Milwaukee Lawyers:
The Sound of Social Media Silence

Download InfographicIf I’ve learned anything after 15 years of designing web sites for law firms and legal organizations, it’s that they’re not much different from other small businesses when it comes to marketing.

Just like plumbers, roofers and electricians, attorneys rely upon referrals from past clients to generate new and repeat business. Increasingly, those referrals are coming from social media.

Just don’t tell that to the Milwaukee law firms listed in the U.S, News Best Law Firms directory.

As a group, the jury (pardon the pun!) is apparently still out on the value of social media marketing, because fully 70% have no social media presence, according to an independent survey recently conducted by MojoWeb Productions.

In today’s hyper-social digital world, the results are more than surprising, especially in light of the findings of the 2014 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey, which reported that 62% of law firms maintain social networks, and 44% of them use social media for client development.

So why are so many Milwaukee firms lagging behind the social curve, and what can they do to improve the social media side of their practices? I’ll handle that hot potato in a future blog post, but, for now, let’s take a look at the numbers.

Facebook and LinkedIn

Firms on the U.S. News list definitely got the memo about the wild popularity of Facebook, but they also picked up on the importance of using LinkedIn for B2B marketing and professional networking. Of those with a social media footprint, 88% of firms had both a Facebook and a LinkedIn page.

Audiences sizes, though, varied greatly. Larger firms with more diverse practice areas were more likely to have bigger audiences on LinkedIn, but their total audience size on Facebook, which also trended above smaller firms, didn’t follow suit. Removing one large firm with over 2,000 likes and several large firms on LinkedIn with 900 followers or more, the average firm on the U.S. News list had 98 likes for their Facebook page, and 120 followers on LinkedIn.

Twitter

Twitter was the third most popular channel among all firms analyzed. Like Facebook and LinkedIn, audiences size varied greatly with several large firms boasting followers into the thousands and smaller firms limping along in the single or double digits. Controlling again for larger firms with 900 Twitter followers or more for better representation, firms on the U.S. News list had 186 Twitter followers on average.

YouTube

Only 12 firms on the U.S. News list maintain YouTube channels, and, more often than not, for the sole purpose of posting a single television commercial. Even for larger firms, audience sizes were well under 100 followers, and only one firm had over 100 subscribers.

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But Just How Social Are They?

The short answer? Not very.

No matter their size, Milwaukee firms on the U.S. News list generally treat their social media channels as little more than syndication tools for in-house news and publications. While large firms posted more regularly — most likely because they have in-house marketing support and/or third-party agencies managing their social media sites and content development — they were virtually indistinguishable from smaller firms in terms of encouraging audience interaction. Users were rarely, if ever, asked for their thoughts on a post, or encouraged to share posts/content with friends and colleagues, which is obviously at the heart of all social media marketing.

In fairness, the lack of engagement may well reflect the wariness on the part of law firms toward social media communications generally. Unlike a the average small business person, attorneys are bound by Wisconsin’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, which carry real penalties, including the loss of their law licenses. For example, SCR 20:7.3, which deals with direct communications with prospective clients, states:

a) A lawyer shall not by in-person or live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:

(1) is a lawyer; or (2) has a family, close personal or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by par. (a), if:

(1) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional or mental state of the person makes it unlikely that the person would exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer; or (2) the prospective client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or (3) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.

Pretty hard, if not impossible, to do social media marketing under those restrictions, and it’s understandable why a firm would be gun-shy about engaging its followers when even the simplest interactions could easily run afoul of the rules. After all, social media and content marketing is solely focused on building relationships with end users (read: potential customers) in hopes of “pecuniary gain.” Not to mention, the fact that the “emotional or mental state” of the average Facebook user can change from post to post.

But that still doesn’t explain why 30% of the U.S, News list threw caution to the wind and entered social space, while 70% of their colleagues decided to stay behind..

The Real Smoking Gun

Professional rules and risks notwithstanding,  the quietude of Milwaukee attorneys on the social Web is easy to explain. They simply don’t get social media or aren’t willing to devote the time necessary to realize its potential for generating new and repeat business.

In my experience, few firms and solo practitioners have ever taken the time to truly understand the marketing potential of their own Web sites, let alone explored the opportunities of social media for their practices. The absence of quality content on their sites is a sad testament to that fact, so it isn’t shocking to see their social media channels suffering the same fate.

Of course, the status quo presents a lucrative opportunity for attorneys who decide to actively market their practices in social space.

And, based upon current trends, they won’t be disappointed.

Last year, a Findlaw.com survey found that 38% of respondents said they would go online to find a lawyer, up from 7% in 2005 and higher than even recommendations from friends and family (29%) or the Yellow pages (4%).

Maybe that will break the silence … or not.

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Pat McKenna is a digital strategist, social media manager/instructor, web designer and founder of MojoWeb Productions, LLC. in Milwaukee, WI. He can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 732-3397.