Aug. 15, 2012 – Social media and mobile technology are changing the way we communicate and share information in profound ways. Today, fewer people (especially younger people) stay up to date using email and desktop tools – they’re increasingly likely to check in via social media sites and use smartphones for online access. And there is often an intersection of the two: 500 million-plus Facebook users check their page via a mobile device, and LinkedIn reports that about a quarter of its visitors in a recent survey arrived at the site with a smartphone or tablet device.
Product advertisers of all types have adjusted to the increased use of mobile devices and social media, adopting mobile tools and establishing a social media presence to promote their brands. Professional services firms have also begun to adopt mobile and social media tools to build and manage their brands.
A survey conducted late last year by Vizibility and LexisNexis polled members of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) to gauge social media and mobile marketing tool usage in the legal profession. The highlights of the survey included the following:
Law firm marketers are keenly aware of the importance of social media and mobile marketing tools, but the industry lags behind many other sectors in deploying mobile-optimized sites, and survey results indicate that social media use may be overstated.
Overall, legal marketers appear committed to using social media: More than 80 percent of survey participants reported that they already use it in their marketing efforts. Over 30 percent of participants said they currently use QR codes, and nearly 40 percent said they planned to start using them within a year.
To corroborate these strong usage trends within the industry beyond the survey sample, Vizibility took a closer look, comparing the rate of attorney usage of the popular professional networking site LinkedIn with the number of U.S. lawyers overall as reported by the American Bar Association: 1.2 million. About 90 percent of survey participants said they currently use or plan to begin using LinkedIn as a part of their social media outreach strategy.
While most popular keywords for finding legal services online are “attorney,” “lawyer,” and “counsel,” Vizibility found fewer than 400,000 LinkedIn job titles that included these terms. This could indicate that the rates of social media adoption may be lower than reported, or it could be an indicator that while law firms recognize the need to use social media, they are unsure of the best practices. What is clear is that social media and mobile marketing efforts are evolving in the legal industry.
What Social Media Tools Do Legal Marketers and Decision-Makers Use?
Hiring a lawyer or making a referral to an attorney is a major decision, and past surveys indicate that the most popular social media tools law firms use for this purpose are online legal directories. More than half of law firm personnel reported that they would be less inclined to hire an attorney if they could not find him or her in an online directory like Martindale-Hubbell, which was cited by 70-plus percent in a BTI Consulting Group survey as the most popular online directory.
Similarly, legal decision-makers searching for outside counsel in a specialty area or different jurisdiction also rely on online directories, with more than 60 percent reporting that they would be unlikely to contact an attorney lacking an online directory entry or profile. This suggests that law firms looking to generate business via referrals and consulting assignments should strongly consider establishing a social media presence on sites like LinkedIn and Martindale-Hubbell so they can be considered for these projects.
How Important Is Mobile Marketing for Legal Professionals?
Mobile media use is skyrocketing as tools like smartphones and mobile tablets are adopted by hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide. Today, more than half of all online searches originate on a mobile device, so it’s extremely important for firms to establish a mobile-optimized presence online.
Yet only 12 percent of the top 100 U.S. law firms currently have websites that are optimized for mobile viewing. This means potential clients conducting an online search on the go with a mobile device would land on a site that only displays a small portion of the screen and requires side-to-side scrolling. Such sites are likely to be quickly abandoned by mobile device users for sites that are optimized for smaller-screen viewing.
Tech-savvy firms are tackling the small-screen revolution with new techniques, including deployment of mobile-optimized sites and the use of QR codes in their marketing strategies. QR codes are designed to be scanned with a smartphone and can instantly direct users to a mobile-optimized site. With the right QR code partner, firms are using the codes to effectively showcase important links for individual attorneys, enabling new contacts to access rich content about the attorney and the firm, including vCard downloads, online profiles, bios, videos, thought leadership pieces, and more.
QR codes are generally printed on attorney business cards and can also be used on brochures, presentations, flyers, and other printed material. By partnering with an administrative service that offers a broad range of QR code capabilities, attorneys can fully integrate QR codes into their social media strategy with features that allow the wireless exchange of social networking information such as common connections on LinkedIn and Facebook and tracking capabilities to allow lawyers or marketers to see where scans originate to gauge campaign effectiveness.
QR codes can be a fast, inexpensive way for individual attorneys and law firms to establish a mobile presence. Given the increasing importance of mobile tools in information exchange and access, they are a tool attorneys should consider.
Smaller Firms Embrace Social Media to Generate New Business
Perhaps not surprisingly, smaller firms (defined as one to five attorneys) have outpaced their larger counterparts when it comes to using social media to generate new business. More than 70 percent of smaller firms participating in the Vizibility-LexisNexis survey reported that they use social media to build business, whereas less than 40 percent of firms with 100 or more attorneys use the tools in this way.
Similarly, more than 75 percent of smaller firms said they use social media specifically to generate new leads. About half of the larger firms reported using social media for that purpose. One possible explanation is that larger firms have a broader array of marketing tools available to them since they generally have a larger staff and budget. Smaller firms may be drawn to social media marketing in part because it is inexpensive.
Still, one resounding message from the survey is that the use of social and mobile media tools is catching on across firms of all sizes. They are becoming an essential part of law firm marketing.
The Evolving Role of Social and Mobile Media in Legal Services Marketing
Social and mobile media marketing are playing an increasingly prominent role in marketing across all industries. More than half of Fortune 500 companies now have a Facebook page, and many maintain Twitter accounts and participate in mobile marketing campaigns via QR codes. Professional services firms, including law firms, are beginning to adopt these tools to build new business and expand their reach.
As the role of social media evolves and mobile online access increases worldwide, the use of these tools to market legal services will also evolve. In most technology success stories, early adopters get the chief benefits, so now is a good time for forward-thinking law firms to rethink their online marketing strategies and get ahead of the curve by embracing mobile and social media tools.
About the Author
James Alexander is founder and CEO of Vizibility Inc., the world’s first online identity management platform. A serial technology entrepreneur, Alexander was involved in two other successful startups and served as a product management executive at Adobe Systems prior to founding Vizibility. Learn more about the company and their QR code options at www.vizibility.com.