Social Media: Shiny Bauble or Strategic Tool?

Most mornings you can’t wake up without seeing them: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, Pinterest, Digg-It and Youtube. Chances are one or more of these sites are lurking in your e-mail box, what’s more, it’s likely the same for your clients as well.

You don’t have to admit it aloud, but do you recognize moments of panic? “I’m not on twitter! Everyone’s on twitter! Must…tweet…!!!” Or “I’m not on Google+! I need to be on Google+ or I’m not in the game!”

And doesn’t there seem to be a universal law that a new social media platform –infinitely crucial to your success, of course—be released every eleven days?! More shiny baubles catching your eye, eating away at your focus, your time…

So stop. Nola Beard, my colleague and go-to content marketing specialist, would tell you, “If ever there was a time to stop and take a breath, it would be now.”

Simply put, as professionals we use media–all media, social or otherwise—to communicate. The difference between you and everyone else is that your communication is strategic, right? In this respect you should be treating social media as any other: a media that you engage with (and invest in) only if it fits with your strategic marketing plan.

Here are Nola’s six tips to putting social media and content marketing into perspective and ensure you’re not just chasing shiny baubles. Conversely, if you’re cringing at the idea of learning yet another new ‘something ‘, take it one step at a time.

1. Know your objectives – Do you want to build a referral network? Build brand awareness? Recruit for talent? Establish a reputation as a subject-matter expert? No doubt you’ll probably have to prioritize your objectives. This clarity will narrow the social media platform you choose and how you’ll use it.

2. Approach it strategically – Social media is another channel for your message and another pillar to support your marketing strategy. Ask yourself how it fits strategically (meaning, how will it help achieve specific goals) with your other marketing activities. For instance, promote your seminars to your LinkedIn and twitter followers, share a recent firm ad on Facebook, tell a story about your charity or a recent pro bono matter (protecting client confidentiality, of course) on a blog.

3. Be selective – You’ve always had to allocate non-billable time to your marketing and that inherently means you’ve said “no” to some things. Social media is no different. Start with just one application, master it, and then consider another if you have capacity and the inclination to commit to it.

4. Know who and where your audience is – Are you looking for clients? Referral sources? Peers? Organizations or institutions? Local, national, or international contacts? Where do you see them online? Where do they gather and where do you need to show up to “listen” and be seen?

5. Know your content –Start with the obvious: if your practice area can be showcased visually –here we’re referring to real estate, maritime law, environmental law, intellectual property, agri-business, sports and entertainment law, and also a variety of industries – consider using Pinterest or Flickr. Then think beyond the obvious: while it’s hard to tell a story in 140 characters, tweets are an easy way to point readers to a story on your web site or your blog.

6. Plan for investment – Kick the assumption that social media marketing is an easy off-the-side-of-your-desk-project to the curb. It requires a plan that is aligned with your strategy, quality content, time and maintenance if you’re going to get traction and achieve results. All of these can be justified if based on investment decisions driven by a strategic plan.

All social media activity should still follow the basic rules of marketing – reach the right audience with relevant messaging at the right time. Avoid sounding too lawyerly and use plain language instead.

Chasing shiny baubles will exhaust you and your resources. Using social media as a strategic tool, however, makes good ol’ marketing sense. What’s more, you might actually enjoy the social elements of social media.

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