We are several years into the social media era now. As social channels mature the major platforms are ramping up integration of paid advertising options into their systems. Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube all offer paid tools to promote your posts, updates, tweets or videos to audiences beyond those with whom you are already connected. In short, significant advertising dollars are starting to go social. A question few in the legal industry have yet asked but that will increasingly need to be considered is whether paid social media advertising makes sense for your firm, and if so, how best to go about it.
Despite social media’s vast growth, most law firms still struggle with how to use social channels effectively – especially for marketing purposes. Adding an advertising component into your social mix adds another layer of complexity again.
Consider this: way back when, if you chose to go see a movie at a theatre there were no commercials before the show began. When paid ads were first introduced, audiences grumbled regularly (indeed, openly booed as I recall), but to no avail. The advertising soldiered on, remorseless, and we all eventually stopped tilting at windmills and grew to accept it, however grudgingly. I think this pattern parallels the current transition of social media from an ad-free to an ad-dependent platform. We may not like it, but it’s inevitable. Since we are in the early days of this transition, however, a certain percentage of the audience will almost inevitably “boo” paid social media placements – from any source.
When you consider the general confusion and disdain many social media users express when advertising of any type starts unexpectedly appearing in their Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter feeds, then mix that together with still-prevalent negative “ambulance chasing” clichés about the legal profession, and top it off with the general organizational awkwardness that many law firms convey on their social channels, there is no doubt the potential for blowback to law firm advertising on social media channels exists. For most law firms that haven’t got their heads around this whole “social media thing” yet, it’s probably wise to leave well enough alone on the paid social media ad front – it’s simply a step too far at this stage.
But with that bleak landscape defined, here’s the other side of the equation: firms that already understand the nuances of social media – you know who you are – have a great opportunity to extend their lead over the competition by using paid social media to extend and amplify the reach of their best content. And here we can take some cues from our own past experience as an industry – where successful legal bloggers were at the forefront of twitter adoption.
Blogging was one of the first platforms with a social component to it, and there is no question blogging is the social media tool that has moved most adroitly into the legal mainstream. Blogging enables lawyers and firms to play to their natural strengths – showcasing their subject-matter expertise via (relatively) long-form writing. And when twitter first emerged onto the scene, while most lawyers were either oblivious or disdainful of the “gimmicky” new technology, a significant cohort of legal bloggers quickly recognized twitter’s ability to extend the reach of their blog posts to an audience often much larger and more influential than the natural reach of their blog, and to increase their public profile in their areas of expertise. They also saw that their best content went much farther and faster than the mundane stuff, and frequently resulted in “earned media” in the form of interview requests with mainstream media, extending their exposure further still.
I believe the same formula holds true for paid social media: savvy law firms will be able to effectively use paid social tools to boost exposure and profile for their best content pieces. The particular social platforms and types of content to be deployed will necessarily be practice and firm-specific, but the potential is there for firms that have already identified a particular piece of content as a winner to strategically use paid social media placements to make that item work even harder for them a very low incremental cost.
So, to summarize: If you haven’t yet got a handle on effective social media use as a firm, you probably aren’t ready for the even murkier waters of paid advertising in this realm. But if your firm is already making headway using social tools and are alert to the fact that paid social media is a newly-emerging format that is going to come with some built-in resistance, there is potential ahead. Keep in mind that generic, poorly-targeted “We Are Lawyers” ads will be perceived as more spammy, meet more resistance, and garner less traction than will highly-targeted, content-rich promoted ads that provide useful information, insight, humour or some combination thereof to the recipient. For now, reserve paid social media placements for your best stuff.