Three years out of law school I jumped on a novel idea at the time, using social media in law firm advertising, marketing and public relations. It was 2005 and most people told me I was reaching at best. Politely thanking critics with a “just watch me” attitude I set out to persuade law firm managing partners to use social media. At the time, most law firm marketing budgets covered websites, phone book ads and placement in legal periodicals and newspapers. Feeling like a young creative innovator I found my way into speaking before groups of lawyers and my business model started catching traction. I really felt like an innovator and some called me an expert and leader in my field. Humbly, but proud, I can say many of my would-be competitors joined in the game after I was first and goal.
Innovation in any field must balance with the realities of business such as paying the bills and affording to take a salary. It became clear that more law firm patrons wanted nothing more and nothing less than what was the industry standard. Guess who created the industry standards in marketing? Big law.
Why does Big Law get to set the standard?
“If big law does it, so can I,” was the accepted notion among small firms and sole practitioners. Many were new to the idea of social media marketing and it was a few years before the State Bars acknowledged the value and specifically carved out ethics language allowing for social media marketing. Remember that lawyer advertising was very limited in years past.
Fast forward to the 10-year mark in my practice – almost every firm had at least a Facebook page. What my client firms did not share with big law, were internal marketing departments. I chose to stick with the conservative approach and use the primary industry standard social media platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google plus. Why use Google plus when nobody seems to use it? The answer is SEO and I am happy to have that conversation.
The day Instagram arrived on the discussion table
I would be remiss not to mention that blogs, podcasts and e-news compilations of content are also a vital part of any online marketing and branding plan. Today I still find new ways to repurpose the original content we write for our law firm clients. What I didn’t expect however was for a client to ask me for an Instagram account.
I started liking Instagram more during the height of the election chaos and virtual blackout of non-election information on social media. I liked the idea of “just pictures” and friends who were not politically polarizing. Working in online communications I quickly noted the “sponsored” (advertising) options on Instagram and reserved judgment. I thought, “Please do not let Instagram become another advertising-saturated social media site” As a Gen Xer I like others am quick to dodge targeted ads.
Is Instagram a place where we can all share our brands without being obtuse?
While I strongly believe that the public is better served by well-communicating lawyers and firms who share stories and updates about the law and how it affects us all, I am concerned with making my clients look good and we never want to be obnoxious. Introducing law on sites like Instagram requires we modify our approach and sail in among others on the feed with positive images and branding. We will keep it positive, keep it light and remember that a story can tell a thousand words.
Remembering that a call to action in a social media post can be a recommendation to visit the firm’s website for more information. Does that call to action must always be written? I say no. So long as there is a weblink in the Instagram profile, someone interested in your Instagram post knows how to find you.
My goal in writing this post is not to encourage everyone to jump on Instagram. I implore people to refrain from jumping into a new social media platform and treating it like everything else. If you chose to post on Instagram, have a plan and creative branding strategy.
While the difference in law firm marketing, advertising, branding and public relations may be subtle, the experienced social media user can tell who is doing it right and who is failing to respect them as the end user.