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I conducted a little experiment.

I looked at the Twitter accounts of the UK's top 10 law firms and scrolled down the list of 'tweets and replies' to see which firms engage directly with other users.

All 10 accounts offered a combined total of just two tweet replies in 2016. Why?

Content good. Dissemination bad?

The top 10 UK law firms were defined by 2014/2015 turnover. Here are the two tweet replies I found.

Of course, replies are not the only form of engagement on Twitter. Of the 10 Twitter accounts, some did include varied comms and a fair amount of retweets and live tweeting from events.

But the overall perception is of an industry that is great at creating content, just not so good at discussing it.

All of the firms in question are addressing issues of the day, such as Brexit and the state of the economy.

Their lawyers are active in print and broadcast journalism, but the idea of a law firm 'brand' or even 'tone of voice' in B2B still appears to be anathema. 

Tweets to content can be as frustratingly anodyne as the one below from Hogan Lovells.

Poor content distribution

Does it have to be this way?

Most of these law firms have more than one Twitter account, and indeed this means there are accounts (such as graduate comms) that use a more engaging tone and interact more.

See the following from Clifford Chance Grads.

It seems that most law firms believe the mantra of 'you've got to be on Twitter' but aren't really sure why.

Email is arguably a much better way of distributing longform content, so what extra does Twitter offer other than a slim amount of visibility (most firms have fairly low levels of followers, even for B2B).

Could it arguably be said to also be a problem of investment?

Econsultancy's Digital Marketing in the Legal Sector report from 2015 surveyed around 150 marketers in law firms. The chart below shows that the majority were investing 1-20% of their marketing budgets in digital.

Perhaps without the man power, engagement is difficult to attain?

After all, a Twitter feed can be automated if all that's required is the publication of content.

investment in digital marketing

The cult of the individual is strong

Of course, unengaging Twitter feeds are more likely to be a result of risk averse comms policies than investment problems.

It's hard to blame big law firms, with so many interests to protect and the need to remain independent and professional.

However, firms say they are changing. In the open-ended questions asked as part of last year's Digital Marketing in the Legal Sector survey, many firms did admit that clients were more accepting of social media, and that engaging with clients on social was increasingly common.

This interaction, though, is happening chiefly at an individual level (between lawyers and clients or other parties) and that certainly makes sense given lawyer specialisms and profiles.

Indeed, much of company Twitter account posting by law firms is to draw attention to comment by individual lawyers.

In one sense this is part of the purpose of law firm Twitter accounts - to collate and corral social presence.

The law firm brand is much more the preserve of B2C firms. See Slater Gordon and its attempts to conjure some engagement below.

So which firms are different?

Mishcon De Reya is notable (tagline: It's business but it's personal). Its tweets have a much lighter tone of voice (see below).

Olswang is slightly lighter in tone, too, suggesting a more capable social media manager is involved. 

Whilst it may be horses for courses at the moment, I think more law firms will have to abandon the drier approach to Twitter in time, simply because it appears to be ineffective and not befitting the platform.

If you have experience working in marketing at a law firm, let us know your views below.

Ben Davis

Published 2 March, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Gyi Tsakalakis

Gyi Tsakalakis, Founder at AttorneySync

"most law firms believe the mantra of 'you've got to be on Twitter' but aren't really sure why."

Yep. Same problem here in U.S. too. There's still a huge knowledge gap when it comes to how to use social networks, and the web more generally, for legal client development. Legal marketers have a long way to go.

9 months ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

How great to see a law firm article on eConsultancy! Here's a bit of explanation from my own experience:

A big problem is that many firms require sign-off on tweets from incredibly risk-averse Partners. Even convincing lawyers that social media is a good use of resources can be tricky.

Another is that often the employees posting on Social Media don't have the specialist knowledgerequired to engage in a meaningful conversation.

A third point, which you touch upon, is that Law Firms specialise in longform content, so more digital marketing activity/attention/budget is focusessed on developing traditional channels such as email, blogs and websites.

None of these are excuses, by the way. A good legal marketer knows the importance of all digital channels and will be constantly looking to improve social media engagement!

9 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Joe Hawkes. Exactly. The ROI is just not there for Twitter use in this case. Getting sign-off by a partner is (a) very expensive because their time is valuable and (b) unlikely to be available in real-time for something like a tweet so you miss the moment. Other channels are more appropriate.

9 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks, Joe. Would be great to get some insight from the inside. Let us know if you ever want to contribute or fancy an interview.

9 months ago

Gyi Tsakalakis

Gyi Tsakalakis, Founder at AttorneySync

Some great points. With regard to sign-off, one thing that's changing in many U.S. states is the default position that "using twitter (the internet) is per se marketing," subject to various legal advertising ethics rules. What's changing is a recognition that while certainly some social content is clearly advertising under the rules, much isn't. In fact, much of what is most effective for client development isn't even close to "advertising" under the rules. All of these speaks to the reluctance of "sign-off." Overly-simplified, do those same partners require "sign-off" for verbal communications at networking events? Nope. If you're interested in the intersection of social networking and legal ethics rules, Josh King's blog is great: http://sociallyawkwardlaw.com/

9 months ago

Clare Laurie

Clare Laurie, CMO at blueSense

Great post and comments with which I totally agree.

More generally,
a) Many law firms are still at a relatively early stage in the evolution from purely outbound/controlled marketing strategies to include inbound/conversational.
b) Digital expertise is still very much held in centre of excellence rather than dispersed through the organisation.
c) The whole structure of the organisation, and therefore the (excellent) content produced, is often very siloed.

The more forward thinking law firms are going through the necessary digital transformation to address these issues. Part of the impact will be to change how firms use social channels, perhaps as part of a broader, unified content strategy.

But I'll also play devil's advocate for a moment. In my experience, the Twitter 'press release distribution model' may not always be a problem that needs to be fixed: it does in fact work well for engaging influencers, journalists etc. on areas of expertise. This often converts into media coverage, and may even track through to client engagement.

An anecdote from when I was working in the legal industry. I heard about one city firm that had done quite extensive research amongst clients into how they were perceived and were repeatedly told how approachable and friendly they were. And of course that's great to hear. But is that really the image you want of your corporate lawyer? The firm in question therefore decided against overtly reflecting this in their brand. And perhaps that's actually what we're witnessing on Twitter ;)

9 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

Gyi and Clare - much food for thought, thanks.

9 months ago

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