Strategy, a word of military origin, refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms and conditions that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy. . .
-Wikipedia definition of strategy
I’m a big fan of history and military history is especially interesting to me. The stories that are most perplexing to me are the stories where smaller armies defeat larger better equipped ones. Great military leaders like Alexander the Great, Attilla the Hun and Napoleon were able to win battles where they were outnumbered on a regular basis. How did they do it?
Most social media advice is very light on strategy. So much of the focus is placed on tricks, tools and tactics that focus on the mechanics of social media- they generally scratch the surface because they fail to combine the tools with strategy.
Give an attorney, or any other professional for that matter, intimate knowledge of how to blog, tweet and participate in LinkedIn groups and they may be no better off than without this knowledge. The skills and knowledge are useless without an effective strategy.
Seth Godin astutely pointed this out in a brief blog post, When the long tail is underwater. For those that don’t want to click through:
There are millions of songs on iTunes that have sold zero copies. Millions of blog posts that get zero visitors each day.
The long tail is real… given the ability, people create more variety. Given the choice, people seek out what’s just right for them to consume. But, and there’s a big but, there’s no guarantee that the ends of the long tail start producing revenue or traffic. And a million times zero is still zero.
The point of Seth’s article is that often social media is not only a failure, it is a colossal failure. Pick a niche that is too small- and your blog post will appeal to exactly nobody. Bad strategy = bad results.
My first few months on Twitter I learned this the hard way. I had written a book about virtues and I was under the impression that if I blogged about the concepts in my book- I would suddenly gain a publisher and engaged fans. Unfortunately, the topic didn’t resonate with people- and I rarely got more than a few dozen visitors to each new blog post I wrote. Then one day back in February of 2009 I blogged about social media for lawyers- and there was a real response.
Step 1: Â Listen first, then try to be understood
I recognized an opportunity, and I went after it. There were plenty of people that tried to discourage me from the legal market, but I had seen the traffic- I knew there was interest in the topic and the I recognized that interest would continue to grow. Recent reports and surveys confirm that was the case. Conversely, I spoke to a client recently that does large real estate deals in a certain metro area. She recognized that there were not many deals happening and there were more and more attorneys fighting over an ever-shrinking piece of that legal market pie- a blog for real estate in her area just didn’t make a lot of sense. Social media use is most effective for growing markets.
Step 2: Don’t be afraid to start
Choose your target market and execute. Many attorneys are so timid about their first blog post, tweet or LinkedIn comment that they never get started. I often tell them that it is like standing on top of the high dive- everyone is waiting for you to jump, they don’t really care about how your first dive looks- they just want you to jump. Lawyers need to take the plunge. Successful entrepreneurs have an attitude of exploration, they are willing to try a few things and see what works. I failed in my fist blogging attempt only to later find something in an area that resonated with a more significant population. Lawyers need to be willing to do the same, and the results of your tests should instruct your larger strategy.
Step 3: Create A Plan
What is your plan? Once you understand what people care about in your market, where they hang out online, and what types of articles resonate with them- you can create a plan that has a much higher chance of success. Set up a goal for the next month, goals for the next 90 days and for the next year. Start to lay out specific tools that will be used. Whether it be a blog, participation on Twitter or webinar CLE’s- your plan can start to incorporate appropriate tactics.
Strategy 4: Power is in the Process
The number one concern I hear from busy lawyers is, “how will I ever find time for social media?” The real concern is that they have no confidence in their ability to implement a new process. Starting up new processes is difficult, whether you are running or learning a new language. The goal I have with my clients is to help attorneys fit social media seamlessly into their lifestyle. They need to be checking in to the social networks as they would check voicemail and email.
Step 5: Evaluate your return on time invested
It is essential that lawyers eliminate activities that don’t yield results. Their non-billable time is far too valuable. If you have been blogging and participating actively in social media and haven’t had opportunities to speak, ink in news publications and new connections- than it is time to re-evaluate your strategy. Only when lawyers can turn those new connections into phone calls, breakfasts and lunches is it really worth it.
Social media is the greatest tool ever invented to waste time. It can also be the a powerful business development tool. Back up these tools with good strategy- and that is the difference maker. Even with less resources, and a proverbial smaller army, strategy can be the difference make in helping you compete in an increasingly competitive market.
Adrian Dayton is a lawyer and social media strategist to large law firms. His also the author of the book, Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition. Click here for a free chapter.