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Lawyers: Gain Competitive Intelligence Using Social Media

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Gain Competitive Intelligence Using Social Media."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Gain Competitive Intelligence Using Social Media

This article is a continuation of the series in which I discuss how lawyers can use social media to accomplish different goals in support of their law practice. In Chapter 8 of our book, “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier,” my co-author, Carolyn Elefant, and I discuss one particularly useful goal: how social media can be used to gain competitive intelligence.

As we explain in our book, “competitive intelligence” is defined by Wikipedia (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Competitive_intelligence) as “the action of defining, gathering, analyzing and distributing intelligence about products, customers, com- petitors and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers in making strategic decisions for an organization.”
In the past, acquiring competitive intelligence used to be a costly proposition, but social media greatly simplifies the process, making it a cost effective and worthwhile endeavor.

One of the easiest ways to locate competitive intelligence these days is via real-time search. In July 2009, Wikipedia described the real-time Web as:

“[T]he concept of searching for and finding information online as it is produced. Advancements in Web search technology coupled with growing use of social media enable online activities to be queried as they occur. A traditional Web search crawls and indexes Web pages periodically, returning results based on relevance to the search query. The real time Web delivers the most popular topics recently dis- cussed or posted by users. The content is often “soft” in that it is based on the social Web — people’s opinions, attitudes, thoughts and interests — as opposed to hard news or facts.”

The social Web is constantly creating information and data about any topic you can imagine. Google and Bing search engines now provide instantaneous access to information about any topic or event as soon as it becomes available.
Lawyers can use real-time search to locate issues and trends that affect their practice areas. Law firms can tweak their online marketing efforts based on real-time search results. Litigators can track sentiment about a particular case or event and then tailor their litigation strategy accordingly.

Competitive intelligence can also be obtained from LinkedIn, a social media platform that can be an invaluable resource for attorneys who represent businesses. The section of LinkedIn devoted to company profiles is particularly useful and offers a wealth of information about a given company.

Company profile pages provide links to employee’s LinkedIn profiles in addition to news about the company, recent hires and job openings within the company. Another useful feature of company profile pages is that you can choose to “follow” a company and then decide whether to receive notifications of: 1) new
employee hires, departures and promotions, 2) new job postings and 3) updates to the company’s LinkedIn profile.

Finally, if your law firm has a blog, competitive intelligence can be gleaned from your blog’s analytics data. Using either the analytics platform built in to your blog or free outside tools such as Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics/), you can track and evaluate your blog’s Web traffic.

The information that the analytics platform will provide includes traffic volume, traffic sources (i.e. refer- ring sites), the geographic location of each visitor, and the search engine terms used to locate your site.

You can use the Web traffic data for a number of useful purposes, such as identifying promising practice areas based on the key words used to find your blog. You can also analyze referral sources to determine which social media distribution channels are paying off for you. For example, if you find that very little blog traffic originates from Twitter, then perhaps the time you spend interacting on Twitter could be put to better use on a different social media site.

These are just some of the ways that social media can be used to glean valuable competitive intelligence. In upcoming weeks, I’ll share other goals that can be achieved using social media, ranging from showcasing your expertise and branding your law practice to locating information to support your practice areas.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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Social Media for Large Law Firms

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Social Media for Large Law Firms."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Social Media for Large Law Firms

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how Big Law can effectively use social media ever since I spoke at King & Spalding’s Atlanta office in mid-August.

During my presentation on social media, a member of the audience asked if I was aware of any large law firms that were using social media well. No single firm stood out in my mind, and for good reason.

Generally speaking, most large firms have established rather bland practice area blogs and, to the extent the firms have a presence on social media plat- forms, the social media accounts are used primarily to broadcast firm achievements rather than to provide valuable content and interaction.

That is because most large law firms have been reluctant to enter the social media arena due to legitimate concerns about ethical and legal issues and a perceived lack of value.

Undoubtedly, there are ethical issues unique to large law firms that arise primarily due to their size. The large number of clients, staff and offices can result in inadvertent conflicts of interest when individual employees engage in social media.

For example, an associate attorney might unknowingly support a cause on Facebook that is contrary to the position taken by a large client of the firm.

Whether participation in social media makes sense for large law firms also is an issue worthy of consideration. As I’ve oft repeated in the past, large firms must, at the very least, learn about and understand social media — if for no other reason than to be able to employ effective damage control in the event the firm is the target of an embarrassing blog post at Above the Law or a similar website.

Likewise it is important for large firms to claim their firm’s name on major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, if only to prevent others from hijacking the firm’s name and causing problems down the road.

I believe Big Law can and should do more with social media, however. After giving it some thought, I believe there are ways in which large law firms can use social media to their advantage. It’s simply a matter of creating consistent and educational company profiles on the social media platforms that receive the largest amounts of Internet traffic.

The first step to creating an effective law firm presence in
social media is to set up a Facebook page, a LinkedIn Company Profile page and a number of Twitter accounts, including a main firm account and an account for each major practice area.

Twitter accounts can be used to share news and information relevant to the firm and its various practice areas. The firm’s main Twitter account should share news about the firm and should re-post tweets from the firm’s practice area Twitter accounts.

The firm’s practice area Twitter accounts should focus on sharing news stories and links to outside resources that relate to the practice area. Links to recent blog posts from the firm’s blog devoted to that practice area also should be shared. The account can be used to share news regarding individual lawyers’ victories or other achievements from within the practice area. In order to avoid the appearance of excessive self-promotion, however, the Twitter account should share links that consist of substantially more informational content than promotional content.

The LinkedIn profile should be used for brand identification and recruitment purposes. Job openings can be posted on the LinkedIn Page, along with information about current employees and new hires. Amazon’s LinkedIn profile is a good example of an active company profile — www.linkedin.com/companies/amazon.com?trk=copro_tab.

The firm’s Facebook page can be used for brand identification and recruitment purposes, but likewise should be used to disseminate content and news about the firm. Content from the firm’s main Twitter account can be disseminated via the Facebook page, as can separate links to blog posts from the firm’s various blogs. The Facebook page also can feature occasional links to articles written by its attorneys that appear on the firm’s static website.

There is no doubt engagement in social media can be a dicey proposition for large law firms and their reluctance to begin the process of online interaction is understandable. Big Law can and should take the leap, however. Doing so ensures the firm has a consistent, useful, approachable online presence that can be located easily on the three main social media platforms.

Once the firm has established an official and effective presence in social media, the next step is to enact a sensible firm- wide social media policy. The policy should set the parameters for the firm’s employees’ social media interactions in a way that mitigates the risks and maximizes the benefits of their participation.

Of course, how to go about accomplishing that delicate balance is fodder for a future column.

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The Social Media Crush--aka Dazed and Confused

OverwhelmedImage by Cheo70 via Flickr

Last week, Chris Brogan wrote a thought provoking blog post in which he suggested a looming social media crash, resulting from a deluge of online connections and the subsequent contacts that we receive as a result of our online connections. He posited that it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain online relationships and adequately respond to people's requests.

He used his experience as an example and explained the impossibility of interacting in a meaningful way with people as your social media presence grows. Granted, Chris has a social media presence on steroids compared to most everyone else, myself included.

But even with an online presence like mine, which pales in comparison to Chris', I'm finding it nearly impossible to provide meaningful responses these days, even when I want to.

And, truth be told, that fact frustrates me beyond belief as I find that I'm failing to provide responses in a timely or useful fashion and am offending people that I truly like and respect (and those whom I've never met) in the process.

Let's use the past week as an example, keeping in mind that I'm swamped with work right now (and thus put most of my blogs on hold for the summer), am facing two major book deadlines in mid-September along with my regular workload, and traveled to Atlanta the latter half of last week to give a presentation on social media for lawyers. In other words, I'm more than busy and am struggling to keep up.

Over the last week and a half or so I received the following inquiries via phone, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or email, the vast majority of which required a response of some sort (and these don't include what I consider to be spam contacts--such as multiple PR suggestions from complete strangers  to write about an issue on my blog (that generally has nothing to do with the topic of the blog), etc.):

  • A legal tech company asking me to check out their new platform that just launched and provide my feedback (Twitter DM)
  • An inquiry from a fellow lawyer asking me to provide metrics re: a particular blogging issue (Twitter DM)
  • Someone asking me if they could post an article that I'd written, in its entirety, on their website (Twitter DM)
  • Someone asking me if I could recommend lawyer networking opportunities for their friend who recently moved to Rochester (Twitter DM)
  • Someone asking me to speak at an Upstate NY conference about social media (Twitter DM and subsequent phone call)
  • Someone asking me for a referral to an Upstate NY lawyer re: social media policies and also asking me to meet them for coffee so we could officially meet (LinkedIn commincation)
  • A friend and colleague asking me to assist in introducing them to one of my editors with the intent to get something published (LinkedIn)
  • An email from a complete stranger asking me for a list of insurance companies that provide cloud computing insurance (followed by a snarky reply when I declined)
  • An inquiry from a local attorney asking me for a referral to a website designer (Facebook)
  • An email from a legal tech company asking me to test drive their product and blog about it
  • An inquiry via email from an iPad developer asking for 15 minutes of my time to run an idea by me
  • An email from an attorney I've interacted with quite a bit via email asking me if I'm going to be in NYC anytime soon and hoping to meet me for coffee to discuss an undisclosed issue
  • An inquiry from a State bar magazine asking if I'd like to write an article for them--unpaid of course
  • A request from a stranger via the Social Media Club of Rochester site (of which I am a co-founder) asking me to speak to a bunch of local teenagers about social media
  • Email requests from 4 law bloggers asking me to add their blogs to my blog roll and another request from a NY law school law review asking me to let my readers know that they're looking for articles
  • Multiple inquiries via phone from people seeking an attorney that I referred to other local attorneys who handle the types of law involved.

Suffice to say, I am truly overwhelmed and find myself increasingly unable to respond to the multiple requests for my advice, time and energy (all requested on a volunteer basis). I try my best to respond, but sometimes either fail to do so in a timely manner or dash off a quick, shallow reply.

If I've responded inadequately to one of your inquiries in recent months, and we're "friends" via social media or otherwise, I apologize.

If you had a legitimate request and I've not yet responded to it, I likewise apologize. My lack of response is likely because I don't have a quick answer, but truly do want to address your inquiry and give it the attention that it deserves, so I've tabled it for a few days.

If you're a complete stranger with a totally random request that I've ignored, what did you expect? Go bother someone else.

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Use Social Media to Network, Build Relationships

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Use Social Media to Network, Build Relationships."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Use Social Media to Network, Build Relationships

As I mentioned previously, over the next few weeks I’m going to address the different goals lawyers can achieve using social media.

In each column, I’ll focus on a specific goal and explain how effective interaction on social media plat- forms can assist in reaching that goal.

This week I’ll share how lawyers can use social media platforms to increase both their personal and professional networks. At the outset, it’s important to note that social media interactions are not a replacement for face- to-face connections. Rather, social media extends your reach and supplements traditional networking opportunities.

When deciding where to focus your social media efforts, it is important to determine who you’d like to meet. If you’re primarily hoping to interact with poten- tial clients, then you need to choose social media sites where your clients will be. Likewise, if you’d like to increase your professional connections, choose sites that other lawyers frequent.

So, for example, if you’re hoping to network with small business owners in your region, LinkedIn may be the ideal platform. Join the LinkedIn groups to which they belong. Contribute to the conversation, provide useful information and get to know other group members. Once a few online connections have been made, move the online relationship offline. Meet another group member for lunch or coffee, or take the initiative and arrange an offline group gathering, such as drinks after work one evening.

If your goal is to expand your professional network by meeting other attorneys, Twitter is a good platform to consider since it’s one of the least formal social networks. The sense of informality makes it easier for lawyers to “let their hair down” and share their interests and hobbies. After a few weeks of inter- acting with other lawyers on Twitter, you generally have a good sense of their personality and quickly develop a sense of camaraderie with those of similar ilk.

Lawyers on Twitter tend to flock together by areas of practice,sharing links to information and news relevant to their col- leagues, discussing recent holdings, venting about daily frustrations or trumpeting their courtroom victories. After a few months of interacting with fellow lawyers from across the country, you truly will feel a sense of camaraderie with your Twitter friends. From there, it’s a simple step to suggest dinner or coffee when you happen to be visiting in their neck of the woods.

Whether your goal is to network with potential clients or with other lawyers, it’s important to realize that one of the keys to effective networking is to share a little bit about yourself. Let your hair down — take off your lawyer hat!
Interact and converse, rather than merely broadcast and boast. Don’t be afraid to share both your personal and professional interests. Doing so humanizes you and makes you appear more approachable to both potential clients and other attorneys.

Of course your level of participation and interaction will vary from one platform to next. Each social media platform has its own level of formality, with LinkedIn being more formal and Facebook and Twitter less so.

No matter which platform you choose, the key to effective participation is to be genuine and transparent. Provide useful, relevant information to your connections no matter what the context.

The bottom line — social media can be a great way to expand your personal and professional networks. Simply choose your social media platforms with your networking goals in mind, interact and share with other users, then move the online relationships offline.

Of course social media can’t replace face-to-face networking — but it’s a wonderful and flexible way to supplement more traditional methods.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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Blogging for lawyers has changed

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Blogging for lawyers has changed."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Blogging for Lawyers Has Changed

When I first wrote about blogging for lawyers in 2006, the benefits were clear-cut.

At the time, publishing a legal blog was one of the only ways to create an effective online presence, and was well worth the effort expended to maintain a blog.

Starting a legal blog was an easy way for an attorney to showcase his or her legal expertise while quickly increasing a law firm’s search engine optimization.

Blogs also were one of the best ways to meet and interact with other lawyers on a national scale. Professional networking was a breeze: There weren’t many lawyers who blogged, and those who did blog quickly became familiar with one another. Likewise, it wasn’t particularly difficult to establish a name as a legal blogger since there wasn’t much competition.

Choosing a focus for a blog also was a simple proposition. At the time, only a few legal blogs existed, and finding an unexplored niche you enjoyed and furthered the goals of your law practice rarely was difficult.

Things have changed a bit since then, but a few things remain the same.

First, well-written lawyer blogs continue to be a good way to increase a law firm’s SEO, since search engines rank attorney websites higher that are updated frequently, repeatedly use key words relevant to a lawyer’s areas of practice and have many inbound links from other websites.

Second, blogs continue to be a good way to showcase an attorney’s writing skills and expertise. A well-written, interesting blog post on a timely topic shows a potential client you’re capable and up to date on changes in your areas of practice.

Bloggers who are generous in linking to other attorneys’ blogs and engaging in conversations with other practitioners on their blogs find that blogging remains an effective way to connect with lawyers in their practice areas, although social media sites largely have replaced that particular function of blogging.

Since 2006, however, many things have changed, reducing the payoffs of legal blogging.

Competition for SEO is fierce today. Newly created blogs have a much more difficult time breaking into the search engine rank- ings, especially in areas of law such as personal injury, since there literally are hundreds upon hundreds of personal injurybloggers, each repeatedly using the same key words and writing about the exact same topics, over and over.

Along that same vein, because of the proliferation of law blogs,choosing
a niche also is far more difficult. Chances are, a number of other lawyers already are blogging about the very topic on which you wish to write. Differentiating yourself from the pack can be difficult — especially when, like many lawyers, you would prefer to simply offer an update on changes in the law or summarize new cases, rather than offer your opinion on a divisive topic.

Professional networking via a legal blog also is less effective in 2010. It used to be that blogs and listservs were some of the only ways in which to meet and inter- act with lawyers in other parts of the country. Now that tech-savvy lawyers are flocking to social media sites in droves, blogs no longer are the most effective way to connect with other lawyers.

The good news is, legal blogging is not dead. It’s simply changing, in large part due to the influence of social media.

Social media sites have replaced some of the functions of blogging, since many such sites are more effective at achieving some of the benefits blogging used to offer, such as professional networking. On the flip side, social media sites provide newfound and very effective forums for promoting blog posts.

I’ll discuss this phenomenon further in a future column and explain how social media can be used to promote your law firm’s blog and your law practice simultaneously. In the mean- time, rest assured that while social media have changed the nature of law blogs, legal blogging still can be worthwhile endeavor.