I'll admit that now I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time staring at my computer screen tweeting, facebooking and linking in. But back in my university days I was accused of being an unreconstructed Luddite for my refusal to write my 15,000-word dissertation on a word processor, the sort of person who would have condemned the invention of paper with a cry of ‘just what’s wrong with a stone tablet?”
I can now tweet with the best of them (well, not Stephen Fry, but hardly anyone can do that) and frequently find myself eulogising about social networking to bemused and unconvinced lawyers. It has to be said, they haven’t been the quickest to embrace the joys of the new media age.
To be fair, a good proportion of them, like me, spent their formative years in an age when Atari’s Pong was the peak of excitement and will have started their professional lives with nothing more technologically sophisticated than an electric typewriter and a Dictaphone. Still, there's being slow on the uptake and there's being downright unreconstructed.
It wasn’t that long ago, probably about seven years, I remember someone from HM Land Registry talking me through their e-conveyancing project and explaining one of their key issues was that law firms often weren’t networked, didn’t use email and, almost unbelievably, sometimes didn’t even have computers.
Now, thank goodness, even the lowliest of sole practitioners is likely to have a website, even if it’s not all whizzy and jangly. Whether they make the best use of it or not is another matter. Unlike listing in the Yellow Pages (remember that?) or an advert on a bus shelter, a website shouldn’t be a static signpost, but a dynamic, interactive illustration of who you are and why a consumer (or, for that matter, a new recruit) should choose you.
I am far from an expert in the dark arts of Google PageRanks but I do know that if you don’t regularly update your content, have links to and from other established sites and keep your site relevant you won’t appear until page 33. Most importantly you have to be providing information that is genuinely useful and helpful for somebody.
Equally, you would probably expect me to exhort lawyers to get stuck into the likes of Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest to promote their firms and, more importantly, to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about legal services. You would also probably expect me to enthuse about how being able to engage with lawyers, legal journalists and academics through social networking helps demystify the law and make it more accessible for those consumers.
And yes, of course, it would be great if more lawyers could really embrace social media and if firms in particular could be a whole lot more imaginative in their tweeting (while there are some great lawyers on Twitter there is barely a law firm worth following). On the other hand, as with all things, just doing it because everyone else is without understanding what you are trying to get out of it is going to be a waste of time and money.
I wrote yesterday about the new QualitySolicitors advert. While this was undoubtedly more expensive than any law firm social media strategy is likely to be in the near future, do you think Craig Holt and his fellow directors just sat down one day and decided that with all the lovely cash they now have they’d like to do a fancy advert?
Well to be honest, I don’t know, but I very much doubt it. Marketing campaigns, at least successful ones, aren’t put together on the back of a fag packet (unless they are for the Olympics) and neither should a social media campaign. It also needs resources and commitment, a bit like adopting a puppy: if you aren’t going to feed it and take it out for walks every day then you are better off leaving well alone.
Instead, decide what you are, who you want to talk to, whether consumers, competitors, new recruits, regulators or policy-makers, and where they are likely to be hanging out – don’t assume it’s just Twitter and Facebook. Experts, and I mean real experts, not pretend ones like me, say there are probably 13 different types of social media.
Yes, thirteen, ranging from social networking sites to virtual worlds; from video and photo sharing to blogging and microblogging; from social commerce to online collaboration tools. Those of us from a distinctly analogue age may find the whole idea of having such a comprehensive online presence a bit disturbing, but it’s second nature to the Google generation and they’ll expect you to have one.
As someone who seems, unintentionally, to be making something of a living out of social media, I can quite honestly say the best way is just to go for it. Like everything in life, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well: nothing is worse than a half-baked attempt to ‘get with it’. You have to really commit yourself if you are going to keep the puppy happy and get something other than dog poo back from it.
If, like those law firms that didn’t even get a computer until this century, you think this is all a load of new fangled nonsense and your business can survive perfectly well without it thank you, people probably said that about the telephone. And just imagine how silly that would look now.