By Graham Laing, Chartered Marketer, Rokman Laing
The modern day proliferation of media channels has made it more difficult than ever for law firms to gain 'reach' and visible traction for their thought-leading content. With many search marketing think-tanks predicting that social sharing and endorsement of content will be more important in improving search engine rankings in the future, there is a strong business case for firms to assess how their content is distributed.
A creative solution
Historically, firms have outreached to existing long-term clients to 'spread the word', in the hope that evangelical testimonials will act as a valuable source of authenticity and influential endorsement. Firms have also used traditional communication and PR methods to cultivate relationships with news media and sector press platforms as modes of expression.
But while most law firms spend energy and now limited financial resources reaching out to external constituents, the best potential advocates are often right in front of them - the firm's own employees. An untapped resource of often passionate colleagues who have a stake in the success of their firm.
The making of a legal brand in the social and digital age is about moving interest generation out of the hands of senior partners supported by the marketing department, into the hands of all of its employees. A firm's employees, capable of socially sharing content and being brand advocates for the firm, are just as key to building a firm's corporate reputation as those who have an equitable share in it.
Employees and social sharing
It's never been easier to share, distribute and disseminate information via social platforms, and most employees will already have their own 'organically-nurtured' personal and professional social networks such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.
Your firm can leverage this potential reach by distributing content via your employees. It can be as simple as sending an email to your employees asking them to share your firm's content through their Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter profiles. For a firm with 30 employees that each have 200 unique followers, that’s 6,000 people that have the opportunity to learn more about the firm, or that can help find that critical hire.
With added social outreach, your employees' social network may forward, and share with others, quickly growing visibility of your content organically, creating a more sustainable marketing and advertising effort. You also gain personal endorsements, generate buzz, ignite conversation, drive purchase intent, increase loyalty and attract new clients.
How can leaders inspire brand advocacy in their employees?
An advocacy programme must be built on trust. Your employees must trust you. Employee advocacy and social media engagement collapses when you try to force employees to advocate and engage. If you do consider implementing an employee advocacy programme, do not abuse that trust.
To engage your workforce and foster positive employee behaviours, recognition and reward is essential. Innovative recognition programmes leverage the power of social media by encouraging employees to personally endorse the firm's brand and service lines, and receive recognition in return.
Begin by understanding what motivates your employees to become more engaged with your brand and your strategic initiatives. Your employees should believe in the same vision you do. Sharing news with their networks is not only additional validation that helps your campaign and message scale more quickly — their messages need to be rooted in a genuine interest and belief in the cause.
Develop an employee advocacy programme
Plan and develop an employee advocacy programme to act as an essential framework for management and employees to work to.
From the outset, you need to select an approach that is appropriate for the size of your firm. Employee advocates willing to support thought-leading content creators need to be identified. Every firm has room for and needs advocates to help promote their message, and structuring and planning for success is key. Not all employees within the firm may be ready to advocate.
It's also crucial to communicate expectations. It’s no good if nobody knows about what you are doing, so be sure to provide communication that is clear and consistent. Buy-in at all levels is critical, so ensure messaging is relevant and appropriate to the audience.
And as with any ongoing process, there is always room for improvement. So measure results along the way, and take feedback from employees. In addition to celebrating what’s working, identify and act on areas flagged for improvement.
While not without its challenges, widespread employee advocacy is the surest, cheapest way to scale up a firm's visibility. Instead of achieving linear growth with client testimony, a law firm can magnify its reach at very little cost by activating a broad cross-section of its existing workforce.
Each employee can be the first link in a long chain of valuable, person-to-person social shares. By leveraging employee advocacy and increasing the number of starting points for social sharing, a firm can greatly improve its chances of gaining visibility through social marketing success.