Are you managing your firm's online footprint?

Or, is it managing you?

You have heard it many times: Why don't you have a blog? Are you on Facebook? Are you tweeting? Why can't I find you on LinkedIn? It was questions like these from peers, clients, professional partners and even family members that spurred many law firms to take the digital plunge by expanding their online presence beyond their website and into social media or other online channels.

While many firms understand that they need to be active on social media platforms, few really understand how to make that happen in a coordinated, strategic and sustainable way. If that presence is misguided or plagued by inconsistencies and incorrect information, that can pose a larger problem than not engaging in the first place. Being strategic about your engagement and diligent about the maintenance of your online footprint can make the difference between growing and reinforcing a brand and actually hurting it.

Every law firm needs to understand how to identify online challenges, avoid common social media pitfalls, manage their online presence, and ultimately leverage these powerful new resources to unlock their full potential.

1) Connect the dots

One challenge of managing your social media activity in a professional context is that, while the barrier to entry is quite low, the potential impact and influence is very high. All it takes is an e-mail address to secure a social media channel and put a firm's name out there in an improper or negative light. Employees who contribute to this problem rarely understand that they are harming the firmin most cases they actually think they are helping. There are usually a few individuals inside every firm who know just enough about social media to be dangerous. These are usually the self-appointed IT "experts." However, maintaining a blog doesn't make you a social media strategist any more than watching the movie "The Firm" makes you a lawyer.

Consider LinkedIn, the world's largest and most popular professional networking site. With so many individual profiles, LinkedIn has great potential for abuse or inconsistency, and most firms do not really understand how to hold their people accountable. However, it is critical that they learn to do so, because, like it or not, many attorneys are active on social channels. And with no control or policies in place, the potential for damage is high.

I reviewed the LinkedIn Company Pages for dozens of law firms over the last several weeks. Surprisingly, less than 10 percent of them included the basic elements that would earn a passing grade. Here is a quick test you can take to determine if your firm deserves a shining star or if you have some work to do:

Perform a quick search for your firm's name If a social media profile (LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) appears on the first page of search results, do you have administrative control over that profile?

Check your firm's LinkedIn Company Page Does your firm's LinkedIn Company Page feature an up-to-date description, logo and header image, as well as an accurate and updated list of practice groups or specialties? Is recent company news shared in the feed? Review your employees on LinkedIn Are employees using the same name and approved language to describe your firm? If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, that is a red flag

2) Fix the problem

While every firm is different, there are certain steps that any law group can take to get control over its online presence.

Education and training

Educate all employees about key online platforms and how to use them. For a site like LinkedIn, training on everything from profile creation, content sharing, online reputation management and tactics to support business development will help get the entire firm on the same page. For new associates and employees, a conversation about social media protocol should be part of the hiring and training process.

Consistency and brand management

While many law firms are vigilant about consistency and accuracy with regards to their letters, proposals and e-mails, that vigilance and professionalism is often overlooked when it comes to their online presence. Sloppy, unprofessional or inconsistent messaging can impact virtually every aspect of your operation, from recruiting and networking to business development. Make sure your online footprint is aligned with all your key messaging. Everything on your page should be accurate, up-to-date and detailedproperly communicating who you are, what you do, and how you do it.

Structure

A little bit of structure can go a very long way, helping to ensure that a firm's vision and voice carries across the web with clarity and consistency. Your online presence functions like a digital business cardand, just as you would not sit down in front of a potential client and hand over four different business cards that are formatted four different ways, it is important to keep your digital standards sky high. Part of that structure is an ability to set expectations and a willingness to hold people accountable, a process that should be systematic and ongoing. In a world where employees come and go, the time to establish consistency is now.

3) Turn exposure into opportunity

When it comes to social media and online resources, fixing common problems and addressing inconsistencies is a great first step. Now that your online presence is no longer a liability, how do you take it to the next level? How do you build a strategic plan so that 1+1=3? Because while blogs, YouTube channels, Google alerts and social media tools are all built individually, they ultimately are meant to be utilized together.

A robust and professional online presence does more than just minimize inconsistencies and embarrassing mistakes. It helps tremendously with recruiting and retentiondemonstrating to a new generation of young employees that you are a sophisticated and savvy firm that understands the impact of social media. From a business development standpoint, it is also a great resource in enhancing your ability to connect and communicate with existing and potential clients.

To a large extent, social media is still an untapped resource. Those who know how to use and leverage it correctly will find themselves ahead of the curve. The reality is that law firms today do not really have a choice anymoreeveryone is online. You cannot ignore the realities and responsibilities of shaping your online presence. What you can do, however, is actively manage that process and define and protect your digital brand.

By Brandon Chesnutt

 

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