In the rapidly changing world of Social Media Marketing, we at Atticus® struggle with the proper stance to take when advising attorneys on the best and most effective marketing strategies: Should we advise clients to invest large amounts of time creating and maintaining a Firm Facebook page? Is it really a good idea to create a profile on AVVO when the ethics rules have not caught up with the issue of online testimonials? Will other professionals really trust those they meet on LinkedIn and actually send referrals?

Anecdotal evidence abounds.

We hear stories of great connections made through SMM almost weekly, but what evidence do we really have that attorneys are gaining new clients through their online efforts? New clients are the only outcomes that count when determining whether or not a marketing strategy is truly successful.

Brand awareness is nice, name recognition is important and connecting with pithy commentary is fun — but does it all translate to more clients coming through the door?

Some time ago we established a “hierarchy of effectiveness” that ranks different channels of communication and how likely each is to deliver actual paying clients to your door. Think of it almost like a pyramid: Small at the top where the communication efforts are directed at one person, broadening out at the bottom as the reach and scope of those connections expands to hundreds and thousands of people.

After all, we human beings never employ just one form of communication – we are likely to meet, phone, e-mail and text people in the course of building a relationship with them – but because we don’t always make the right choices, it pays to know what to employ for the greatest relationship-building effect. The pyramid gives us context.

At the top of the pyramid sits personal contact. Face-to-face contact with existing or potential referral sources is unparalleled in its ability to pay off in terms of referrals. Nothing exceeds the speed and effectiveness of face-to-face contact as a way to build the trust and confidence that referral sources must feel in order to send referrals.

Here’s why: The more one human being can take the measure of another through sight, sound and touch, the more confident we feel in our assessment of the person. Remember: More than 80% of the impression one person makes on another is communicated non-verbally – this is too inbred to be dismissed easily. To lay eyes on a person, to watch how they operate, present themselves and speak is, and always will be, important to attorneys before they send their referrals.

Inching down the pyramid we find other forms of communication: Telephone calls, followed by e-mail, then written correspondence and texting – each channel of communication dropping down a peg in direct correlation with how much personal contact and nuance is lost.

Move further down as the pyramid widens out and you’ll find categories of communication that are no longer person-to-person, but have a broader reach such as articles in print media and firm websites, followed by commercial advertising. This is the realm of communications formally in the hands of PR professionals who were paid to carefully craft the firm “brand.”

This is where we stop. For us, Social Media Sites fall somewhere between websites and e-mail in terms of effectiveness, because they contain elements of each. A firm profile on Facebook, for example, may have a graphics and an information package similar to the firm’s website – and the same ability to be seen by thousands. But it is paired with the immediacy and feedback provided by e-mail due to the ability to post comments on the firm’s “wall” and carry on side communications with targeted individuals.

In fact, sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter provide ongoing streams of cyber conversation that you can step into and out of at will. While most of the conversation is similar to e-mail, it is generally even briefer and mostly composed of pithy one-liners.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Social Media networking is the opportunity to connect with new people – other professionals in most cases, and sometimes potential clients. To flourish, these connections must be reinforced by other forms of communication further up the hierarchy.

So now that we know where Social Media ranks in terms of communication effectiveness, here’s our advice: When examining your social media marketing options, consider first the communication preferences of your clients and referral sources. This is key: If they don’t use Social Media Sites, don’t make online networking the focus of your marketing efforts.

But if your clients and referral sources are active in online communities and show a strong preference to network in this way, it serves you to join the game, as long as you employ more effective forms of communication when you want to produce referrals.

In short: It doesn’t hurt to have a presence on Social Media Sites, as long as you don’t spend too much time on them or hold inflated expectations of them. Social Media Marketing should be one part of a well-rounded marketing approach which emphasizes a willingness to use all channels of communication appropriately with a bias toward as much personal contact as possible.

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Atticus®, Inc.
345 South Highland Street
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