paid social advertising for law firmsI am currently in San Diego attending the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference. The conference presents an opportunity for me to catch up with clients, colleagues and thought leaders in legal marketing and learn and discuss new strategies for lawyers and law firms to enhance their marketing and business development efforts.

I was grateful to be invited to present during yesterday’s pre-conference workshops. My presentation, which is available on Slideshare for those who missed it, focused on our recent study, The 2014 Social Law Firm Index and how the top 100 law firms in the US rank when it comes to their use of social media.

I attended several good presentations during the day and was encouraged and excited about what I heard. It seems that legal marketers are very focused on leveraging the value of content marketing and social media and are beginning to carry out fairly sophisticated strategies to generate meaningful business results.

However, I was somewhat disappointed with one presentation in particular and feel strongly enough about it to write about it this morning. The presentation focused on paid social media and the presenter, a senior communications coordinator at a large firm in Palo Alto, spoke about her firm’s efforts in social media and focused specifically on paid social, i.e. advertising driven social media. While it is possible that paid social is indeed working at her firm, my strong opinion is that paid social media has no real value when it comes to the legal industry.

While many people may disagree with me, my reasons for feeling this way are fairly straight forward. In the world of traditional and digital media, there are three basic types of media: owned, earned and paid. I have written before about the importance of owned media for lawyers and law firms and why it is important for law firms to build their own digital platforms. I also have written extensively about earned media and why earning trust and engagement is critical for any successful digital marketing strategy.

I have not written about paid media up until now because I strongly believe that paid media has no role in a legal marketer’s digital tool box. The reason comes down to trust and authenticity. A lawyer’s role as a trusted advisor is at the cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship. Clients trust the advice that their attorneys give them throughout the course of their relationship. The only way to gain the trust of a client (or a prospect for that matter) is to EARN it. Earning trust is the single most important element in any relationship, but especially when it comes to lawyers and their clients.

In the realm of social media and digital marketing, trust us earned by constantly providing valuable content to a specific audience. That is why social media is considered the ultimate earned media channel. The goal is to earn someone’s trust so that they will share your content with their network. When it comes to the legal industry, authenticity and trust are a critical component in developing a lawyer’s digital brand and their ability to grow and nurture their professional networks. Lawyers must use social media as a way to engage with their clients and prospects and have authentic meaningful discussions in order to benefit from this powerful new medium.

That is why we almost never recommend for our lawyer or law firm clients to pay for promoted posts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn ads.  Paid advertising lacks authenticity and does not allow lawyers to have meaningful and sincere discussions with their clients and prospects. Paying in order to earn trust does not make any sense. A lawyer’s credibility can be significantly damaged when a client or prospect realizes that content appearing on their twitter feed or LinkedIn timeline is paid for.

Social media is about quality not quantity. It is about building valuable trust-based relationships that you can nurture and grow over time. It is not about paying to get access to someone’s social media feeds. That is another reason we caution our clients against paying services that promise thousands of likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Who cares how many followers you have, if none of them care about you or what you have to say? I would rather have 100 followers on Twitter who are interested in my content and share it freely with their networks, than thousands of followers who don’t know you and couldn’t care less about what you write or what you think.

Legal marketers are doing some fabulous things when it comes to digital marketing and social media. Their hard work and commitment are beginning to yield meaningful results. Law firms are better off investing their money in educating lawyers on the value of social media and how to use it to build relationships and generate new leads than spending money, no matter how much, on paying for social media. You can’t take short cuts on social media. As with anything in life, in order to be successful, it requires hard work and dedication. You can’t buy success. You have to earn it!

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