Paul Hutchinson discusses how marketing for law firms, using social marketing to communicate with clients transparently and authentically, have found a winning marketing mix.
So Paul, can you start by explaining a little bit about your background?
I work for Black Letter PR, helping legal professionals develop their current communication methods. As the legal sector is becoming more and more consumer focused, we are finding increasingly that law firms want to engage with their clients via modern channels such as social media.
Are you finding that a bit of a challenge?
There is a lot of fear about social media from professional sectors. I think it’s that old adage of “what you don’t understand, you’re frightened of”, but as many people who have taken the jump have found, social media isn’t this horrible beast that is going to cause problems. It is actually a platform which is improving the way businesses engage with their customers.
Keeping in mind that most of the law firms haven’t got there yet, what advice would you give them?
I think the best way is to learn from your peers. Start by having a look at Twitter, which is a very open platform. You don’t have to be a member to see how companies are using it. Have a look at some law firms or some popular legal tweeters to see what they’re talking about and identify what the key areas of discussion are on these platforms.
Facebook is another channel to explore. If you have your own personal account, you can look at what law firms are up to and what other professionals are talking about on their Facebook pages, without them being aware you’ve done so.
If you are a small firm and you haven’t got time to do that yourself, there are agencies that can help support you. They don’t have to be there with you all the time, but they can help get you set up and answer any questions you might have about what you can do on social media to promote yourselves.
One of the thorny questions always being asked is: “Should I be myself in social spaces, or should I be tweeting as the company, with the company logo and name?”
It’s an interesting debate, because when it comes to professional sectors, one of the crucial things they want is to remain professional. They don’t necessarily want to have that personal touch. But I think what we’re finding now is that consumers are increasingly leading the way on the issue of how businesses should engage with them and that’s certainly true in the professional sector.
I think customers do want some personal touches. They want to know that there is a real person behind the account, that there is an understanding of the fact that sometimes there are emotional issues involved in legal matters, and that - as clients - they are going to get a lawyer who understands their needs.
A lot of bigger companies spend an awful lot of money bringing in this personal touch; it seems crazy to me that a smaller company, who already has that, would throw it away.
Yes, exactly. Nowadays, people build relationships with the organisations that they connect with, and that relationship aspect is crucial. There are so many companies offering similar services; what is going to make a client choose you over somebody else? That, I think, comes down to whether or not they like you. Just by having a presence on social media you are demonstrating that you are a social organisation, and that you’re prepared to consider the needs of your clients. It’s not just about saying: “here’s a list of our services and this is how much it will cost.”
In terms of the professional services sector, people already understand that companies are good at what they do because they’ve seen the reviews, now they want to connect with firms on a more personal level. With the de-regulation of the legal sector, people are going to choose one law firm over another because they’ve got an emotional attachment to them.
What’s the biggest challenge you face when you’re helping people with content writing for social media?
I think that’s exactly it: changing it from being purely professional to a bit more personal. Businesses need to understand they can be a bit more personal without losing the professionalism. And professional sectors have to change their image. Even ten years ago, banking was considered to be very stuffy and not really a sector that knew about customer needs, but now you have bank managers singing on adverts! It’s a very much more personal industry. I think the same is going to be true of other sectors as we go along, and as law firms become a bit friendlier and a bit more approachable, that stereotype of a bowler hat and umbrella is going to start to disappear.
I think the legal sector will find its own niche in terms of a more personal approach. Law firms do deal with a lot of emotional issues in their work, so they need to find a way of connecting with people. Social mobility is a big issue at the moment within the legal sector, and being on social media can really help show that you’re a law firm that understands client needs.
Also, there is a big debate at the moment about SEO versus content, with people starting to bypass search engines to look for their service providers. If you, as a law firm, aren’t even on Twitter, then you may well miss out.
Just on that note, are you finding examples of people actually searching for law firms using Twitter? Going out to the social spaces and saying, “Hey, can anybody recommend me a law firm?”
Yes - there was some research done this year by Peppermint Technology who found that one of the main ways that customers choose a law firm is peer recommendation, often just by talking to colleagues and friends on social media, and asking for recommendations.
Paul, thank you.