How Attorneys Can Build Trust Using Social Media (No, It’s Not Another Lawyer Joke)
Business information publisherÂ eMarketer just published a survey examining the factors that create trust on the part of social media users. Although the survey didn’t deal specifically with online legal marketing, I believe there are some insights that can be useful to social-media savvy lawyers. I’ll share my attorney-specific ideas near the end of this post.
First, here’s an interesting chartÂ ranking the trustworthiness of 10 sources of social media information:
Why Would People Trust a Blogger They Don’t Know?
The survey confirms what seems intuitive: people are more likely to trust those they know than those they don’t. 64% of social media users completely or somewhat trust blog and Facebook posts by people they know, and 45% trust friends’ Twitter streams. Brands, products and companies are trusted by approximately 25-40% of social media users, while independent bloggers are trusted by only 21-25% of those surveyed.
Does this mean that independent bloggers should hang up the keyboard? Not really. After all, 25% of readers do trust them (although I’m not sure why). And if bloggers integrate Facebook into their blog and do a good job of turning readers into Facebook friends, then they can more than double their “trust rating.”
Here’s another interesting chart:
It’s About Quality, Not Quantity.
While we all want to have large numbers of followers/friends/readers, the quantity really isn’t very important when it comes to building trust. It’s more important to be fair (allowing both positive and negative comments), have high quality, and be responsive. From the standpoint of the social media marketer, these findings are good things, because these factors are largely within your control. You may not have the ability or advertising budget to attract Â a huge audience, but you can be fair, responsive and provide high quality content.
Tips for Online Legal Marketing Using Social Media.
There are no shocking surprises in the survey, but I think it offers some thoughts for lawyers about using social media marketing:
First: Take aim before you fire. Some people want to use the latest and greatest online legal marketing techniques, so they immediately launch a social media marketing campaign. If you’re a solo or small firm lawyer, it’s tempting to spend an evening opening Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you’re a partner in a larger law firm, it’s easy to hire employees and launch Facebook and Twitter accounts. But it can (and probably will) be a waste of time and money if you haven’t given it some thought first. Ask yourself, why would someone want to be a fan of my Facebook page? Why would someone want to follow me on Twitter? Hint: it’s not because you’re a big-shot attorney.
Think about what you have to offer that would interest and benefit people on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve got an earlier post with tips for planning your online legal marketing campaign using social media.
Second: Don’t delete all negative responses. I know that it’s tempting to think “This is my blog or Facebook page, and I’m not going to let people use it to argue with me.” But the social media trust survey shows that 64% of social media users feel that its extremely or somewhat important to allow both positive and negative comments. This is the single most important factor in being trustworthy.
Facebook doesn’t allow you to approve (or moderate) comments before they are posted, but you can delete them. I make it a practice to allow almost all comments on my Facebook pages, deleting only those that don’t meet community standards because of extremely foul language or other outrageous content.
Blogs and YouTube accounts do allow you the option of moderating comments before they are posted. I take advantage of that option so that I can screen the most obscene comments before they are posted. The only exception is when a blog is very popular, and comments are coming in faster than you can moderate them. This was the case on BPOilNews.com when people were suggesting ways to stop the Gulf oil spill, and I finally changed the settings to allow comments to be posted automatically.
Delaying the posting of comments for any significant length of time is a good way to discourage commenters. Having lots of comments makes your blog more interesting and keeps people returning to your blog to see what people have written about their comments.
Personal injury attorney blogs and videos, by their nature, invite hostile comments. But if you have the truth on your side and believe in the message in your post or video, then you will find that many negative comments are actually golden opportunities to communicate your message.
How should you deal with negative comments? Well, if you’ve posted an obnoxious, ambulance-chaser video or article (of the type that makes people reach for the remote when they come on television), I don’t have an answer for you. But if you’re using social media properly, inviting people into relationships, interacting with them, and providing them with genuinely helpful information, you can use negative comments to explain why your argument is correct.
I’ve found that negative comments can often be used to reinforce the point you are trying to make in your blog post or YouTube video. For example, I’ve posted a number of articles and videos that aren’t hard-sell lawyer ads, but instead warn people about dangerous products. When a lawyer-hating, foul-mouthed, spiteful commenter calls me a “greedy lawyer,” I can correctly point out that I’m trying to prevent people from being injured. If I were actually a greedy lawyer, I wouldn’t be trying to prevent injuries and deaths, I would just be trying to sign up cases. And if someone says they have used the product without any problems, I reply and say I’m glad, but then explain about my clients who were using it carefully but suffered injuries and/or death due to a defect they didn’t know about.
Third: Quality Matters. The quality of the contents and comments are extremely important to 35% of people, and somewhat important to another 27%. Keep in mind that anything you put on the Internet will probably be there forever, and can be seen by prospective clients, other lawyers, and maybe a judge or two. You should maintain high quality simply because you’re a professional, and you want to be seen as a professional. And the chart posted above shows that high quality is also a way of building trust with prospective clients.
If you’re creating a video for YouTube, don’t use your consumer video camera with its built-in light and microphone (I know some of you are thinking–it’s digital–but trust me on this). If you can afford it, hire a company that has experience shooting high-quality video (be sure to actually screen some of their work to make sure it really is high-quality). And feel free to be a little creative. I have a company that produces online video for attorneys, and we’ve had some fun and success when we’ve ventured beyond the stale lawyer-wearing-a-tie-yelling-at-the-camera video. As I’ve posted here before, you can use online video to do things you canâ€™t do on TV. Our Yamaha Rhino Complaint Department video satirizing Yamaha’s failure to recall the Rhino off-road vehicle has been viewed over 11,000 times on YouTube, and has generated a number of Yamaha Rhino rollover cases for our group of law firms. Another advantage of a properly done online video is that video is the easiest way to get on the first page of Google search engine results.
If you can’t afford to hire a firm that produces online legal video, hire a local crew and rent a camera, some external lights, and an external microphone. If you can’t afford the crew, at least rent the equipment.
What if you can’t afford anything but your consumer video camera? Do yourself a favor and get a free WordPress blog. Leave the video until later. Someday, when you’re more prosperous, you will be glad that you didn’t create amateurish videos that will live forever on the Internet.
And if you publish a blog, don’t farm out the writing to people for whom English is a second language and whose acquaintance with the law is the result of a DUI arrest. Do it yourself, or give it to an associate or law clerk, or hire someone online who has a history of writing high-quality legal content.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only purpose of your blog is to have the right keywords so it gets found in search engine and brings traffic to your site. While search engine optimization (SEO) is an important and worthwhile goal, it’s not the only goal. If your article is mush, you’re going to have a huge bounce rate with people taking one look at your page and immediately leaving. Remember, you want to get them there (which requires SEO) and then you want to show them you know what you’re talking about. You are auditioning in front of the entire world. Don’t turn that audition over to people who don’t know what they’re writing about, or who don’t know how to communicate it.
[Warning-personal story in this paragraph. Feel free to skip it.] The first SEO expert I hired, back in 2000, was a resident of Tel Aviv, Israel. English was his second (or third) language. He was a genius at search engine optimization, but his keyword-rich sentences would have left any potential client totally clueless about the subject matter of our site. If we had left him alone, we would have had enough traffic to crash our server, but we would have gotten no clients. We spent many hours on long-distance telephone calls hammering out compromises between his SEO tactics and my desire to communicate clearly with prospective clients.
Fourth: Forget what you think you know about the dangers of interacting with prospective clients on the Internet. If you’re going to use social media successfully, you (or somebody at your law firm) must be accessible. Take a look at the survey responses for the quality of “responsiveness.” It was extremely important to 30% of respondents, and somewhat important to another 30%. If you’re not planning to be responsive, put down the keyboard and call the television advertising guys now.
I’m not really suggesting that you should disregard ethics rules or concerns about inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship with a Facebook friend. I am saying that those concerns, like many concerns about attorney marketing on the Internet, are overblown. You can be responsive to a legal question in a general way while pointing out that you aren’t allowed to give legal advice to a friend on Facebook. People will understand, particularly if you respond with kindness and good humor. And that person, or her friend, or her friend’s friend, may actually make an appointment to come into your office.
If concerns about ethics rules and malpractice make you uncomfortable using social media, do some research or consult with a lawyer with experience using social media for marketing. It can be done, ethically, effectively, and without breaking the bank.
Final Thoughts About Trust and Social Media.
If you want to know what people think about building and maintaining trust, head over to the Facebook group “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, forever to repair…” The group, by the way, has 945,293 fans. I think the name and size of the group tells us something important about trust, something that applies beyond the topic of social media.