posted 15 Sep 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 10
Have you tweeted yet?
Paul Newnes examines how social media technology can also assist as a marketing tool.
Social networking is the hottest topic in digital media at present. A good mark of the importance of a product or service within the zeitgeist is the manner in which its name enters the everyday lexicon. So rather than record a television show, one might ‘TiVo’ it and rather than search the web one ‘Googles’. Similarly the new methods of communication through social media are becoming part of the daily vernacular. So posting to Twitter is commonly known as ‘Tweeting’ and connecting to a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook would be referred to as having ‘Facebooked’ them.
This subtle transition from proper noun to verb reflects the power of the medium and its adoption by more than just school-age children and college students. In fact, the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook, for example, is the 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 age ranges1
Social networking platforms, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or the microblogging platform Twitter are so termed because a platform is shaped by the user, with the he or she deciding what they wish to do with it.
The enjoyment and utility of the platforms is not simply communicating with, or discovery of, new friends, but self expression. According to consumer-generated media analysts, Nielsen Online, the user-generated video site YouTube is the world’s fastest growing website and is currently serving (meaning people are watching) 100 million videos daily.
The side effect of self expression is that personal data from the rudimentary, such as age, gender and location to detailed preference data is volunteered by the user, and recorded by the platform-owner. Privacy issues aside, this data is the fuel that the different platforms need to power their nascent revenue models.
The current attitudes towards social media mirror the attitudes towards the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Back then, the promise of the web was simply that – a promise – but without any strategic approach to it, it was a rather empty one. There was a rush for companies to launch websites and a disappointment when those sites didn’t really provide any value in the short-term (most of us will recall the ubiquitous ‘under construction’ graphic and the well worn ‘skip introduction’ buttons). The disappointment from the lack of value provided by companies’ v1.0 websites was proportional to the inflated expectations that were held. This is because the implicit objective of many companies’ first website was to simply have an online presence and thus avoid being the ‘odd man out’. If that was the only objective going into the endeavour then hype was responsible for expectations that anything else should be achieved. Over time, expectations of what the web can deliver have fallen in line with what companies wish to achieve.
The current enthusiasm for social media technology is replicating this sequence, albeit on a more compressed timeline. It is a pattern of behaviour best demonstrated by the ‘hype cycle’ – a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and business application of new technologies coined by the US-based IT research analysts Gartner (see Figure 1).
As outlined in Figure 1 a hype cycle comprises five phases. These include:
Technology trigger – the first phase of a hype cycle is the breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest;
Peak of inflated expectations – a frenzy of publicity typically then generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures;
Trough of disillusionment – technologies enter the ‘trough’ because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology;
Slope of enlightenment – although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue to experiment with the technology to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology; and
Plateau of productivity – a technology reaches the ‘plateau of productivity’ as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.
As expectations come into line with what can be delivered, the true value of the technology or medium is realised. Too often businesses or organisations complain that although the company has a Facebook page ‘it does nothing or the company has a Twitter account ‘but we have no idea what to do with it’. This harks back to the web 1.0 example outlined above – simply wanting to have a ‘presence’ on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter will, unless you are very lucky, achieve very little alone.
Metcalfe’s Law – a principle borne out of the telecommunications industry – states that the value of a communications network is proportional to the square of the number of endpoints or connected users. Considering that Facebook has 200 million active users2, and the professional networking platform LinkedIn has over 43 million members3, the potential opportunity in line with Metcalfe’s Law is huge.
So how does an organisation or marketer actually derive value from a social networking campaign or activity? The value of the networks is not just their sheer scale and implied value but, as noted above, the data which is volunteered by every user.
So, with this potential data overload, how can real and relevant information be extracted?
There are many marketing agencies that purport to have some secret or proprietary methods of doing this, but any company with a sufficiently strategic and measured approach can achieve success without having to outsource the entire endeavour to a marketing agency. The initial steps to this approach should include:
Identifying your target audience;
Segmenting the audience and if possible profiling them;
Conducting some initial and informal research to ascertain the behavioural activities of your target segments online and on social media;
Matching the social media platform demographics to your target segments; and
Composing the campaign messaging relevant to your target segment and social media platform.
There therefore isn’t too much difference between this process and any other marketing endeavour. The difficulty for first-timers lies in researching and understanding the capabilities of each platform. However, if structured correctly, once a newly-launched campaign is completely measurable so mistakes can be identified and rectified very quickly and successes augmented.
Applications to the legal sector
So just how relevant is social media to the legal profession?
Certainly, the uses may vary markedly according to the size of a firm, but if one considers that law firm marketing activities commonly include client acquisition, talent acquisition and broadcasting firm news and media coverage, then the key opportunities presented by this technology include:
Increasing awareness of your firm’s services to the relevant companies;
Identifying talent earlier and disseminating relevant information to candidates throughout the recruitment process, not just at formal milestones; and,
Disseminating firm information to an opted-in readership, not just through press releases and website traffic.
Taking advantage of these opportunities correctly can help to demonstrate the brand and corporate values of your firm beyond simply the mission statement that appears in literature and online. In fact, well-structured campaigns will enable a better understanding of your firm in the marketplace, to existing and prospective clients and to the lifeblood of the firm – the talent.
Indeed, a key value of the medium is the chance it presents to convey relevant messages to a large audience. So, by identifying where the audience is, a far-reaching social marketing campaign can easily be planned. Legal marketing departments should consider the following groups as target audiences for social media activities:
Prospective clients; and
Following the five-step start-up guide, outlined above, some idea of the sub-segments of these groups and their behaviour online will provide a starting point for a successful campaign. Each group may be seeking information online to qualify a law firm as:
Innovative enough to continue doing business with;
The right firm to do business with; and
The right firm to work for.
The next stage would be to research which platforms the influencers and decision-makers for the above groups are using both professionally and personally.
The firm can then target specifically the users of a specific platform against profile data with a range of advertisements, systematically analysing the messages and visuals that gain the most click-throughs. After clicking through, and depending on the desired reach of the campaign, the user may be directed to the recruitment site on the firm’s website or to a specific Facebook page, for example. The latter can add further value as the user may subscribe to the page which enables an ongoing dialogue between firm and user.
When running a campaign such as this consider:
Adhering to your initial advertising criteria specific – keep your criteria too broad and the different advert rotations aren’t going to tell you a lot;
Deciding how long you wish to engage with the user-base you attract. If the objective is for targeted users to fill out a form, for example, placing the form on your site and directing users there through your advert is the best approach. However if the objective is to attempt to identify candidates earlier, then you should continue the engagement on the social media platform; and
Deciding how you are going to engage with users once you have their attention. If it is a simple dissemination of information, then a well-structured and frequently-updated Facebook page, for example, may suffice. If you wish to engage the users further – perhaps to extoll further virtues of your firm – an application on a social media site may be a better choice. Remember, Facebook is a good fit for prospective employees, but it is not necessarily for prospective clients.
Social media can also be a valuable tool for raising the ‘thought leadership’ profile of the company. While ‘tweeting’ on certain points of day-to-day activity may not seem a natural fit for a law firm, it is a maturing medium where there will be soon a huge repository of information. The main attraction of Twitter is its real-time nature – the recent events in Iran which saw vast numbers of dissenters protesting against government censorship of election press coverage broadcast up-to-the-minute information to Twitter is a good example of the platform’s potential. Firms can utilise platforms like this to broadcast their opinions with regards to current events, legal developments, firm news and so on. Well-timed and well-written tweets can gain far more attention than a press release.
What’s more, you can search all of the content on Twitter too, thereby enabling a firm to keep up to date on what those in the market are saying about their organisation, for example, or the opinions of clients, and potential clients, on specific legal developments, challenges ahead in the sector and so on. Your existing and prospective clients consider Twitter to be a way to stay up-to-date, shouldn’t you?
The opportunities to use social media to your advantage would seem endless. Indeed, the medium is still underused by many industries. However, there are pitfalls to avoid. These include:
The temptation to make any messaging too broad: the benefit of using social media is that it is targeted, so rather than dilute messages, segment them;
Reluctance to test your theories before implementing: the medium is 100 per cent measurable so rather than guessing what a single good message or visual might be, test it and see if it works. Improve, and test again;
Forgetting the medium is permission-based: there is a lot of data that can be gleaned but if you intrude, you’ve lost the recipient forever;
Overloading information: users are getting better at choosing which segments of information they will consume, but even so you don’t have a lot of time with which to keep their attention. Keep it brief and informative;
Keeping up-to-date with the latest social media platform trends: the media is changing rapidly and so are the users’ behavioural patterns. Fortunately there is a lot of (free) research out there that will assist you in making better decisions;
Committing to objectives: plan what is possible, then commit to it and the activities necessary to deliver.
The future’s Facebook?
Undoubtedly, social media marketing is much more than an over-hyped concept; it has the potential to deliver real value to your business. A great number of professionals within the legal profession have not wholly embraced the technology to-date, but the individuals and companies that law firms communicate with every day have. To do so would not only present your firm with an opportunity for one sided communication, but also for two sided engagement between the firm, its clients and its future employees.
Paul Newnes is partner and commercial director at digital strategy and marketing specialists Last Exit LLC. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org