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November 26, 2010

Free Versus Fee Advertising

Free resources for marketing a law practice abound. From blogs to sites for uploading articles to e-newsletters (which are free by using a product like MailChimp and video (if you do it yourself) to more personal methods like cold calling, lawyers can generate clients and referrals without spending a dime.

But is it enough? Are there times when it makes sense to fork over some cash to invest in good old-fashioned advertising? Somewhat surprisingly but sensibly, John Jansch of Duct Tape Marketing says yes, though not entirely for the reasons you'd think.

Jansch offers a couple of reasons for his argument, but the one that I find most persuasive is this: traditional advertising amplifies all of your other activities by directing audiences who might not have otherwise known about you to your blog or e-book or other website.

After all, much as we laud the power of the Internet, some folks, particularly in more rural communities or small towns, still don't rely on it exclusively to find lawyers. In fact, even folks who use the Internet or social media regularly may not yet think to use it to find professionals like doctors and lawyers. So paying for an ad in a small local phone book or neighborhood newsletter or sponsoring a Little League team or even buying branded pens and handing them out everywhere you go might broaden your exposure in populations where the Internet hasn't yet fully penetrated.

So as you start to set your marketing budget for the coming year, set aside some cash for a little paid advertising. We may live in a 21st Century world, old truths like "it takes money to make money" aren't obsolete just yet.
March 17, 2010

Part II: Should Lawyers Advertise on Facebook? My Experience

In Part I of this series, I considered whether lawyers should advertise on Facebook?  Though Facebook's traffic numbers recently surpassed Google, making Facebook the most heavily trafficked site on the web, most of the commentary that I found related to Facebook ads suggested that they were rather ineffective.  In addition, I expressed concern that Facebook users, who are interested in socializing and escaping the stresses of daily life, might be put off  by lawyer ads which might come across as an undue intrusion into their personal life.  I concluded that if lawyers wanted to experiment with social media, they might do so by offering a class or an ebook on a lighter topic (e.g., copyrighting a blog rather than personal injury), but not by directing links to a law firm website.  Still, they shouldn't expect great results. [but see the update at the end of this post]

As it happens, I've experimented with Facebook myself for a similar reason:  to promote a program on Hanging a Part Time Shingle with my colleague, Julie Tower Pierce.  In this post, I'll share the my thought process in creating the ad and the results of the campaign.

1.  Background:

The part time shingle program is geared towards lawyers interested in starting a part time law practice.  Julie and I identified three demographics:
  • Lawyers with children who are currently home raising them, thinking about leaving a full time job to spend more time with family or who'd left the work force to raise a family and now seek gradual re-entry.  Though increasingly, it is common for men to work part time, we believed that even in the 21st century, women would continue to dominate this category. 
  • Lawyers interested in starting a firm but who could not afford to leave a "day job" or give up contract work.  While this category encompasses almost any lawyer, we assumed that younger lawyers and new graduates with large loans fit within this group.
  • Lawyers seeking to retire or who have retired but want to keep a foot in the law either for personal interests.
2.  Set Up: Choosing A Demographic

As I described in Part I, Facebook allows users to specify the demographics of their target groups.  After you select a particular demographic, Facebook will tell you how many users fall within that group and will recommend a price per click (CPC).   

Once you've selected a demographic and specified a CPC (and daily or total ad budget), Facebook will determine when to run your ad based on the following guidelines:  

 For any given ad unit, we select the best ad to run based on the ad's bid (CPC or CPM) and ad performance. Your ad's ability to win the auction will change based on its past performance and as the pool of available ads changes.

If you are not receiving as many clicks or impressions as you would like, we recommend increasing your maximum bid. You should also take a look at your ad's targeting to make sure you're reaching the most appropriate audience. Your ad is more likely to run successfully if you're targeting a highly relevant group of users with Facebook's detailed targeting options.

[Source:  Facebook website]

Based on this information, I chose to target users who are college graduates and over the age of 50 (to capture re-entry candidates as well as retired lawyers); college graduates over the age of 28 (to capture those with day jobs) and married female college graduates between the ages of 29 and 33 (to capture mom lawyers home with children).  I restricted the last group to a narrow demographic because the recommended CPC for all women users was more than I wanted to pay.

The results of my ad campaign, which lasted for approximately six days, are shown below, with the results ordered as just described (all college grads over the age of 28, college grads over 50 and women between 29 and 33):
Picture 30.png For the first two categories (28 and older; 50 and older), I used Facebook's recommended CPC.  That wasn't very effective for the 28 and older category, as it resulted in 33,037 impressions.  I had better luck with the 50 and older crowd, where I scored 203,151 impressions by paying the recommended CPC, presumably because the 50 and older demographic on Facebook is smaller and not as frequently targeted by advertisers.  For the 29-33 married female category, I exceeded the recommended CPC by .25 because I knew that I'd be facing still competition.  My decision paid off in that it yielded 148,908 impressions.

Of course, the more important metric than impressions is the click through rate - since that's the first step to converting to a sale.  As predicted, click through rates were not impressive  - just five from the 28 and older group, 58 from the 50 and older and 40 from the women ages 29 to 33.  On the plus side, I didn't pay much for the click throughs - an average of 68 cents.

Did any of those click throughs result in a sale?  The program cost $25, so three sales would have given me a positive ROI.  Unfortunately, I didn't track sales origination closely so I don't have that data.  But my guess, based on the pattern and timing of program registrations, is that all of the registrants learned about the program from list serves, blogs or Twitter rather than through Facebook ads.

My results don't tell the whole story because of other variables.  I ran the Facebook ads just a week before the program which was a live call - so it's possible that those who clicked through and were interested had scheduling conflicts.  In addition, since I'm not a professional marketer, my ads (I used different ones for each group) may have simply been ineffective.

Given the low cost, I might experiment with Facebook again for a similar type of program.  I'd try to narrow my demographic groups further and also provide more lead time before an event.  However, I don't really see Facebook as a valuable promotional tool just yet. 

Finally, I would not use Facebook to market my law practice -- I don't market to consumers and even if I did, I strongly favor educational based marketing over pure advertising. Plus, I think that lawyer ads on Facebook are intrusive.  Nevertheless, if the results of my efforts to market the Part Time Shingle program on Facebook are any indication, I don't think that lawyers who avoid Facebook ads to market their law firms are missing out on much.  At least right now.

Update #1 (3/17/10)  I've received several reactions to my posts.  Two providers who serve attorneys (a legal marketing professional and a CLE company) have used Facebook for ads, with far better success.  The CLE company reported 200,000 hits, 1300 click throughs for $25, while the marketing professional has generated several serious leads through Facebook and  found two clients, for well under $100  $300 per month (correction as of 3/20/2010).  I already pointed out why my campaign may have been less successful - it ran only a week and my ad copy may not have been compelling.  Though my experience was more aligned with those of others (discussed here who have used Facebook ads), apparently there are those who are experiencing success and it's important to portray both sides so that you can make an informed decision.

As for posting lawyer ads on Facebook (rather than an ad for an ebook or webinar), that's a matter of taste.  Personally, I am tired of lawyer ads littering every site that I frequent online. But that's just me -- and if you don't take issue with that approach, then Facebook advertising may be something worth considering. 
March 16, 2010

Part I: Should You Advertise on Social Media Sites?

It's official!  As of yesterday, Hitwise confirmed what many had long predicted: that Facebook surpasses Google as the most visited Website in the U.S

So what does this new development mean for those lawyers who've hedged their Internet marketing bets on Google-driven search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click?  This  article from Fast Company discusses the implications of Facebook's ascendancy for advertising.

For starters, Google will continue to dominate search.  So to the extent that you invested in professional SEO services or activities like blogging to build visibility online, your efforts will still pay off.  Moreover, even if you're a diehard Facebook user, with hundreds of friends and fans, you won't get much mileage from that presence in Google search.  And while users could also search Facebook to find you, as  the Fast Company article points out, search is not why folks flock to Facebook:

 Facebook does have a search ability inside the site, but what's really driving users to Facebook in droves is that it's a genuine phenomenon. Social networking is still riding that "oh you should try this, it's new and cool" wave and the site itself has reached a critical mass of user numbers whereby if you want to contact almost anyone, odds are that they have a Facebook account.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Facebook is without value - not just as a participant but potentially as an advertiser.  Fast Company suggests that:

 Facebook is now in a position to leverage those user visits to seize control of the online ad-placement business from Google--advertisers will begin to do the math and work out which site will get their ads in front of more eyeballs. And while Web 2.0 has been with us for a while, the fact that more people are visiting Facebook than Google indicates that this interactive revolution has really changed U.S. Netizen's online habits.

With enormous traffic numbers and still undiscovered advertising potential, there are certainly benefits to marketing legal services on Facebook.  Moreover, Facebook makes the advertising process easy with these tools that enable you to design your ad and specify where you want it placed.  Features of Facebook ads include the ability to:

  • include a photo or logo as well as a link to a website or fan page.  The graphics feature makes Facebook ads snappier than the bland Google pay per click ads that dot the top and side of Google search results pages.
  • specify the precise demographic audience you want to target based on age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, and key words on a fan page.
  • choose amount to pay per click through, as well as a daily and/or total limit for the ad campaign.   
But for all their benefits and low cost, Facebook ads haven't been terribly effective, as described here, here and here.  That's not surprising either.  After all, most people come to Facebook to interact with friends or socialize.  Thus, an ad for lawyer website isn't going to be terribly appealing, and in fact, might be regarded as an annoyance (though a recent study from Australia showed otherwise).  In fact, to the extent that Facebook ads are effective, they tend to work best for entertainment or recreational services rather than for the pharmaceutical or financial industry.
Like Facebook, Linked-In also offers advertising opportunities.  My guess is that Linked In ads might potentially be more effective than Facebook -- since Linked In users are more likely be combing the site to find a service provider rather than to chat with buddies -- I haven't been able to find studies that corroborate my hunch.

Despite the ineffectiveness of Facebook ads thus far, some (for example, a few of the commentors at this post) suggest that Facebook ads may be worth a try for a couple of reasons.  First, because the ads are cheap and users can limit their budgets, they have little to lose.  Second, because users can include logos and pictures, the ads offer an inexpensive way to build brand - though branding of this type is arguably less important for lawyers.

As for me, I'll concede that Facebook ads might be appropriate, albeit not all that useful to publicize a discrete law firm activity or product, like a free webinar or ebook (In fact, I've used Facebook for that very purpose, and I'll share my results in Part II of this post).   But as general tool to advertise a law firm, the the potential intrusiveness of lawyer ads ultimately outweigh any minimal benefit they might provide.