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Your clients are paying attention. They are threading together moments of interest, forming ideas and opinions about you, your practice and your place in their world. And the primary focus of this attention is social media. Which begs the question: How actively are you working to engage and shape their opinion?
Like it or not, it is increasingly difficult to function in today’s technology-obsessed world without understanding social media. You need to learn how to communicate effectively, and you must earn people’s attention.
For most users, the benefit of social media is to communicate with each other, not endure a sales pitch. When people engage in your message, they are showing interest in you and what you promise. They want to feel good about knowing you as a trusted adviser. They consider the interaction more of a conversation on the town square than fending off a barker on a carnival midway.
The failure of most social marketing stems from categorizing the platforms as distribution channels — or in the same light as television, radio and newspapers. They are not. These are conversation channels. A place for the transmission of experiences, feelings, values, dreams, failures, successes and opinions.
To harness the power of social networks, and I don’t mean just hitting the “share” button on Facebook, you need to narrate the story of your practice. To succeed, you need to tell stories about people, not concepts or things. Stories that reflect the human experience.
Good storytelling is about engaging the emotional self, not the logical self. Retention reveals the power of a story. What we remember from a story is not fact but feeling. All storytelling, good and bad, evokes an emotional response in your audience. Unfortunately, the memory from a poorly executed message can be disinterest, mistrust or confusion.
The association of feelings with ideas is an important part of learning. Storytelling’s “cause and effect” narrative structure is the same one our brain uses to configure thoughts, everyday speech and decisions. And I mean every day, all day. It is how we tell our spouse about our day over dinner, describe an experience to a friend and share life skills with our kids. The characters we describe in our personal stories are authentic, we paint a picture of the scene and the people who populate our story. When we combine our tale with a simple plot (beginning, middle and end) and a singular point, the viewer trusts that we will guide them to an interesting destination.
So if we are hard-wired as storytellers, why is legal marketing so flat and lifeless? I have my theories.
The legal community, like engineering, finance and medicine, tends to measure credibility among peers by accuracy, research, data and hard facts. These are critical metrics when presenting an idea for peer review, auditing a financial statement or shaping a legal argument. Unfortunately, they are not the priority when engaging an audience.
This does not mean you ignore facts or create tales of fancy. Quite the contrary. A story needs to be based on a singular fact or idea to give it relevance and merit. But too many of the blog posts, videos and articles I see in the legal community feel like a closing argument. Your social media storytelling needs to reflect the human experience. Authenticity, simplicity, universality, emotion … these are just some of the elements of a successful story.
Storytelling is the art of giving shape and meaning to a piece of information that’s dull and boring. You are combining an idea with an emotion. The stories you create should reveal something personal, intimate or unknown about the person or topic, otherwise it’s boring. An effective story takes us on a narrative journey, one with an emotional destination.
As viewers, listeners and readers we want sincere stories. We want to believe we are seeing the “real” side of things. That is why your articles, videos and social postings need to tell genuine stories. If you are creating a video, don’t just stand in front of a bookshelf and list your experience — have a client share their story and illustrate it. Include cover footage to show, not tell, the story. If it is an article, leverage photographs and graphics. Give examples your potential clients can identify with, stories where they project themselves making the same decisions as your subject.
Reflect your values in your content. Most people want to be represented by a better version of themselves. They want their counsel to be smart and experienced, but they also want someone who can frame their story as they navigate the legal system. They want to trust that you understand their needs and that you will guide them. By sharing your values and principles, your viewers will know if theirs are in alignment. Frankly, we are less likely to trust a stranger. Sharing your values helps potential clients feel comfortable with your counsel and your advocacy.
One last piece of advice. It is important to understand that each social network has a unique culture. The Reddit community is significantly different from Pinterest’s. We connect through Facebook differently than we communicate through YouTube. Creating a singular universal message and blasting it across all your channels is a waste. At best, you will be ignored. At worst, you will be scorned. Be thoughtful about the culture of a specific channel’s community — that means do your homework. What are the demographics you intend to reach? If you are looking for adults nearing retirement, then Snapchat is probably a poor choice. Men 18 to 35? You are unlikely to find many of them on Pinterest.
Tailor your story to the needs of your intended audience, and be nimble with your strategy. Social networks are ever-changing. Their features are in a state of constant competition and improvement. To ensure success, you should conduct a “social media audit” and decide which social channels are best for you and your practice.
Stories are a powerful way to guide a viewer’s perceptions, helping them see you and your practice as a trusted adviser. Don’t lose sight of your client’s emotional needs when telling your story. It is what drives their action.
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