In this instalment of Words that Bite, I explore whether it is possible, or even wise, for law firms to use Facebook as a marketing tool.
Whether Facebook can be an effective marketing tool for professional services firms is an interesting question. There are plenty of marketing experts warning firms that if they fail to embrace social media, particularly Facebook, they may find themselves left behind in the stampede and end up looking like dinosaurs. Other gurus advise firms to move slowly and not rush into Facebook too quickly.
While it is all very well to say that law firms must move with the times, the problem with them using Facebook is that the platform is very much about ‘engaging’ an audience. Ultimately, it is much harder for a professional services firm to build a successful Facebook page than it is for a company that sells designer furniture, trendy clothes or fancy cupcakes.
While a person might feel comfortable ‘liking’ Facebook pages where they can see nice interior design ideas, beautiful clothes or delicious cakes, they are probably going to be less willing to ‘like’ pages devoted to lawyers, accountants or engineers. For architects, it might be a little different. To put it bluntly, the idea of ‘liking’ your lawyer or accountant on Facebook is a little weird.
The reality is that most people feel that a lawyer is a necessary evil, rather than someone they want to ‘like’ in a public forum, even if the lawyer is a lovely person. The same goes for law firms. It is unlikely that anyone is going to feel they want to publicly ‘like’ the firm that just negotiated their property settlement (even if they did walk away with a pile of cash) or negotiated the sale of their business (even if it was for a fantastic price).
The same also goes for the in-house counsel who retains a large firm to solve a company’s legal problems or negotiate a major deal. Even if there is a social side to the client-lawyer relationship, it doesn’t seem appropriate to make a public declaration on a personal Facebook page that you ‘like’ the firm you retain for work purposes.
All this feeds into the murky divisions between public and private that cast a shadow over what is appropriate on Facebook.
Law firms also face problems when it comes to ‘engaging’ fans.
One of the keys to ensuring that a Facebook page thrives is persuading people to comment on posts. While people might feel comfortable discussing interior design ideas, beautiful clothes, cute cupcakes, or any other exciting widget that takes their fancy, it would be absurd to suggest that clients should discuss their legal problems or objectives on Facebook or any form of social media. The same goes for accountants. Who on earth would dream of discussing their tax problems on Facebook, Twitter or Google+?
This makes it difficult for professional services firms generally, and law firms in particular, to come up with content that makes people want to comment on a post, because they can’t use the methods employed by other types of businesses to persuade people to ‘engage’ with them on Facebook.
As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, Facebook is a great place for offering ‘deals’ that will attract new customers and clients, as well as encourage existing ones to keep returning to see what is on offer.
While offering ‘deals’ is something that might appeal to, and even work for, cut-price conveyancers, it isn’t something that would sit well with any commercial law firm. It is ludicrous to suggest that a law firm might make a Facebook offer, since things are bit quiet in M&A, that for a flat fee of $500,000 they’ll do a merger (no matter what the size) for the first company to get in touch with the managing partner.
Obviously, lawyers practising in the area of personal injury – or ‘ambulance chasing’, as it is sometimes called – face a range of restrictions on advertising their services, depending on the particular Australian state in which they practise. This means that the offering of ‘deals’ by these lawyers, even if it might be tempting, is out of the question.
Facebook is a platform that benefits from the inclusion of images, particularly photographs. Unlike a store selling attractive stationery items, jewellery or funky shoes, it can be difficult for law firms to find suitable images for their Facebook pages.
There is no doubt that, despite the obstacles outlined above, Facebook is growing in popularity among large law firms. Not all have embraced the platform but, if we look at examples of the Facebook pages of some of the large firms, it is evident that it is possible to use Facebook quite effectively, especially when it comes to marketing a firm to Gen Y.
The Clayton Utz Careers Facebook page is a good example of how Facebook can be used to woo potential employees. With the catchy slogan ‘Can’t Wait to CU’ and over 3,000 likes, the page is the perfect place to document the arrival at the firm of new batches of fresh-faced summer clerks and graduates. It also reports on activities Clayton Utz sponsors at the various law schools, as well as the firm’s pro bono activities, and includes profiles of successful lawyers and partners who started out there as summer clerks or graduates. Finally, it provides information for law students who want to apply for the summer clerk or graduate program, and even wishes students ‘good luck’ for their exams. All in all, the page does a good job of making the firm look like a friendly and fun place to work.
King & Wood Mallesons (K&WM) uses the innovative re-branding it came up with for its merger with Chinese firm King & Wood in 2012 and, more recently, UK firm SJ Berwin, to present itself as a thoroughly modern firm that has crossed cultures to create a truly global law firm. In short, K&WM has shown that it is possible to make a big, fat law firm look hip and cool.
As part of the re-branding, K&WM has used its partnership with a Chinese firm to distinguish itself from the other Australian firms that have transformed into international firms in recent years. In all other such cases, the mergers and alliances have been with US and UK firms. Through its unusually perky and cosmopolitan branding for a law firm, K&WM somehow makes it appear that the metamorphosis of the other Australian firms into global firms is really just Australian firms either being sucked into, or forming partnerships with, boring old Anglo-American firms that have an international presence. The K&WM strategy is clever because, I suspect, it has a special appeal for the best and brightest baby lawyers from Gen Y, especially those from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds.
To prove the point, the K&WM Facebook page has amassed over 7,000 likes, which seems to prove how much Gen Y identifies with the new brand.
Interestingly, K&WM approaches its Facebook page more broadly than Clayton Utz. While the K&WM facebook page includes content directed at the graduate market (for example, photographs documenting graduates being admitted as solicitors; its cross-cultural initiatives to build bridges between solicitors in various offices around the world; information for potential summer clerks; details of pro bono activities; and descriptions of staff involvement in charitable activities), it also posts links to legal updates, which indicates that the Facebook page is directed at employees, as well as existing and prospective clients.
Finally, the K&WM Facebook page appears to be being used as part of a broader initiative to build a strong sense of community between the various offices around the world, especially among its younger lawyers.
Ashurst, another international firm with an Australian presence, has embraced Facebook enthusiastically, with its Ashurst Australia Facebook page. Like Clayton Utz and K&WM, it uses the page to appeal to the graduate market. It employs many of the same techniques as K&WM and Clayton Utz to present the firm as a friendly place to work.
In contrast, Allens has a Facebook page that is devoted to its alumni. It is a smart strategy because, as anyone who works in the legal profession knows, many referrals for work can come from alumni. Allowing alumni to connect with the firm via the Facebook page seems an astute move, especially when it is very common for young lawyers working in large firms not only to move between firms but in-house. These days those career moves quite often take young lawyers overseas. In short, Allens is building a friendly global network of people who may possibly refer work to the firm.
Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, a number of the mid-tier firms have made an impact on the high-end legal market, by offering high-quality legal services at a more reasonable price than the international and top-tier Australian firms. In addition, some of the more successful mid-tier firms have managed to expand during this period, while growth in the top-tier and international law firms has slowed or even stagnated. In short, many of these mid-tier firms have a good understanding of the environment they are operating in and are also shrewd marketers.
Nevertheless, few have embraced Facebook.
For this post, I conducted a quick review of 32 Australian firms that currently sit in what can be broadly labelled the mid tier. Of the 32 firms that I looked at, 21 either did not have a Facebook page or the page was inactive.
Does this mean that the mid-tier firms believe that a Facebook page will play only a marginal role in helping them win new work? Quite possibly. There is no doubt that Facebook is only ever going to be one piece of ammunition in any law firm’s marketing arsenal.
The key question is: can Facebook play a useful role in marketing a mid-tier firm?
The answer is yes, if there is a careful and considered strategy behind its launch of a Facebook page. It is not something you can set up on a Friday afternoon and hope for the best.
The reluctance of mid-tier firms to use Facebook may be because they don’t have a lot of material to post, especially if they don’t have armies of summer clerks and graduates coming in the door throughout the year. After all, the lives of summer clerks in law firms are usually filled with plenty of photographic opportunities (and possibly some that are less appropriate for documenting!).
Maddocks is one of the mid-tier firms with a lively Facebook page. With offices in Sydney and Melbourne, the firm does its best to maintain a sense of community through its Facebook presence. Nicely mixing posts about the firm’s achievements with descriptions of its efforts to support various charities, as well as legal updates, accounts of involvement in cultural and sporting events, and behind-the scenes-glimpses into the firm, Maddocks makes stylish use of the platform. More often than not it illustrates posts with photographs, meaning that the Maddocks Facebook page is attractive to look at as well.
Another mid-tier firm with a Facebook page is Hall & Wilcox, based in Melbourne. The firm’s page is an excellent mixture of staff involvement in charity events, the firm’s initiatives in the not-for-profit sector, information for graduates and legal updates, as well as posts about any media coverage the firm receives. Hall & Wilcox also includes behind-the-scenes glimpses into life at the firm. The Facebook page gives the impression that it is a friendly and convivial place to work. Finally, Hall & Wilcox makes a concerted effort to update its page regularly.
HopgoodGanim, based in Brisbane and Perth, has put together a HopgoodGanim careers Facebook page, which cleverly describes the firm as ‘a community of friends who practise law together’. The page itself includes plenty of posts on, and photographs of, activities the HopgoodGanim team undertakes outside the office, showing that the firm is staffed by people who are not only professionals but also have a human side. The HopgoodGanim Facebook page also does a good job of showing the firm’s close connection with the Brisbane community. In this way, I suspect, the firm is trying to distinguish itself from its main competitors for commercial work – the larger national and international firms with offices in Brisbane.
Arnold Bloch Leibler, a firm with branches in Sydney and Melbourne, also has a lively Facebook page. It not only posts links to its legal updates and news but includes reports and photographs of events at the firm. Generally, however, the Facebook page is quite text-heavy as the emphasis is on providing links to its in-house publications.
One interesting fact to note about all law-firm Facebook pages is that they tend to have relatively low rates of ‘engagement’. Even when firms have a large number of ‘likes’ for their pages, the rates of ‘engagement’ for particular posts remain fairly low.
For those firms that have a large number of ‘likes’, it is hard to know who is providing them. Loyal employees? Enthusiastic law students looking for a job? Clients?
Facebook can work well for law firms by providing a platform for them to show their personalities. Of course, websites do this to a degree. However, websites for law firms tend to function as online brochures and, for that reason, they have a tendency to be quite formal. Attempts at being informal can come across as a bit cheesy.
In contrast, Facebook is where it is possible to move beyond the professional image the firm displays to the world, to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what goes on there on a day-to-day basis.
This can be very useful because:
After all, when it comes down to it, no one wants to work with people they loathe.
In the same way, many clients like to feel that their lawyer is someone with whom they can have a drink, or even a long, boozy lunch, where they can talk about things outside the particular case or transaction. This can be important because, while it is always crucial for clients to secure the services of a superb legal technician to undertake their legal work, part of fostering long-term relationships as a lawyer involves reading between the lines and seeing the problems a client faces in the background of the immediate legal issue. After all, a client is much less likely to ditch the services of a ‘trusted advisor’ than those of a mere lawyer.
In this way, Facebook has the potential to show that a particular law firm is not simply a place where you will find a bunch of one-dimensional lawyers dressed in dark suits. Basically, it is a platform for a firm to show its lawyers are well-rounded human beings who may well be able to read between the lines to provide their clients with assistance on a number of levels. Yes, Facebook might be where you can present lawyers as being more than technicians without looking cheesy.
There is no doubt that, despite the obstacles, law firms can successfully use Facebook as one tool in their marketing strategy. Facebook’s strength lies in its ability to provide a platform where law firms can:
At this stage, however, Facebook seems to be most effective when it is directed at Gen Y, and is used to try to attract the best and the brightest graduates to a particular firm.
Most importantly, before any law firm launches a Facebook page, it needs to:
Once the page has been set up, the firm needs to:
After all, when it comes down to it, there is nothing worse than a law-firm Facebook page with hardly any posts, no photographs and a pathetic number of ‘likes’. In short, if a firm isn’t willing to put the effort into its Facebook page, it might be wise to postpone taking those first tentative steps down the Facebook path.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, the Pink Rottweiler will look at how Twitter can be used to market a business.
Are you a law firm that needs sensible advice on whether to embark on the Facebook journey? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter with a legal background who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to market your law firm.