that you stick to it.
- How long is your podcast going to be? Legal Coffee Break podcast episodes are 10 minutes long because that podcast is designed to be a quick update. Legal Talk Network episodes range from 20 minutes to one hour. The Lawyerist episodes are typically 40 minutes. Once you decide on a target for your podcast audience, try to determine how long they would like to listen to your podcast.
- What is the theme of your podcast? Settle on a theme that allows flexibility in recording and gives your audience a heads-up on what to expect for content. Planet Money from NPR is all about, well, money. The Criminal podcast is all about people connected to crimes. Find your niche and make that your theme.
- Where are you going to publish your podcast? You have two main options here: Publish your podcast on your website or create a site for your podcast. If you are hosting the podcast on your law firm website, use SoundCloud to upload your audio file and then embed that on your website. For creating a stand-alone podcast website, we recommend using the Rainmaker Platform. (We use this platform for our podcast, so I’d be happy to walk you through how we set it up. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
- Music matters, so get some royalty-free music to use in your podcast. Here is a great website for purchasing music you can use: Royalty Free Music.
- Format your episodes. Decide ahead of time if most of your episodes will be interviews, guest-hosted, one person only or storytelling (like This American Life). Creating a consistent format will help the audience fall into a healthy routine of listening to your podcast regularly. If you change formats too often, people will not know what to expect and listenership will go down.
Part of the key to podcasting is jumping in and getting started. Just make a plan and start recording. Not every episode is going to be awesome, and that’s okay. It is better to learn on the fly than wait until you get the process down perfectly. Certainly, this will be the most difficult part of the podcast plan for lawyers because they’ve been trained to find mistakes and leverage them. If you can get over this hump, you will be ahead of the game.
LIVE VIDEO STREAMING. Online live streaming video is the new kid on the block. This is not the first time live streaming has been introduced into social media marketing. Early players, like Ustream and RedVideo, were too early to the party. What the market needed was a combination of mobile adoption and better camera quality.
The two biggest players today are Periscope and Meercat. Even though Facebook, Vine, Twitter and Instagram have or are thinking about adding live stream video, it is likely that one of these two new platforms will win this battle. For now, let’s focus on Periscope.
Periscope is easy. Users log on and see what other people are live streaming. You can search for topics or follow other users. Most people on Periscope are lurkers (they do not stream and only watch others). That’s the technical term and it is not intended to be creepy.
As you are live streaming, users watching can “like” the stream, share the stream on other social channels or make a comment. Many users ask questions or provide suggestions during the live stream. This creates a live flow of comments while you are streaming.
Good quality audio is important for this medium as well. You can stream from either your mobile device or GoPro 4 (see more on equipment below). While streaming, you want to use your phone in the vertical position, just like you do when you are talking. This allows you to easily see the comments and respond. Also, there is an important setting that allows you to keep a record of the video stored in your phone.
Before you start recording, have a strong idea, or possibly even an outline, of what you are going to say. Choose a good title for your video that gives people a clear idea of what you are doing and why they should watch. Click “stream” and, voilà, you are now live streaming, so start talking.
Replying to comments while you record is preferred. Instead of trying to type your response, just reply as if a live audience is in front of you. Remember that not everyone will know what comment you are replying to, so it is good practice to repeat the question.
Opportunities for live streaming include firm outings, backstage moments and quick updates on current legal matters in the press. Once you have an idea, write it down. This will help you keep a long list of possible streaming episodes.
Once you’ve finished streaming, take the recording from your phone and get it transcribed. Then post the video to YouTube along with the transcript. Embed the link to the YouTube video on your website, with the transcript, too.
SNAPCHAT. This social network is all about sending temporary mini-moments to your followers. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a crazy idea, there are two very important stats that show Snapchat is a serious platform:
- Nearly one-fifth of all social media users use Snapchat.
- Over 65 percent of Snapchat users regularly contribute content to the network.
That makes Snapchat more active than most social networks — and that leads to more engagement. Getting people to interact with your posts is the driver of any successful social media marketing campaign, which makes the Snapchat user a great target.
There are two types of marketing campaigns on Snapchat: stories and snaps.
Stories are a compilation of snaps from the last 24 hours, all strung together and sent out in one long stream. The stories are still short in nature, but this format provides the opportunity to create a day’s worth of content condensed into a minute. Great content would include conferences or association events. There’s more on stories here.
Snaps are like text messages with a shelf life. They disappear after a set time. (You set the time, say, at 15 seconds.) Once a user looks at the image, it disappears. This is great for fast updates. If you deal in finance, you could send snap updates on the market. There are a lot of possibilities, but this is still uncharted water for most law firms.
FACEBOOK. Like it or not, Facebook still matters for marketing. Many things have changed, but the great news is several of these changes make life easier for the marketer.
First, you should never buy “likes” for your business page. With Facebook’s ad platform, you can target anyone, so there is zero reason to care how many fans you have. The number of followers to your Facebook page is purely a vanity metric that serves no value.
Your Facebook strategy starts with paying-to-play. There is almost zero organic reach anymore. However, Facebook allows for two types of strong targeting: psychographic targeting or like-audience targeting.
Psychographic targeting is a fancy way of saying more than just demographics. What are people’s interests and habits? Within the ad platform, you are able to target people based on the types of things they are interested in along with the typical demographic profiling. This is important because you are able to broaden the criteria for who should see your ad.
A Facebook ad should be just a link to some content (blog, video, infographic) with a nice image. Alter the color of the image so the tone and hue are off. This will make the ad pop off the target’s wall better. You should also avoid adding any text above the image.
It is important that the image on your landing page is at least 500-by-300 pixels (the size of the Facebook graphic shown above). This will generate a large image in the Facebook stream.
Advanced Tip: If your image does not auto-populate when you first add the link for your ad, simply refresh the entire page, add the link again, and it should auto-populate. I don’t know why, but I don’t argue with easy fixes.
TWITTER. Using Twitter for marketing is challenging on several fronts: tracking end results, hitting at the right time and getting traction. This does not mean you should ignore Twitter, but there are a few things to note:
- Images on tweets almost double your engagement for both favorites and retweets. Users like the images. This does not mean every tweet needs an image. Stick to a solid 80/20 rule, with 20 percent of your tweets having images.
- There is plenty of data showing that the time of day you post matters. Your best call-to-action tweets should happen at the optimal time of day for your target audience. If you believe your target audience is everyone, then post it twice so you hit both the eastern and western United States.
- Hashtags also increase your post’s likelihood of engagement. There is a diminishing return to the number of hashtags you use. In this case, more is not always better. Try using one or two for optimal results. This also leaves you more space for the actual tweet.
- Lastly, with some recent changes to how retweets are populated, you no longer have to worry about only using 125 characters to allow for retweeting.
Eric Enge and the Stone Temple Consulting team conducted an amazing research study on Twitter that can be found here.
INSTAGRAM. Yes, Instagram can and should be used for law firm marketing. No, you will not likely be able to track the impact of your Instagram campaigns. Why? Because Instagram is not a platform that favors links, and without links, it is difficult to track someone. However, there is plenty of opportunity inside Instagram to build an audience and boost your brand awareness, especially with the under-30 crowd. These are your clients of tomorrow.
The Instagram user is almost 100 percent mobile. They do not tend to leave the Instagram feed, which means that all interaction is within the application. This should guide your posting.
Unlike Twitter, you are free to use as many hashtags as you like. Try to keep somewhere between four and eight tags. Users on this network click on hashtags as a mechanism to view similar results. If you keep a regular editorial calendar, then you can utilize similar hashtags throughout a lengthy campaign. This will boost the likelihood that the same user will see your other posts.
Knowing that the user does not leave Instagram requires you to pay attention to comments closely after you post. Finding your best supporters on Instagram (those who comment regularly) and engaging them in real-time will help expand your overall reach within the network.
User-generated content is a great strategy for Instagram. When you ask people to share their story, you are engaging your audience while getting free content. You should create a simple and short release form that allows you to publish and repurpose the story publicly.
PINTEREST. This network sends more referral traffic to blogs than any other social platform — and it is still a place where you can get all this traffic organically.
The Pinterest ecosystem is all image-driven. This network allows you to create virtual corkboards to pin images. You can name your various boards and pin your images or those of others.
For a law firm, two types of images work well with the Pinterest audience: memes and infographics. There are few other types of images that work for law firms. These certainly do not work: eagles with American flags, courthouse steps, scales or gavels of any kind.
Typically, the best approach for Pinterest is to create an infographic that correlates with a blog post or article. The Pinterest user is accustomed to leaving the Pinterest website, so create a visual to post on Pinterest and useful content on the website to accompany the image. This will maximize your retention of the Pinterest user on your website.
LINKEDIN. A couple of major things have changed with LinkedIn over the past two quarters: increase in Pulse activity and decrease in Groups effectiveness.
Pulse is the LinkedIn publishing platform. There are those who believe lawyers should not publish on Pulse because it devalues the content. LinkedIn does not filter who can and cannot publish on Pulse (any user can publish now), so the naysayers argue there is no measure of quality, thus diluting the pool of content. They are just wrong.
You do not publish on Pulse because it elevates your status as a writer; you publish on Pulse because LinkedIn has a built-in audience of professionals. This does not mean you should ignore your blog and only post on Pulse. It means you should occasionally post on Pulse to increase your followers. The good news is LinkedIn automatically has turned most of your contacts into followers of your content on this platform.
You should think of Pulse posts like a blog: good images, catchy title, and don’t burden the piece with too much legalese.
What you should not do is publish a blog post, then copy and paste that exact post on LinkedIn. The Pulse network will not attribute the value to that content that you need. This means all posts on the Pulse network should be unique. A great strategy is to refer to other posts you’ve written on your blog or other outlets. This will drive some traffic to your website but not a ton. The LinkedIn user likes to stay in LinkedIn.
After you post content to the Pulse network, your profile views will spike. So it is important that your profile is complete and well structured. (Here is a simple article about your profile.) Having a complete profile will maximize your return on the efforts.
There is no need to talk about Groups other than to say they are no longer worth your time. Engagement with group posts has plummeted in the past six months. This is likely due to LinkedIn’s push to increase the volume of content on the Pulse network. This makes sense as more content on Pulse means more indexed pages for LinkedIn in search results.
So what kinds of tools will you need to accomplish all this? Read on.
What Equipment and Tools Do You Need?
GOOD MICROPHONE. Audio is becoming an important part of social media on multiple channels. From video to recorded audio, the quality of sound goes a long way. One type of mic you will need is a “condenser microphone,” or basically something that will record high-quality voice audio. You don’t need something designed for high-production movies.
Personally, I use a Yeti microphone. One plugs into my computer and the other into a camera. Both record great audio. I’ve been using the Yeti for a couple of years now, and we produce all our podcast episodes with it. Advanced users should try a Tascam DR100 and an Audio Technica condenser microphone. If that sentence makes no sense to you, it is likely not yet time for you to invest in this equipment.
GRAPHICS-RELATED TOOLS. Images matter more than ever. With social media marketing, 2016 is going to be the year of visual marketing. So you need to be ready to produce graphics that don’t require a graphic designer to get involved. This will save you a ton of money.
Piktochart is a great resource for creating infographics — graphics that tell a content story. If you produce a blog post or article with data and statistics, Piktochart makes it easy for you to turn that content into a visual format.
Canva is a newer online tool that will help you create graphics. Take an image and add words to it like this. (This is called a “meme.”) Canva provides a lot of options for working with graphics. Adding a little flare to images can go a long way with engagement.
Adobe Acrobat and Preview for Mac both let you quickly change the tone or color of an image. As mentioned earlier, this is important for Facebook advertising. Image filter platforms like Instagram are great for taking a normal picture and making it unique. Although other platforms offer more features, we prefer Instagram because it is the only platform with an enormous built-in audience.
PHOTOS AND VIDEO. There are a ton of options in this category. We will start with the easy and move to the more advanced.
The Apple iPhone (or a newer Android) has a built-in camera that takes amazing pictures. These mobile devices also shoot decent video. However, the audio quality from the built-in mic on your mobile device is not adequate for marketing purposes.
If you are going to use your mobile device for video, you want to use a microphone for your phone. Shure makes a high-quality condenser mic that you should use as the audio source. All you need to do is plug in the mic and hit record. It’s that simple.
GoPro isn’t just for sports anymore. They have Wi-Fi capabilities and shoot in very high resolutions. Fairly easy to use, the GoPro camera can take your video to another level. Again, the internal built-in mic is not acceptable for marketing.
With the ability to take both stills and killer video, a DSLR camera is your final step for photo and video equipment. With lens options, you are able to choose the kind of shot you desire. The post-production is a little complicated. These devices also have crappy built-in audio. However, if you are looking to produce studio-quality video on a budget, this is your device. We used a Nikon D7000 to shoot this video:
TRANSCRIPTION SERVICE. We use Casting Words to transcribe all our video and audio. This really helps with boosting the visibility of your content through SEO. It also makes your content consumable for those with hearing impairments.
All content-related video or audio should be transcribed when possible. This is great for search engines and for prospects. The only time you do not want to transcribe is for videos that are being used as ads.
The final word on your social media plan is to get started. The biggest mistake we see is when law firms wait until they have found the perfect fit with a social media strategy. Test out a few networks and options. Then jump in and keep testing. As you explore the social environment, you’ll find the right place for your firm to participate in 2016.
Thumbnail illustration © iStockPhoto.com; post graphics courtesy of GNGF.