Gavin Ward, director of online business generation specialist Moore Legal Technology, explains why lawyers shouldn't dismiss the idea of using Facebook as a way to market the law firm
It's easy to dismiss Facebook as a network for chatting with friends, sharing images of cats and generally wasting time. But increasing numbers of lawyers are realising that Facebook - by far the biggest social network - can be a powerful business tool, particularly for private client law firms.
It's true that Facebook is primarily a personal network, as compared to the professional network LinkedIn. But it's a personal network that your colleagues, clients and other contacts are likely to be using. And it's a network that you can use to strengthen relationships and win new business.
"31% of US lawyers consider Facebook the most effective social media for bringing in new business - ahead of LinkedIn"
Attorney at Work 2017 Social Media Marketing Survey
Your approach to Facebook
Even if you choose not to use Facebook, it's more than likely that at least some of your colleagues will. As with other social media platforms, your firm needs to have a policy on social media use. In particular, everyone needs to understand that they should not post anything about clients, the firm or their working life without clearance.
Unless people are careful to control the privacy settings on their accounts, anything posted on Facebook is easily found online. It does very little for your reputation if a search comes up with employees of the firm publicly complaining.
You may well want to use Facebook yourself, too, as a way to stay in contact with family and friends. There's no reason not to, as long as you make sure you have the right separation between your personal and professional presence.
The easiest option is to have a personal Facebook profile and a separate page for your law firm. Your personal page is for family and friends only. The law firm page can be used to help attract clients and referrers.
"It's difficult to mix personal and business in the same place - you risk boring your friends and harming your professional reputation"
Ian Gandy, head of digital, Travelers
Your personal profile
Take a four-pronged approach to using Facebook personally.
First, aim to restrict your 'friends' to people you want to share personal information with - genuine friends and family. Take a cautious approach to colleagues who want to be Facebook friends, and an even more careful approach with clients.
If appropriate, you might explain to people that you prefer to keep Facebook and your professional life completely separate. If you feel that you need to accept a request, there are tools you can use on Facebook to restrict how much information you share with different categories of contact.
Second, carefully go through your account settings to reduce the risk of inadvertently sharing content outside your friendship group. If you haven't got time to familiarise yourself with the privacy and other options, ask a younger Facebook expert or a consultant for help.
Thirdly, work on the assumption that anything you post might end up being seen by potential clients after all. Avoid any post that might be considered unethical or that could cause real embarrassment. Even with restrictive settings, content can spread more widely - for example, if a friend decides to share it.
Finally, don't forget to let your friends know what you do. You won't want to pester them, but it doesn't hurt to remind them just in case they can refer some business your way. Sharing occasional highlights (for example, a ten year work anniversary) is a gentle way of doing this.
"Facebook gives you the option to review your profile as it appears to the public. Check that you aren't revealing more than you would like"
Adrienne Halladay, marketing consultant, Symphony Legal Consulting
Managing your time
Facebook can be an efficient way of keeping in touch with people, provided you use it sensibly.
- Invest time (or someone else's time) in getting Facebook set up right from the outset. That includes turning off 'notifications' so that you aren't distracted every time a friend shares something.
- Aim to restrict your use of Facebook so that it doesn't interrupt work. Only check Facebook during downtime - for example, when you are watching television in the evening.
- Be reasonable. If you suddenly think of something you want to share with your friends, it may be best to just do it there and then, even if you are working. But don't then start looking at everyone else's posts.
- Filter friends who overshare. Turning down how much content you see from them will allow other, potentially more interesting content to become more visible.
- Don't worry about missing out. You don't have to check everything your friends post on Facebook. If it's really important, they'll call or message you.
Your law firm on Facebook
Creating a Facebook page about your law firm is a free and simple way to start using Facebook professionally. You can describe what your firm does, add some of your branding, and even customise the web address (once your page has 25 'likes'). Even a sole practitioner can do this, for example by creating a 'John Smith IP Law' page.
A page like this allows your firm to be found by anyone searching Facebook. Make sure your 'about' section includes any key terms such as your location and practice areas.
But to be successful, you need to do more than simply create the page. The personality of the law firm shows through in its activity - particularly the posts you choose to share. Show that you are interested in the things that matter to your target clients, for example by sharing and commenting on relevant news articles.
Like LinkedIn, you'll want to keep things largely professional (but not technical), but there is scope to add a bit more personality, for example highlighting employees' charity work or pets at work day. Where possible, try to liven things up with photos or videos. Look at competitors' pages to get an idea of the sorts of thing you can do.
Ask friends and employees to 'like' your page and share appropriate posts to start getting a bit of exposure. Make sure your law firm page likes relevant pages, such as local community groups you are involved with and Law Society Facebook pages.
Marketing through Facebook
Just maintaining a Facebook page for your law firm won't help you drive much new business - you have to actively market your firm through it to generate a return.
Potential clients who have heard of you and who are considering your firm may well visit Facebook to find out more. A law firm page that shows the right blend of professionalism and approachability can be just what it takes to encourage them to contact you, but that will be just one part of the conversion process for clients who have already heard of you. For prospective clients who have never heard of your firm, you will need to do more to feature on their searches and in their feeds before you will generate interest.
If you are providing services aimed at individuals, you may also be lucky enough to come up in a search - for 'conveyancing Derby' or 'personal injury lawyer London', for example. The more active you are on Facebook and the more you have optimised your firm's Facebook page for relevant keywords (eg by placing relevant keywords in your 'About' section), the more likely you are to appear in a list of search results.
For law firms that service businesses, the most effective way of marketing to potential clients is through sponsored posts - in effect, paid advertising. Facebook provides powerful tools that allow you to target narrowly defined audiences. For example, you could have your ads shown only to a particular demographic, or to people who have visited your law firm website, or even to a 'lookalike' audience of people similar to your existing clients.
Some areas of legal practice do lend themselves well to Facebook marketing, such as wills, conveyancing or probate - the more bread-and-butter legal service areas that most consumers will need at some point. But people tend to search on Google for solutions when they need these services, using particular words, so Google AdWords or organic search marketing are likely to be more cost effective than Facebook.
It's also worth remembering that professionals are widely present on Facebook. If you want to invite in-house lawyers at technology companies to join your webinar, Facebook could be an effective option. A small sample campaign may be the best way to decide whether this works cost-effectively for you. But to connect and engage with other professionals generally, LinkedIn is the most effective platform to use.
"Facebook has been shown to be a great platform for B2C law firms. For as little as £15 a post, you can utilise Facebook's precise targeting to reach thousands of your local potential clients."
Rachel Tombs, legal marketing consultant and solicitor (non-practising), Links2Leads
Facebook top ten
- Don't be put off Facebook - lawyers can use it to good effect, both personally and professionally.
- Keep your personal and professional profiles separate.
- Keep your personal profile private.
- Make sure you have a policy on using Facebook (and social media generally).
- Don't give in to 'fear of missing out' - limit and control your personal use of Facebook.
- Create a branded law firm page; make sure it includes enough information to be found by likely clients.
- Regularly post or share content on your law firm page.
- Keep things professional but aim for an approachable personality for your firm.
- Use photos and videos to liven things up.
- Test paid-for advertising for certain areas of legal practice to see whether it works for you.