Do you believe in social media?

When I was a kid I lived down the street from John Denniger.  He was an expert on monsters.

“How do you kill a werewolf?” He quizzed me.

“Silver bullet.” That was an easy one.

“What about Dracula?”

“Wooden stake to the heart.” These weren’t even a challenge.

“How do you make The Blob (a large monster in the shape of you guessed it- a blob)?” This time John had me stumped, I had no idea.

“How,” I asked.

“All you need to do, is put a whole tube of toothpaste on the sidewalk, then add water with a garden hose.”  He explained.  I didn’t think to ask, but why didn’t bathroom water create The Blob in the sink, or why weren’t their thousands of Blob monsters in the sewers now?  I just trusted him, and a full tube of toothpase later, I realized that I couldn’t create The Blob.  John Denniger’s credibility took a serious hit.

Has social media failed to live up to the hype for you in the same way John’s advice on monsters failed me?  Is social media for lawyers the new snake oil?  Can it really help bring in business? Or is social media just a waste of time?

Online personalities love to talk in superlatives.  Social media sucks, or social media will make your business explode.  So which is it?

Scott Greenfield warns that social media is not the silver bullet, and that listening to legal marketers on the subject will do little more for you than lighten your wallet.  Scott obviously believes social media is worth your time as evidence by his multiple blog posts each week.  He also has reaped the rewards of the increased exposure from his blog, having been asked to speak on numerous panels and even landing a “big” client through social media (a fact that he loves to minimize.)  It isn’t a major source of business for him though, at least not directly- but it has certainly opened doors for him.

You see, even the biggest opponents of social media are users and they are using the same blogs and social media tools they ridicule to spread the warning.

Lawyers from Scott Greenfield’s camp are protecting other lawyers from social media help, because they didn’t need it.  They pulled themselves up by their boot straps to learn social media and blogging, so why shouldn’t you?  It’s so easy a caveman could do it.  You get the idea.

This argument resonates with their online community, because the vast majority of them have learned social media by simply doing it.

If you are passionate about learning how to use social media, jump in.  Read the blog posts, follow the Twitter feeds of people you respect and learn by doing.  This is a great way to learn anything.   But if you are reading this post, you have most likely already figured that out- you understand the power of sharing knowledge and the impressive resources that are at your fingertips through social media.  You get it.  If you are like me, there was a moment in time when a switch was flipped in your mind and you went from being a skeptic to a believer.

What does it mean to be a believer in social media?

To believe in social media is to comprehend the awesome power these tools have to connect total strangers in a meaningful way.  Separated by geography, ethnicity and even socio-economic status- social media creates communities of like-minded individuals.

Will social media make you a rainmaker?   Sadly, no.  It takes a certain skill set to bring in business- and proficiency in more than just tweeting.  You have to be able to set goals, take conversations offline, follow up and have the experience to close the deal.  Social media however can be a powerful tool to facilitate business development.  It is all about access, and social media will open doors to access people that before would have been protected by far too many gate keepers.

When I unexpectedly lost my job as an attorney almost 15 months ago, as I explain in my book, two weeks later I had a signed job offer- but I turned it down.  The opportunity to be a part of such a massive shift in the way people communicate was just too compelling.  The era where social media was considered a novelty is coming to a close – over the next 24 months law firms will become big believers in social media and unleash the true power of these tools by allowing all of their attorneys to participate.

We aren’t there yet, not even close.  That is what makes this so exciting, to see it coming.  To really take advantage of social media, large firms need to take advantage of their strength in numbers.  The AmLaw 200 was recently praised for having more than 297 blogs. Over 100,000 of the best and brightest attorneys and they have come up with a measly 297 blogs?  Imagine when a single large firm, like perhaps Baker & McKenzie (3949 attorneys) sees the real vision of social media and has 10% of their attorneys blogging?  They would have more blogs than all of the rest of Biglaw combined.  We aren’t there yet, not even close, but the day is coming.

Would blogs and social media make all of those attorneys into rainmakers?  Certainly not, but would it give Baker & McKenzie substantially more exposure?  Absolutely.  It would be monumental.  They would be part of online discussions in every major practice group, top the Google searches for novel practice areas and they would be seen as the leading innovators when it came to technology use by a large firm.  We haven’t seen large law firms successful integrate social media at anywhere near that scale, but it is coming.

Social media isn’t the silver bullet that will save your practice, and toothpaste won’t help you create The Blob, but don’t deny the power of social media.  The growth of social media has only just begun, and it will remain long after the monster myths of John Denniger are forgotten.  Do you believe in social media?  What does that mean to you?

This Friday Hubbard One Marketer of the Year Andrea Stimmel from the mid-sized firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle will be joining us to discuss how their firm has made social media pay.  Join the discussion at 12pm EST this Friday. Click here to sign up for the call.


26 Responses to “Do you believe in social media?”

  1. Venkat says:

    I use “social media” because it’s fun and there’s a benefit all around. Do I “believe” it will solve the world’s problems, my own problems, or be some sort of business development panacea? Nope. Have I seen benefits through using it. Definitely. Is it worth the time spent? I don’t know, but I don’t measure it in terms of dollars and cents.

    I think it’s interesting that you highlighted SHG and others who pulled themselves up and “taught themselves” social media. They fall into the same camp. They do it because there’s some intrinsic value or in some cases probably because it’s fun.

    There’s a point which you hinted at – but did not explicitly raise – which is: how have the people fared who have had social media “taught to them” vs. those who have “taught themselves.” My guess is that those that have taught themselves are faring somewhat better. At least in the lawyer universe, these are some of the biggest proponents of a social media reality check. I’m not sure what this means but it’s worth thinking about.

    • Great question, and probably worthy of it’s own blog post. The question being, do those who are self-taught fare better than those who have it taught to them?

      I’m not sure what the answer it, but is anybody REALLY self-taught? Everybody is learning from others, but do you need to pay to learn how to use social media? Certainly not, but is it wrong for organizations to want additional instruction and motivation for their attorneys? I guess it depends on the organization.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Deb Dobson says:

    Adrian, this is an excellent post. Yes, there are many of us who are self-taught. We learned by getting in and trying to figure out this whole thing called social media. I remember being the skeptic thinking this was really pretty stupid, but I guess having a sense that it could be important and so I needed to dive in and try to figure it out. What we who provide social media consulting bring to the table are the lessons learned. We can bring people up to speed quicker partnering/mentoring with them. They can learn it, but why do it the hard way.

    Is it the silver bullet? No, it is doing the offline work, online…just seems to take less time. And you are so right, the connections you can make in this wonderful space, well, that alone is worth every minute of time spent on it. Law firms have a ways to go in figuring out this space, but with people like you out there to help support, educate, advocate….eventually the ones who jump in, are willing to learn, will reap rewards from it. I truly believe that.

    Great post!

    • Thanks Deb, just like in everything else in life without clear direction and goals it is difficult to get ahead. These tools are helpful to those who know what they want. I appreciate your insights.

  3. Great post, Adrian.

    I am bored of the attacks on legal marketers in this marketplace. We are not the boogeymen.

    Can social media and social networking be self-taught. Absolutely. Are they the panacea to your business development ailments? Absolutely not. They are just another tool in the tool box. Are they right for everyone. Nope. But how will you know if you don’t try?

    Look, there are people who can self-teach themselves anything. I’m intuitive that way. I don’t have the patience for classes … just tell me where to log-in and I’m good to go. I might hit the “help” button a couple times, but I have to be pretty darn perplexed to ask for assistance.

    I have discovered that very few people are truly like this when it comes to technology. One of the most common questions I am asked when speaking on social media is “How do I get on (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn … you name the application). While I want to speak to the “advanced users,” I am finding that the majority are novices and hungry for assistance and guidance from those of us who have apparently figured it out.

    I believe that the consultants do have a well-earned place in this medium. They are there to guide, teach, coach best practices to those who are not intuitive learners, or are too busy to take the time to walk themselves through it..

    I do warn that some consultants (SOME, not all, and not the majority) are selling snake-oil. They are selling services that others are offering for free. Like everything else, do your due diligence. Get referrals.

    Heather Morse-Milligan

    • I have heard it said that one day social media consultants will be looked at like a group of people that taught people how to put on their pants.

      I like this comparison because it is obvious by the way so many are using this technology that they aren’t really sure what they are doing. The vast majority of attorneys need more direction, for now anyway.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Tim Baran says:

    Good point regarding self-taught vs. being shown the ropes, Adrian. Even after more than a year of self-taught social media, there’s no doubt I’m missing out on some useful tools and perhaps some of the finer mechanics that a few “classes” could provide.

    A huge factor is time which is precious in any profession and especially so in the not-dead-yet “hourly billing” legal profession. And that’s the value that someone who has used, researched and studied the medium brings – closing the learning time-gap. And if a law firm or attorney can’t exercise proper due diligence to weed out the wackos, they’ve got other problems.

    As for the blustering naysayers, the hypocrisy is stunning as is the self aggrandizing platforms on which they stand. They are largely absent from my stream, which is somewhat sad since when not consumed with social media badgering, they have useful things to say, thought not enough to offset the negative.

  5. Social media is just another medium. But still a very hot medium indeed. The fail comes when people use it to pitch rather than receive. Argue rather than collaborate. Wall themselves off rather than build community. I think law firms and lawyers will get as much out as they are willing to give away. Information itself has no value until it is interpreted and applied to client’s unique situation. I’m a fan of socual media and a big fan of giving it away. It will come back to benefit me in the long run.

  6. William says:

    Interesting Post Adrian. What I find so interesting in this debate, or whatever we choice to classify the discussion as, is how classically dichotomous the arguments become. I think you did a fine job of reminding people of the middle ground concept. Yes, there will always be extremes and actual people that help perpetuate the stereotypes. However, the social media space is filled with brilliant minds, young and old and in in between. As Richard reminds us, for social media to be of any help to anyone, it should taken as a communication tool for collaboration. Does that mean marketing? At times is certainly does, as there is always an aspect of media of all types that is self-promoting. Social media presents a new medium for expression in all its forms, plain and simple.

    As for the “self taught”, again not a new issue. Most of us are self taught smart phone users, that doesn’t mean that some people don’t actually want the service of showing them the ropes. Why do you think, as simple as the instruction are for IKEA furniture, there are guys making a steady living standing out front ready to assemble your new table. The strongest voices in social media for attorneys are the ones of people that enjoy using it. However, the bulk of the users want to a) improve their user experience and 2) make social media work for them. They are not severely opinionated like the rest of us, and modestly seek out benefits of this new fangled form of communication.

    • I think that playing the extremes of any argument is much more fun, but it can become very unproductive. Your point about IKEA is a good one, and while putting together furniture may seem simple to some, but to other very intelligent people it might as well be brain surgery. But even this analogy isn’t a complete one, because putting together furniture for the most part has one solution- social media has infinite possibilities- and that is the part that makes it so confusing to some. Where do they start, and where do they put their focus?

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Adrian, I enjoyed your post and it is very well written.

    I know first hand that blogs do work.

    However the bigger problem for lawyers is obtaining business from Twitter followers and Facebook friends. The simple fact is for 99 percent of the lawyers, they don’t work, yet. Therein lies the frustration, because many of us are spending hours a day on the sites.

    There is a deep opportunity cost that lawyers are paying for being on social networking sites. Lawyers are taking away quality time that is better spent really getting to know important referral sources, that being former clients, calls to friends, etc. The interactions on Twitter are relatively superficial.

    Nevertheless, I truly enjoy Twitter and Facebook for other reasons.

    • Fred,

      Your point is well taken, what if blogs don’t ever work for you? What if they never bring you ANY business? That is certainly a possibility. Plenty of people attend conferences and bar association events without ever finding new business or referrals. Is the even the problem or is it the behavior? That is exactly why having direction and strategy is so important.

      Spending at least 10% of your time on business development is a great start, but spending ALL of that time on social media is probably foolish. You are exactly right when you talk about phone calls and referral sources- those are extremely high value relationships that should be a priority. With that said, there is a place for social media- especially in terms of expanding your reach and making new connections. This is a balance that lawyers are still figuring out.

      Thanks for the insight, the issue of “how much time should be spent on social media” is one that is obviously a critical one, and worthy of its own blog post.

  8. Brian Cuban says:

    Adrian-I suspect that I am one of the Scott Greenfield camp you are referring to. I am not against anyone including lawyers making money using social media. it should be monetized by all. As Alexis Neely would say “power to the people” and that includes attorneys.

    What I am also for however, is for the same level of transparency about who and what we are in social media that we would are required to exercise if we were engaging in the actual practice of law. Ethics never rest. Especially if you are using that law degree as a social media hook” Transparency is always a better branding strategy in the long run than the sleight of hand that so many non-practicing lawyers like to use on Twitter. Unfortunately, this is counter-intuitive to those with something to hide. It is also shameful for those in a profession in which such conduct once more projects us with the ethics of used care salesman. i find this shameful.


    • Brian,

      I appreciate you taking the time to add your insights here. I saw your recent video, and I know where you stand on this point, but I must admit it’s getting pretty annoying seeing young lawyers constantly denigrated. Graduating with a JD, passing the bar, being sworn in before the court- is it really irrelevant? Is it really that insignificant? Is it really just a hook, or is it a strong point of differentiation? Being a lawyer (even a young one) matters, at least that’s what I believed before I went to law school and it’s what I still believe today.

      To you point on ethics, I agree. The oaths that a lawyer makes are forever, whether they continue to practice law or not.

      As for your third point about car salesmen, I love sales. I am passionate about sales and marketing- that’s just how I’m wired. My style may be too over-the-top for some, but I imagine those people won’t hire me- which is fine. I’m not peddling get-rich-quick schemes or unethical marketing practices though, so perhaps you weren’t referring to me directly.

  9. shg says:

    Good morning Adrian. Glad I can provide more fodder for my favorite work-in-progress. Two things though. First, I never said that the one client who came to me via Avvo paid a 6 figure fee. I don’t discuss the fees of any individual clients, and it’s in extremely poor taste to do so. I would appreciate it if you would correct that.

    Second, you position presupposes that all use of social media involves a mercenary purpose. Your self-taught v. taught by others is a false dichotomy for that reason. My use of social media, as well as many others who share with me a love of writing and who aren’t using social media for any self-promotional purpose, don’t eschew anyone being taught the ropes of the mechanics by others. We disdain those who are taught social media for the purpose of self-promotion.

    Go out, enjoy, make friends (though be careful because you have no clue who you are really interacting with, and many are not who they pretend to be). Just don’t do it to create a carefully crafted internet persona for mercenary purposes. Blog because you like to write and have something to say. Twit because you enjoy insipid interaction with people. Just don’t get sucked into the marketing vortex that if you pay some social media guru to show you the ropes, you will find wealth and success online.

    If being a real person, honest and ethical, ends up providing some commercial benefit, great. If there’s no ROI (as will likely be the case), no problem, as you’ve enjoyed the experience regardless and had no false hopes that social media would be the silver bullet of success. And under no circumstance be dishonest about who we are and what we’re doing. We are lawyers. The internet isn’t a license to shed ethics.

    By the way, when I go to an occasional conference, it’s always as a favor to a friend, not to promote myself. While they may cover my expenses, the cost of going (in lost time and billings) far exceeds any potential benefit. Only people who have no business to leave behind would assume otherwise.

    At the FACDL conference, I heard lawyer after lawyer complain that, for all the money burned and time expended, social media proved essentially worthless as business development tool. The social media gurus and wannabes can pretend amongst themselves whatever they want, but the lawyers in the trenches are living the reality that it’s all nonsense.

    They bought and learned. All the talk amongst marketers isn’t going to change reality. If Heather isn’t happy about it, imagine how unhappy the people who paid money and found out it was a big marketing lie feel. There’s no rhetoric or spin that changes the bitter reality of the silent telephone.

  10. Brian Cuban says:

    Adrian, it not insignificant. For that very reason what we have accomplished should be not be diminished or denigrated in the public eye with snake oil tactics and yes, it becomes snake oil when we as a profession are not honest with the public. We have enough image problems without adding a whole new realm of communications to the problem. I am not sure if you got my point on the used car sales analogy. It is about public perception not about sales as a profession. I am not referring you to specifically, simply addressing the issue as a whole

  11. Some great points and different discussions going on here.

    I’m of the mindset that there are no formulas to make things work. There are no strategies that ALWAYS work. There is no one “correct” way to doing something. (This is why I can’t understand the Twitter-hating…how many times do you have to say it, if you don’t like it, then don’t look at it!) No one in their right mind would want to force an attorney to participate in social media if they don’t have the desire. And no one will force training on someone who wants to learn by testing, or will make someone learn on their own if they ask for help. There are good people, there are bad people, and there are those pesky in-betweeners (in ALL professions!)…it’s not black and white! Share what you know, but quit with the “apply all” button. As people have pointed out, do your research!

    I, personally, BELIEVE in the power of social media. Why? Because it worked for me (1-800 number listed below, checks can be made out to me – kidding). I spent over a year “listening”, learning the ropes myself, because like Heather, that’s just how I roll. And what did I get out of it? New friends. A blog post written about me. A niche I can be a part of. A list of resources. My first professional speaking gigs. I’m a happy camper…

    It is pretty interesting that “heavy” social media users are the “loudest” opponents of it.

  12. Adrian –

    There are many problems with your position.

    First, I don’t think most law firms ban their lawyers from setting up blogs or participating on the web. (Of course, they don’t encourage it either.)

    Second, I don’t think most lawyers want to blog or participate. It’s not a question of believing in social media. Most people don’t want that big of a presence on the internet, whether because of privacy, insecurity or disdain. If you in particular at big firm lawyers, they don’t care much about marketing. That’s why they farm the activity out to a marketing department.

    • Doug,

      I’m not saying that most attorneys need to start blogging, it obviously isn’t a good fit for many lawyers for any number of reasons. My point is that if even a small percentage, say 10% of attorneys from a single large firm were active online it would make a noticeable impact on the publicity and attention received by the firm.

      As for law firms banning lawyers, you would be surprised how many law firms prohibit blogging until a social media policy is in place. Other firms only let a select few b log with approval from a committee for any content to go out.

      The piece about farming out marketing work is exactly my point. I have always said that the power in social media lies in participation by the actual attorneys. Go ahead and farm out your ghost blogging to someone else, but I don’t believe it can be as effective. This requires a shift in the way large firms think about marketing and business development.

      As for “believing” in social media, that is kind of just a title illustrating that social media means so many different things to different people. There is not one right way to participate, but for those who believe, it is a valuable outlet whether it be for socializing with other professionals or building valuable business relationships.

  13. kellybriefworld says:

    As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company’s greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server’s safety and security.


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