Global Social Media Use in The Legal Industry

Currently there is a slow but steady uptake of social media tools used by, and created for, the legal sector. There are 6,377 legal professionals listed on LexTweet, a community of legal professionals using Twitter, and 9,226 lawyer blogs.
Also, around one-third of the 'AmLaw 100' law firms are on Twitter. LinkedIn is the most popular online platform for professionals, for all business sectors.
This 'check-up' audit examines how law firms in different world regions are using social media channels as part of their marketing and business development strategies; for example, as part of client development, recruitment or reputation management efforts. The intention of the study is not to provide a comprehensive analysis, but a representative 'snapshot' in time of how global law firms are currently using social media channels.
The full report considers global trends in social media usage that help to put the findings of this audit into context.
Case study examples and a best practice section provide reference material and practical guidance to help law firms plan and implement their approach to social media.
Usage by platform
• Global law firms are now at the stage of creating content on popular social networks. In general, social media efforts were concentrated in English-speaking countries that have high levels of per capita Internet penetration.
• LinkedIn emerged as the primary non-sector-specific platform used by the law firms audited: 85 firms were registered on this platform. Yet, while many law firms have created 'company' profiles, a much smaller percentage are taking advantage of some of the more advanced features of virtual networking, such as groups or LinkedIn Answers.
• Twitter is popular with 35 of those firms audited using this platform. At present, Twitter is mainly used as a broadcasting channel, rather than as a tool to hold conversations with the firm's followers. At present, only a small percentage of firms studied use Twitter interactively.
• YouTube remains largely unexplored as a platform by law firms. This lack of usage was seen across all world regions - even in cities where adoption of social media tools was comparatively high, such as in New York, Johannesburg and London. Amsterdam-based firms stood out as YouTube enthusiasts, with three audited law practices in this city actively using this platform for graduate recruitment, thought leadership and promotional marketing.
• Social networking integration and blogging are very much in their infancy amongst the firms surveyed, with a mere 7% of firms using each technique. Pioneer firms in this niche were mainly based in Sydney, Johannesburg and Brussels.
Usage by region
• Western and Eastern Europe: Western Europe leads the way for social media usage in the legal sector. However, usage and depth of engagement within this continent vary considerably: high activity was seen in the UK and Amsterdam, moderate activity in Brussels and notably lower levels in Zurich, Paris, Frankfurt and Moscow. Istanbul was the sole city in this region where no usage was recorded.
• Middle East and Africa: Johannesburg-based law firms are using this medium more proactively when compared with other firms operating in these world regions. In Johannesburg, local firms have visible profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as some content on Facebook. There is a strong trend towards social media integration among this group of firms. The approach of Johannesburg firms contrasts considerably with those surveyed in Dubai and Lagos - where LinkedIn was the only network in which audited law firms had a notable presence.
• North and Latin America: Surveyed law firms operating in New York and Toronto are more active on social media networks than their equivalents in either São Paulo or Mexico City. In addition, Latin American firms tended to use these platforms differently - i.e. registering profiles, and focussing less on proactive engagement
• Asia Pacific: Comparatively, this region saw the least amount of social media usage. Firms operating in Sydney emerged as a notable exception, with each of the surveyed practices appearing on both LinkedIn and Twitter. Firms in Sydney are also open to using Facebook, blogging, and integrating social media platform links into their websites.
Behaviour on social networks
• The audit revealed that regular use was an issue for many of the firms that have made their first steps into the world of social media. In particular, some firms were infrequent users of channels registered in their own name - to the extent they used such channels at all. In addition, few firms had taken the step from 'one-way' broadcasting to interacting with their followers.
• There is a high incidence of 'social domain parking', especially on Twitter but also on Facebook. Social domain parking means a firm registers its name and various permutations, on a social media platform, which is then left unused. It is likely that firms who park their profiles do so with the intention of stopping non-authorised persons from operating under their brand name.
• Overall, the findings suggest there is arguably a 'blank canvas' for adaptive, fast-moving business development professionals and marketers to use social media to gain a competitive advantage. As Generation Y enters the workforce, these new professionals will be more at home with integrating social technologies into their professional lives. Returns on investment (ROI) will be conferred upon those practices that have the foresight to recognise this.
Bryn Hughes is Marketing and Communications Manager at Online LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell an Online Law Firm Marketing service. Martindale-Hubbell offers solutions for both professional and consumer markets. Our online destinations contain profiles for over one million lawyers and firms in the United States, Canada and 160 other countries, serving as a fundamental legal resource and marketing tool.

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