An article in The Times’ SME supplement today (3rd July 2014) looks at small businesses and their use of social media for marketing purposes. An increasing number of businesses are recognising the opportunities that the digital space offers for building a brand. It’s certainly cheaper than traditional marketing resources, and there is a far greater audience at your fingertips. But is it really any easier? Or are brands reluctant to face the increased competition to have their voices heard above the “din of online chatter?”
Law firms are traditionally much more hesitant to dive into the depths of online marketing than the entrepreneurs featured in the article. However, for lawyers and small business owners alike, the same question should be asked when venturing online: what is the return on investment?
It is extremely difficult to quantify social media engagement, but it would be wrong to dismiss it due to lack of correlating sales figures. During our research into social media use in the legal sector, we found that almost half (47) of the 101 law firms we questioned had won business as a direct result of social media activity. The evidence is irrefutable: those that take the time to understand and make the most of social media will thrive; those that ignore it will be left behind.
Rather than getting caught up trying to put a pound sign against each ‘like’ or follower gained, individuals and businesses should look at social media channels for what they are – additional channels for communicating your message and reaching your target audience. The key is to understand your audience first, and consider the best way to approach them. For consumer law firms, for example, Facebook is a really valuable tool for promoting real-life, human interest cases and engaging with users in an open and relaxed environment. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is essential for referrals. This ultimate network of professionals allows you to keep up with your own connections and ahead of your competitors. In any case, one of the main benefits of these online platforms is that they provide access to a significantly wider audience than traditional networking methods, with minimal time and money spent in the process.
The most effective way to use social media for business development is by complementing your online presence with off-line activity. Traditional face-to-face meetings should not be underestimated, but the internet gives us more opportunities to start up a conversation with target audiences. Once the initial exchange is underway, it is always a good idea to suggest a phone call or coffee to solidify the relationship. Certain key communication tools, such as tone of voice and body language, are simply not possible to gauge online.
There are many ways to build your reputation and brand. Word of mouth, networking events and traditional PR all play their part, but it is foolish not to take advantage of the opportunities on offer online. Businesses (and law firms especially) may be cautious, but those that take the plunge will reap the rewards.