Big Law Social Media Success Strategies

Am Law 200 firms are turning to Twitter to and other social media sites connect with clients, but some are doing it better than others.

, The American Lawyer

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Social media, it turns out, isn't just for new parents and former congressmen. Increasingly, the corporate world is using channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to reach out to customers and clients, build awareness, develop relationships, and—ideally—win new business. Law firms are also getting in on the trend. In The American Lawyer's 2012 technology survey, 72 percent of responding CIOs said their firm was using some form of social networking.

But how are they using it? Are law firms using these tools simply to blast out news on the cases they've won or which lateral partners have joined the firm? Or are they doing more interesting, innovative things, and taking approaches that may ultimately lead to competitive advantage?

To find out, I took a look at what firms are doing on Twitter. Sure, plenty of law firms are on other social media sites, but Twitter offers the most immediate and direct way to get a firm's message—whether it is news, a report, or a lawyer's expertise on a topic—in front of an audience.

I followed a lot of feeds and read a ton of tweets—those 140 character-or-less missives that Twitter users send out to the world. A fair chunk of my time was spent reading about what seemed like every award and accolade imaginable.

But I did see some novel approaches—firms that were trying something different, or doing a common task such as pushing content out to others, in a way that was creative or savvy. It's too early to say whether these tweets are paying off—none of the marketing managers I spoke with had any hard metrics tying their social media activity to new business. But anecdotally, they all said that firm-related Twitter feeds, both from the firm account and from individual lawyers' accounts, have generated assignments, boosted recruiting efforts, or strengthened relationships with certain clients.

What follows are some of those more interesting approaches, to illustrate to other firms the kind of strategies and tactics they might want to consider.

Tout the client. One of the real pitfalls of social media is coming off as though you are bragging. Updates about what a firm is doing and its achievements serve a purpose by helping others better understand the firm, its successes, and its expertise, but balance is key. The messages shouldn't be so heavy-handed and so predictably self-congratulatory that no one reads them. Fortunately, many firms seem to understand this. I saw a lot of "Here's to us" tweets, but not so many from any one firm that it drove me to cut the feed.

But what really stood out was an approach that Fenwick & West took: It devoted some of its tweets to touting its clients. On one day, the firm tweeted twice with links to articles about Flipboard, a start-up that makes a popular app for mobile devices. ("Very cool news for our client: Half a million @Flipboard magazines have been created in the last 2 weeks," read one. In just a couple of tweets, Fenwick managed to convey several important messages: The firm is keeping an eye on what its client is up to, is helping to promote that business, and understands and uses the same technologies—mobile devices and social media—that its client is involved with. That seemed like a pretty smart use of Twitter. (The only potential pitfall, perhaps, is if some clients think they're not getting as much attention as others, but Fenwick's chief marketing officer, Robert Kahn, says the firm hasn't gotten any complaints.)

Link to outside sources' content—including other firms. For many firms, one of the main uses of social media is to promote content, such as reports, journal articles and conference speeches, that has been created by its lawyers. There's nothing wrong with that, but savvy firms are taking content distribution a step further by pushing out material they didn't create but think that their followers might find interesting.

Consider, for example, the tweets of R. Mark Halligan, a litigation partner at Nixon Peabody who specializes in intellectual property. While most of his colleagues' feeds are personal accounts, Halligan's Twitter account is largely focused on his area of work. He regularly tweets links to outside articles and reports on cyber security, data privacy, and trade secrets. He even links to content created by other firms ("Excellent Seyfarth Shaw Article on Uniform Trade Secret Act preemption doctrine").

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