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law firm digital marketing trendsLaw firm digital marketing strategies have evolved significantly during the last year and are being employed by thousands of law firms and lawyers to engage with their target audiences. Savvy law firms and lawyers realize the importance of digital marketing and are using it effectively to generate new business and enhance their thought leadership positions.

Through my work at Good2bSocial, I interact with lawyers and marketing professionals at law firms around the world. Our company has the privilege of working with some of the largest global law firms, as well as smaller firms that have a deep focus in a particular niche. Whatever their size, I’ve found that firms are constantly looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors and develop new strategies to generate more business.

Last year, I wrote about eight digital marketing trends that law firms would likely see in 2016. The post became the most-read item ever on our blog — which tells me that legal marketers are hungry to learn more about law firm digital marketing trends and the strategies they can use to attract and retain current and potential clients.

This year, I’ve decided to repeat the exercise, taking intelligence we’ve gained from working with a broad array of clients and my own observations about the industry to put together a list of the digital marketing trends that will be front and center in the year ahead. Here then are my top 8 digital marketing trends for law firms in 2017:

1. Analytics Marketing

The Internet and social media have transformed the way all businesses interact with their prospects and clients. Long gone are the days where law firms and corporations relied exclusively on mass media channels such as television, radio, magazines and newspapers to reach their target audiences. The Internet now allows prospects and clients to easily find the information they seek. Email, social media, search engines and content marketing allow law firms to connect and engage directly with their targets without relying on intermediaries.

One of the key benefits of this direct contact is data. Law firms now have the capability to collect information on digital interactions with their prospects and clients to glean actionable insights into which marketing and business development strategies are providing a strong return on investment — and, just as importantly, which are not.

My prediction is that law firms will begin to transform their traditional marketing strategies into analytics-driven, client-centric efforts that rely on data rather than on “gut” instincts.  Analytics-driven marketing helps firms shift from being reactive to being proactive. They can anticipate the needs of their current and potential clients to develop solutions that will better serve them.

2. Paid Social

As we enter the second phase of the social media era, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies and law firms to reach their target audiences by relying on purely organic social media strategies. (By organic I mean building a social network through the free tools offered by most social networks). While individual lawyers can still successfully use organic social media to build their networks and engage with clients, prospects and influencers, it has become much more difficult for law firms to connect with their targets.

There are two reasons for this: First, social networks are for-profit businesses that are looking to increase profitability by making it more difficult for companies and law firms to market to their target audiences for free. They have a vested interest in selling access and, therefore, continue to tinker with their rules and algorithms to make it more difficult for organizations to connect without paying. Second, social media content is abundant, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for law firms to stand out from the crowd.

As a result, “paid social” or “social advertising” is becoming a more effective tool for law firms to reach and engage with their target audiences.  Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn provide law firms with incredible targeting opportunities. Facebook, for instance, allows law firms to upload a list of email addresses of clients or prospects and then creates a list of similar people based upon various factors. The lists can then be used for targeted advertising. This type of targeting has never been available before, and when combined with superior analytics, it has the potential to deliver exceptional ROI for law firms.

My prediction is that we will see a significant increase in the number of law firms, both consumer and corporate-focused, investing in social advertising to enhance their social media efforts during the coming year.

3. Inexpensive and Live Video

Video is quickly becoming the preferred content format for many companies and law firms. As wireless network reliability increases and smartphones provide business and consumers the means to easily create and view video, expect demand to continue to grow.

Many law firms have been investing in video production. This is nothing new. And high-quality, highly produced video will continue to play an important role for law firms. This is especially true for law firms that create videos for attorney bios or important conferences and events. But smartphones and other inexpensive cameras can allow law firms to easily and inexpensively expand their video offerings. The quality of video shot on an iPhone or Android device continues to improve, and this will enable firms to easily and quickly create videos and disseminate them through social media, email newsletters or blog posts.

With the tools, available today, you don’t have to be the next Steven Spielberg to create an engaging video that is shared with millions. The fact that audiences don’t care as much about video quality as the actual content also plays an important part in this trend.

Firms are also starting to experiment with live streaming video. Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram and Snapchat allow users to easily stream live video to their contacts. Some firms are using this new functionality to stream CLE seminars, video podcasts and other events to their clients and prospects. As the technology improves and it becomes more widely accepted, I predict we will see a substantial increase in the number of law firms and legal marketers who create and promote live video.

4. Integrated Campaigns

Digital marketing strategies work best when they are focused, integrated and measured. A few forward-thinking law firms are beginning to understand this and are focusing on creating and executing a few integrated campaigns per year. Rather than market an entire law firm or even a practice area, these firms are creating campaigns around “hot topics” that they know their clients and prospects are interested in.

This is a significant departure from the past, when law firms would create different plans and strategies for various practice groups or around particular channels (i.e., the M&A plan, the social media strategy). With an integrated campaign, a law firm picks a topic that they know their clients and prospects care about and develops a plan that incorporates all channels (web, social, email, events, client alerts, etc.).

In many instances, firms create microsites to provide focus and thought leadership to their target audiences. These firms are also developing a content strategy around each campaign to determine the type of content they will use for it. Once the content and platform are ready, firms can create a plan to promote the site and its content and make sure that they measure the results carefully.

I recently spoke to the U.S. director of digital marketing at Deloitte and was surprised to learn that Deloitte plans and executes more than 150 campaigns a year. While I don’t believe that law firms are ready for that kind of volume, I predict that this year we will see many firms adopt the integrated strategy, planning and launching three to four campaigns.

5. Podcasts

One of the biggest disruptors in the digital marketing space last year was podcasting. Edison Research, a company that focuses on both quantitative and qualitative research, conducted a study that highlights the explosive growth of podcasting as a digital marketing medium.

The study found that podcasting listening grew 23% between 2015 and 2016. The study also found that 21% of Americans — approximately 57 million people — ages 12 and up have listened to a podcast in the last month, up from 17 percent the previous year.

The growth in podcasting is being driven by mobility. Sixty-four percent of podcasts are being listened to on a smartphone or tablet. This enables busy professionals to listen to a podcast on their commute to and from work.

I know of several law firms and lawyers who have started their own podcasts and are thrilled with the results. The Legal Talk Network founded in 2005 features podcasts by many leading lawyers and legal industry thought leaders.

Podcasts are relatively simple to create, and they provide lawyers and legal marketers the ability to create engaging content that can be targeted to their audiences. Podcasting technology is rather inexpensive, and several tools and consultants are available to help law firms create their own podcasts.

This area, I predict, will continue to grow, especially as marketers look to differentiate their content and to find for new ways to demonstrate the knowledge and experience of their lawyers.

6. Native Advertising

Wikipedia defines native advertising as “material in a publication which resembles the publication’s editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser’s product or service.” Native advertising is not new, but until now, only a few lawyers and law firms have used native advertising to reach a target audience.

I think this is about to change for two reasons: First, so many law firms are creating content, that it is becoming harder for them to stand out and engage their target audiences. Second, media companies such as newspapers, magazines and television stations are creating networks and digital properties that make it easier and cheaper than ever for an advertiser to target and reach their target audiences.

I do not mean to imply that law firms should abandon their content marketing efforts and strategies and rely only on native advertising. Far from it. However, some law firms, especially consumer-focused law firms, would be smart to supplement their organic content marketing efforts with native advertising. Native ads can help law firms reach a much wider audience, and they have new interactive capabilities that enable advertisers to easily insert videos, images and interactive polls into their content.

My prediction for 2017: Savvy law firms will recognize the opportunities that native advertising can bring to their marketing and business development efforts and will add it to their digital marketing tool box.

7. Mobile Advertising

According to Business Insider, mobile is the fastest-growing digital advertising format in the United States. This is not at all surprising when you consider the huge growth in mobile devices and the growing class of “mobile-first” users.

Another factor fueling the growth in mobile advertising is its ability to target users in specific locations. Mobile advertising companies are using technologies that enable advertisers to geo-target their audiences with the use of geofencing technologies. Geofencing, as defined by Wikipedia, is “the use of GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.”

Many of you may be familiar with geofencing. It’s the technology that sends you messages about a sale as you enter a department store or suggests places to eat or stay when you arrive at the airport. Lawyers and law firms are beginning to use geofencing and mobile advertising, too. The most common use is by personal injury lawyers who geofence hospitals or emergency rooms or criminal lawyers who geofence police stations or prisons.

While this technology may reek of ambulance chasing, the reality is that firms that are using it are getting phenomenal results and are substantially increasing the number of leads and clients they generate.

My prediction is that the use of mobile advertising will continue to increase and that law firms and lawyers will find additional ways to use these new technologies to grow their business.

8.   E-books

Technology and mobility are clearly changing reading habits, with more and more consumers opting for different formats for books, such as e-books. An e-book, also known as an electronic or digital book, is a digitally released version of a book, often consisting of text and images and available on electronic devices, such as specifically designed e-book readers. This technology has made it easier for lawyers and other professionals to create, publish and promote their e-books. Sites like Amazon and others enable writers and others to easily and quickly publish and promote their work.

This format provides a new opportunity for lawyers and law firms. They no longer need to rely on traditional publishers to publish and disseminate their work. During the past year, we have worked with several lawyers who have published e-books. They have used these e-books to establish their authority in a subject matter or practice area.

E-books need not be created in isolation. In many instances lawyers, can reverse engineer the creation of an e-book by writing a series of blog posts over a period of three to four months. After this period, they can combine these blog posts and create an e-book. This type of approach has worked for several of our clients and has made the process of writing an e-book far less daunting.

I predict that in the next year, many lawyers and law firms will follow this strategy and create and publish more e-books to enhance their thought leadership positions.

There you have it, my top law firm digital marketing trends for the coming year. Did I miss something? Is there another trend you have seen or are anticipating at your firm? Please comment below, and let me know. We are always searching for innovative ways lawyers and law firms use digital marketing strategies to attract new clients and generate more business.

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