How to find out if your law firm is getting real value from social media contacts.

Prior to all things going digital and smartphones embedding themselves in our lives, we had a simpler existence. In the past your friends could be counted in birthday or Christmas cards, or the entries in the address book you kept in the drawer of the table in the hall – the one your phone sat on, plugged into the wall.

The number of business relationships was, similarly, measured in cards that you bothered to retain, small enough to fit in a wallet or a specially designed holder that you could flick through.

As we all know, the number of true friends or clients you have does not equate to how effective you are in your law firm. Similarly, with social media our effectiveness in this medium is not down to how friendly we are, but how much value we offer those to whom we are connected.

Due to terms such as ‘friends’ on Facebook many are still confused about the type of relationships they are developing online; but there is a very clear distinction. There is a physical limit to how many people we, as humans, can maintain valuable interpersonal relationships with. At the risk of getting all anthropological with you, there is sound research supporting this view.

The science is a calculation known as Dunbar’s number. It is the limit on the number of people with whom we can keep regular social relationships – and the range has been static for thousands of years. Professor Robin Dunbar has determined that the number of interpersonal relationships we can maintain falls between 100 and 230. It is therefore a fallacy to think you can realistically build a network of close contacts that number much more than 200.

For those of us looking to social media for growth in new client enquiries, we need to look beyond acquiring followers. The true power of the medium lies not in how many individuals are following, connecting or ‘friending’ us, but the influence of those in our network relative to our own interests in specific legal services. It is the members’ reach and collective power applied across multiple networks that offer the greatest opportunity.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point makes frequent references to how ideas and products catch on by this use of social group dynamics, and the manner in which information transmits throughout a group driven by those who have influence, such as connectors and mavens.

As a simple example, look at the way in which profile pictures quickly adapt to respond to a cause or event. The tragic events in Paris led to Facebook offering users an app and our timelines were filled with friends’ blue, white and red faces. A little while ago 26 million Facebook profiles used a rainbow filter in honour of Pride and in support of the LGBT community. But be careful when you see a bandwagon approaching, as such profile changes can backfire, as David Cameron can testify with his recent Photoshopped poppy.

The challenge is to create receptive networks built on mutual understanding and respect. You can then establish a position as a thought leader and demonstrate your expertise and influence with regard to specific legal issues. You become an originator and sharer of associated content and supporter of fellow members.

Great, you may say, but how do I know if I am moving in the right direction if I cannot count the number of contacts as a measure?

The answer is to use a measurement tool. One of the leaders in this influence measurement field is Klout. Launched in 2008, it delivers its services via a website and app that use social media analytics to rank users according to online social influence.  They analyse activity across multiple sites that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. The Klout Score is represented by a numerical value between 1 and 100.

In preparing this article, I spoke to Eddie McGraw, director of communications at Lithium Technologies, owner of Klout, and this is what he had to say on the topic of influence.

‘Influence can be a somewhat hazy term, but how we define it is the ability to drive action. That’s something we can actually quantify – how much your social activity is able to drive subsequent activity. It’s very important for both people and brands to have some gauge of who is and is not influential, so they can determine who the right people are that they should be engaging with.

‘Also, just as important as overarching influence would be subject matter influence – or what we call Topic Expertise. Kim Kardashian has 31 million followers, but that doesn’t mean people should look to her for advice on whether to invest in Apple or Google. One of the things we’ve just introduced is a way of looking not just at someone’s overall Klout Score, but at their level of expertise on a specific topic. This way you can find subject matter experts on the topics you most care about.’

As Eddie states, it is not all about the number of followers or connections; the key is in establishing your area of legal expertise and thereby your range of influence. Understanding where you are with regard to influence can help you better understand the effectiveness of your time posting content, improving the return for your efforts. To put a number on it, the average Klout score is around 40. To establish where you or your firm sits versus competitors, you can search Twitter accounts via the Klout website.

Increasingly, brands and industry experts are becoming aware of the importance of social influence. Leaving social media content creation to inexperienced, untrained or poorly managed individuals is now seen as far too risky for firms wishing to establish a consistent and respected brand.  For legal services, networks will look for and respond more favourably to a tone of voice combining intellect, empathy and personality, with a dash of appropriate humour.

There is an emerging trend of partners and senior practitioners engaging more directly with law firm social media networks. These individuals have the knowledge and gravitas to attract greater numbers of key target followers for their network. By way of contrast, post grammatically poor tweets about minutiae, or blatant and repeated promotions, and your network will suffer ‘unfollowing’ in numbers.

Outsourcing the responsibility of social media posting to an agency, no matter how attractive, is also not advisable, as the risks far outweigh the benefits. In professional services marketing above many other sectors, your credibility can be very quickly undermined if the voice of your chosen channels lacks authenticity. Better to invest in qualified support and training for your own team.

As a marketer, one of my regular requests is to help clients build strong networks and then help them to deliver fresh, interesting content in a manner that helps improve engagement. By taking structured, consistent steps and increasing the profile and social influence of partners, managing partners and specialists, a firm is better placed to demonstrate their capabilities and attract greater levels of interest.

While these tools are not 100% perfect, they do offer an essential insight to establish where your profile stands by way of influence and, by regular monitoring, keep track of your progress.

David Laud is chief executive of Samuel Phillips Law Firm, Newcastle upon Tyne