Social Media Lessons from a Russian Sniper

(As originally posted by Above the Law on August 26, 2010)

The opening sequence of Enemy at the Gates begins with a volunteer Russian soldier named Vassili being forced into the range of German machine guns in the Battle of Stalingrad. Unfortunately for Vassili (played by Jude Law), the Russian army has more soldiers to spare than guns. So although all the soldiers are given bullets, only half the soldiers, excluding Vassili, are given a gun.

In response to last week’s post, “The All-or-Nothing Social Media Skeptics,” a few lawyers expressed frustration that I didn’t provide more concrete strategies, case studies, and tactics on utilizing social media. I won’t cover case studies on this post, although you can find some here, but I will give some specific tactics….

1. Become a sniper.

Before Vassili became a sniper, he was cannon fodder. He didn’t matter. Once his expertise in firing a gun accurately from long range was realized, his value increased infinitely. Due to his specialized skill, Vassili likely saved his own life (and also became the best sniper in the Russian Army). As lawyers, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd, so to succeed in the social media realm you need to be highly specialized. The more targeted the niche, the better.

Even if your skills and abilities allow you to practice broadly, you need to market yourself very narrowly. Here are a few great examples:

In response to my post last week, one of the lawyers asked how social media might work for him. I responded that social media isn’t a great fit for some industries. He responded:

I’m a litigator at a firm in a mid-sized market. A handful of F1000 companies are HQ’d in the region, but those relationships with the firm are long-established.

As a litigator you have a ton of competition, which is why differentiating yourself is so important. What types of cases have you handled? Are there any specific areas that you know a lot about? Start blogging about your areas of expertise, and then use the right networks to get that information to the decision-makers within companies.

Blog posts or white papers aren’t going to create the relationship with these individuals, but your blog posts and white papers might get their attention. In the next section we will discuss how your content can help you put yourself in a strategic position to start building those relationships.

2. Make headlines.

Vassili became a famous sniper because the right people found out about his skills. Once his talent was shared in the Military News, he was never lumped in with the general soldier population again. The biggest risk with using social media is not that lawyers will make fools of themselves or their firms. The biggest risk is that firms have outstanding lawyers that nobody will ever know about. Social media can help your lawyers make headlines.

There’s an old saying: “It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know.” Interestingly, in the online world, it isn’t really about what you know or who you know — it’s about what you say, or more specifically, what you share online. In the online world, you are judged by what you add to the community for free. This can be a hard concept for attorneys to grasp, but it is necessary to give to get online.

Some people compare social networks to the old game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where you can basically link all movie stars to Kevin Bacon in six steps. This analogy is incorrect, though; in networks like Twitter, there are zero degrees of separation between me and Shaquille O’Neal. He may not respond to my tweet directed at him, but if I say it enough, he will most likely see it.

Some of the most powerful tools for distributing your content directly to decision-makers areLexology and JD Supra’s Legal Updates on LinkedIN.

Lexology sends your articles or blog posts in an email to thousands of in-house counsel lawyers and sends you a report back with analytics on which companies clicked through and read your article. Nick Akerman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, recently shared his Lexology report with me. In-house attorneys from Delta, Boeing, Fisher-Price, AIG, Microsoft, Staples, IBM, UnitedHealthcare, and over 100 other companies had read one of his recent articles. The more Nick writes, the more these decision-makers see his name and recognize his expertise.

JD Supra is another great distributor of content. You upload your blog posts and articles, and through JD Supra’s arrangement with LinkedIN, they are distributed in a targeted way. For example, say you write an article about employment issues; LinkedIN will send your article to all HR professionals on LinkedIN that have subscribed to legal updates. Who is on LinkedIN’s list? Over one million lawyers worldwide, and 75 million members and executives from all 500 of the Fortune 500 companies.

It isn’t about who you know; it’s about what you say. Create the right content, and social media can help it get into the hands of the all-important decision makers.

3. Set your sights on high-value targets.

Vassili wasn’t interested in killing individual soldiers; he was completely focused on eliminating the leaders within the German army. His ability to calibrate his high-powered sniper rifle and take out these high-value targets is what made him indispensable to the Russian army. Law firms have a name for indispensable lawyers who can bring in high-value deals; they call them “rainmakers.”

When most lawyers think about social media, they handle the process completely backwards. They start out by asking, “What type of blog could I have?” The first questions should be: “Who are my high-value targets? Who is my ideal client? Does my ideal client read news online? Would a blog resonate with this cohort?” Only if the answers are “yes” should blogging and social media be considered.

So in summary:

  • pick an area of specialization;
  • sign up for JD Supra;
  • add Legal Updates on LinkedIN; and
  • start creating content.

There is a war going on out there in the legal world, and it won’t be the toughest and best lawyers who survive, but those with the specialized skills and strategies to make themselves indispensable.

Adrian Dayton is an attorney and social media strategist working helping large firms bring in more business through social media.  Click HERE for a free chapter of his book, Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition.

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