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April 5, 2011

How to Avoid Having Your Law Firm Contest Contested When It's Run Through Social Media


Though I'm not sure about their long-term effectiveness for attracting clients, most law firm contests are undeniably fun as well as a way for a firm to give back to the community. A recent sampling of contests that I culled from the news included a contest for high school students to create videos about the importance of bike safety, a contest celebrating March Madness with give-away of two free Jazz basketball tickets and a contest for best business pitch. Of course, some contests seems a bit tacky, such as the Valentine's Day divorce contest run by a West Virginia firm (it's not the divorce that's tacky, in my view - just the contest's timing).

As more firms adopt social media, expect contests to proliferate, for a couple of reasons. First, there's nothing like social media -- either a Facebook Fan Page or a Twitter stream to build buzz and enthusiasm about a law firm contest. Second, many law firms may view contests as a way to generate more friends and followers by making prize eligibility contingent on "liking" the firm's Facebook page or following it on Twitter.

Regardless of their reasons for sponsoring a contest, when law firms use social media as a platform to conduct or publicize their contest, they must comply with three categories of rules: (1) Bar advertising rules (which I won't discuss here; suffice it to say, read your jurisdiction's rules in advance or contact bar counsel with questions), (2) laws governing sweepstakes and games of chance and and (3) platform-specific regulations regarding contests.

Laws on Online Contests Because online contests have been around for more than a decade, the basic legal principles are fairly well established. An excellent summary is available in this excellent online compliance guide for online contests and sweepstakes by Antone Johnson of Bottom Line Law.

As described in the guide, companies must avoid operating an illegal lottery which generally involves payment of an entry fee, a winner chosen by random chance and prize awarded. However, companies can run sweepstakes, which is a drawing for a prize by chance alone or contests which requires some kind of skill and judging and an entry fee is permissible. Contests must have official rules that specify eligibility requirements and disclose restrictions on receiving the prize.

Platform-Specific Rules But contests conducted on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter include an added twist. Not only must companies holding contests comply with the general rules just discussed, they must also adhere to the social media platform's contest policies. Failure to comply with these policies can result in removal of promotion materials or disabling of an account.

Twitter's contest guidelines are fairly simple and straightforward:Contest sponsors should encourage entrants to use Twitter conventions (@ sign to signify a reply and a hashtag(#) showing a subject) to communicate with each other, and discourage them from tweeting multiple entries. Finally, both the contest sponsor and participants are expected to abide by Twitter's use guidelines.

Facebook's contest rules are subject to frequent revision (the last revision was December 1, 2010) and are far more complicated. Facebook users are prohibited from using their wall or other pages to create a contest; instead, they must set it up through an application on the Facebook platform. Users can enter the promotion only via the application or a tab created on the Facebook page. The promotion must include certain disclosures.

Facebook also sets rules on what contest sponsors can ask of entrants. A sponsor can ask an entrant to like a page as a condition of entry, but cannot require any other action such as uploading a photo or writing a post or comment. (As an aside, seems that this contest, which required a wall post may have run afoul of Facebook's rules).

Many firms may be tempted to hand off administration of contests on social media to PR reps or marketing gurus. Don't. It's you or your firm that will wind up with the suspended account on Twitter or Facebook if the contest isn't run properly - and further, many face the embarrassment of e-shaming if competitors learn of your missteps.

Law firm contests can be a fun, as well as a way for a firm to show its appreciation for clients and the surrounding community. But having someone contest your firm's contest because you didn't follow the rules will take the fun right out of it.
February 4, 2011

Free Webinar - Social Media for Lawyers

Are you wondering how to use social media in your professional life? Confused about how it's supposed to earn you more money as an attorney? Or what resources are out there specifically designed for attorneys? Then you're invited to our latest webinar, Social Media for Lawyers. In this webinar, presented by lawyer, SEO expert, and founder of Justia, Tim Stanley, we'll show you how to successfully apply social media to your law firm and practice.

Register now: Social Media for Lawyers

Social media has exploded in the past couple of years. It's now become essential for businesses and companies: over 65% of attorneys are using social media to grow their firms. They've discovered their web presence needs to move beyond their firm's website. Sign up for Social Media for Lawyers and you'll learn:

  • How social networking applies to legal professionals

  • Strategies for participating on social media, with an emphasis on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter

  • Which tools will maximize professional benefits

  • Best practices for legal professionals

This webinar is ideal for:

  • Solo practitioners

  • Principal attorneys at small law firms

  • Marketing professionals at small law firms

Meet Your Presenter
Tim Stanley is a computer programmer, lawyer, and CEO of Justia. Prior to starting Justia, Mr. Stanley co-founded FindLaw and served as FindLaw's CEO and Chairman. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Association for Justice, American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Meet the Organizer
Nolo is passionate about making the law accessible to everyone. Since 1971, our high-quality books, software, legal forms, and online lawyer directory have helped millions of people find answers to their everyday legal and business questions. Nolo's online lawyer directory is a unique tool for attorneys at small firms to demonstrate their expertise online. To learn more about being listed in Nolo's lawyer directory, visit Nolo.com.

Webinar Details
When: February 17, 2011, 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM (Pacific Standard Time)
Where: Via computer and/or phone
Cost: Free

Space is limited so register today. There will be a 10-minute question and answer opportunity at the end of the webinar.

Please note: CLE credit is not available. Please join us for this exciting event!

Register now to attend this free event!

Nolo's Lawyer Directory
950 Parker Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
www.nolo.com/lawyers/

October 29, 2010

Round Up Post: Social Media

OK, it's time for another legal marketing round-up, where I update earlier posts with new information and developments.  First up, on the social media front, I came across a great case study at Marketing Profs describing how Florida-based law firm Roberts & Durkee used social media to spread the word about the problems with Chinese drywall. First, the firm quickly got out in front with minimal investment by purchasing a unique URL, chinesedrywallproblem.com. Next, the firm created a blog that provided a constant source of updates on new developments and cases. In turn, the site helped attract media and as traffic increased, so too did the site's SEO. Finally, the firm reinforced its presence by using Twitter and Facebook to disseminate links to the blog. End result? The firm now attracts half of its leads on Chinese drywall from its website and blog. It's a strategy that any firm can replicate.

If the experience of Roberts & Durkee has inspired you to move forward with social media, Top Rank Blog has a comprehensive checklist that will guide you through the process. These include:

Definine your objectives. What do you want to achieve with your social media plan? Is your goal to establish presence in a niche and attract clients like Roberts & Durkee? To improve service to existing clients? Your objectives will inform your social media strategy.

Understand your target audience. Do you want to reach consumers? Lawyer colleagues? Business CEOs? Your target audience will also determine which platforms you choose.

Set up the strategy. Roberts & Durkee had a defined strategy - the URL, the blog, the media and reinforcement through Twitter and Facebook. That's a formula that can work pretty well for any social media campaign, but there are dozens of other iterations as well. Take some time to plot a course that will work for your firm.

Define metrics for evaluating success. Though social media doesn't cost much, it still involves an investment of time. So you'll want to constantly re-evaluate to determine whether your social media plan is meeting your goals.

Are you ready to get started?
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. 
August 19, 2009

Make Sure The Message Matches the Medium

When it comes to Internet marketing, there's no one size fits all solution.  The effectiveness of any of the tools that I've discussed here at the Legal Marketing Blawg, such as blogs, Twitter or video depends not just on whether your current or prospective clients spend time online but  also where and how they use the Internet.

To understand the importance of how clients use the Internet to your online marketing efforts,   consider the results of an April 2009 study by the Pew Internet Project released last month.  According to the study, 56% of those polled said they have at some point used wireless means for online access - a figure that's significant enough to convince most lawyers to either start or step up marketing measures online.

But the 56% figure doesn't tell the whole story about wireless use.  Turns out that even though African American Internet use via traditional means (such as home or office computers) is much lower than for the general population, African Americans represent the most active users of the mobile internet:

48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

29% of African Americans use the internet on their hand held on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

Based on these use rates, you'd be justified in engaging in any type of generic online marketing activities, such as putting up a website or purchasing online ads, if you wanted to attract and serve African American clients.  But given that nearly a full third of African Americans access the web through a hand held device, your online marketing campaign would be far more effective if you invested in those tools which are most compatible with hand held devices.  For example:

-Internet access through handheld devices is usually slower than through broadband wireless and a direct connection.  So a fancy, flash-driven website that may look impressive on a large screen might be clunky and frustrating to someone trying to view it on a cell phone. 

-Blogging can be an effective Internet marketing tool.  But lengthy tomes in small font don't mix with a hand held.  To keep a hand-held based audience engaged, either opt for shorter snappier posts that can be digested in a cell-sized screen or make sure that your blog is mobile compliant.

-Many mobile users frequently access YouTube.  For that reason, video may be an effective marketing option.  Likewise, Twitter offers several different mobile-accessible applications and could also serve as an effective medium to connect with mobile-enabled clients.

Depending upon what kinds of clients you intend to target, there are a myriad of other small tweaks that can make your online marketing more effective.  As I wrote in another context, you need to imagine your audience, or in this case, your clients:

What I mean by imagine your audience is to visualize the individual readers, from those who stumble across your site online to those who dutifully read your updates daily. Where are they reading your blog - in a Starbucks? Their office? At a basement computer after the kids are in bed? Are they dressed in stiff work clothes or wearing pajamas? Using an news reader or catch all site like Alltop to catch up on posts - or do they physically visit the site to get the information?  Printing out your posts in a public library because they don't have a printer at home, or scrolling through them casually on their iphone while riding the subway to a suburban mansion?  By imagining these details, you can refine the form of your post to match your audience's circumstances - for example, enlarging the font or brightening the page if you suspect folks are reading in dimly lit areas, or including an easy print or PDF option if your audience prefers hard copy.

Most lawyers would like to believe that online marketing begins and ends with search engine optimization, that by hiring a good consultant and driving traffic to your site, you'll generate clients.  But all of the SEO in the world isn't going to make a difference if prospects leave the destination once they arrive.  It's not until you understand how your target audience is reaching you online that you can make sure that their experience is pleasant (as opposed to frustrating and confusing) once they arrive.  That way, they're guaranteed to return, or even better, to stick around long enough to decide to give you a call.
May 14, 2009

Update Round-Up

Here's the latest round-up on some of the topics covered in earlier posts to be sure that you have up-to-the-minute information on the latest and greatest in lawyer marketing:

1.  Add More Value to Videos By Power Using YouTube.

Back in January, I posted on why lawyers should consider making video part of their marketing portfolio.  In addition to the reasons that I described, Travis Campell, the Marketing Professor offers some ideas for building community and online presence through YouTube -- which means that you'll get more bang for the buck out of any videos you produce.  So what benefits does You Tube offer?  For starters, you can get statistics on viewer demographics and feedback on your video through commenters.  Posting video on YouTube can also help drive traffic to your site and enhance your search engine visibility.

2.  Should You Hire An SEO Expert?

My first post for this blog described some do-it-yourself SEO tips.  But if the DIY approach doesn't get you the results that you need, should you consider hiring an expert?  I've posted, more generally, on issues to consider when hiring a marketing consultant and now, lawyer marketing expert Larry Bodine shares advice on hiring an SEO expert.  My favorite tip of the post? 

Type the vendor's own targeted search terms into Google and see how well they do for themselves. Type in "law firm web consultant" or "law firm SEO consultant" or "law web marketing consultant" into Google. If they can't get good rankings for themselves, move on.

3.  Social Media and SEO.

Six months ago, when I posted about do-it-yourself SEO, I didn't focus extensively on social media, largely because its impact on SEO wasn't fully recognized or acknowledged at the time.  That's since shifted, as Duct Tape Marketing writes, noting, "It has become extremely difficult to achieve any measure of success for important keyword phrases without the use of social media."  As a result, any business attempting to optimize a site should add a blog and podcast, participate in Twitter and optimize profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn at the very minimum.
April 13, 2009

Is Bad Publicity Better Than No Publicity? Not Necessarily in an Internet Age

You've probably heard the saying that bad publicity is better than no publicity.  But that's not necessarily true in this cache-and-carry-on-forever Internet age, where Google continues to shine light on your darkest hours long after the controversy has died down. 

As a result, more than ever, lawyers must be vigilant about our online profiles -- in an an Internet age, our online reputation invariably precedes us.  Increasingly, clients are turning to the Internet to find lawyers.  And even those clients who locate lawyers through offline sources like newspaper ads or personal referrals routinely turn to Google to ferret out additional information.

To complicate matters further, there's now myriad ways for disgruntled clients or colleagues to disseminate unflattering information.  From lawyer rating sites to individual blogs to newspaper articles that remain online and uncorrected long after an unflattering incident has passed, it's never been easier to drum up dirt on anyone.

So what's a lawyer to do?  We're all familiar with ways to harness the power of Internet to attract business; indeed, I've posted on many of those techniques here in my blog.  But today, I'll focus on the flip side: how to use the Internet to avoid losing business as a result of rumors, criticisms, or other negative information that resides online.

1.  Guard Your Reputation As Zealously As You Represent Clients

Perhaps the most important step that lawyers can take to avoid fallout from negative information is to continuously and vigorously monitor their respective online reputations  If that sounds time-consuming, it doesn't have to be.  Over at Hubspot, you can find out how to monitor your social media presence in just ten minutes a day.  Tips that apply to lawyers include:
  1. checking Twitter for chatter about your company and using search tools like TweetDeck or TwitterSearch to monitor conversations in real time
  2. setting and then checking Google Alerts for your name or those of cases or client matters you're working on
  3. looking for questions to answer on LinkedIn (answering questions can increase positive search engine visibility), and
  4. using Google to track other social networking sites and, in particular, blogs, where a colleague may have criticized a posting or commented negatively on the way in which you handled a case. 
In addition to these general social networking sites, lawyers should regularly monitor sites like Avvo which allow clients to post ratings and opinions, and other similar sites where clients are permitted to comment or review lawyers.  And don't forget to keep an eye on sites like LinkedIn, where colleagues can post testimonials.

2.  If You Find Something Positive, Reinforce It

Of course, lawyers are most interested in dealing with negative information and I'll get to that issue in a moment.  However, even when you find positive comments, you should respond with a thank you.  Clients and colleagues who take the time to praise something you've done can serve as your greatest allies if you ever need to undertake damage control against unfair criticism or unflattering commentary.  Take the time to cultivate your own personal vigilante group who can go on the offensive for or with you.

3.  Dealing With Negative Information

So what can you do if you uncover negative or unflattering information about yourself?  First, depending on the information and the site where you found it, ignoring the information might make the most sense.  As this Freelance Folder post suggests, when the comments are clearly from a source that's not credible, you are probably best off ignoring them rather than drawing further attention. 

Continue reading "Is Bad Publicity Better Than No Publicity? Not Necessarily in an Internet Age" »