Most lawyers in solo practices and medium-sized firms share parallel marketing challenges to other highly competitive professions, writes Sue Parker.
Whether a specialist in corporate, family, commercial, workplace, personal injury or litigation law, markets can be fickle and spirited. Client acquisition and solid revenue is the end goal of all marketing that has not wavered over time, albeit the pathways to achieve success have.
I have worked around the legal sector from the early 1980s when lawyers were not permitted to advertise per se. As a manager with Yellow Pages back then the only avenue for marketing was a dreary tick chart of specialisms in bland locality guides. Sponsorships of sporting clubs and local newspaper print media were other marketing options available as restrictions relaxed.
Fast forward decades later and there is no marketing and media avenue off limits. The caveat though is in the “how”. And LinkedIn has become a critical social media channel to build authority and visibility. With over 11.2 million Australian members, the exposure and engagement opportunities are tacit and equitable.
The scramble for LinkedIn traction
Given the proven professional value of LinkedIn and simultaneous expanding market needs for legal services, the race for traction is inexorable.
My observations over the last three years have seen most legal sectors increase their brand representation and engagement. Market demands for specialist practitioners (i.e. mergers and acquisitions, workplace, family, compliance) have further amplified the quest for influence and success.
Legal and professional services have been a ripe and thirsty market to target, hence a boom in services to fulfil marketing needs and reap a slice or five of the LinkedIn pie of opportunity.
The influence delusion
The allure of quick success and ostensible influence positioning is seductive and LinkedIn is undisputedly the world’s number one professional social media platform.
But all that glitters isn’t always gold and many smooth sales spin doctors and services can sway those who are none the wiser. Like any sector there is a composite of good, bad, ugly and brilliant operators.
Uptake of unwise and illegitimate marketing can be via innocent ignorance or complicit arrogance to dismiss a moral compass. Either way, reputations and trust are at stake.
Run for the legal hills from the following perilous services and practices:
- Engagement pods
Engagement pods are not a silver bullet for visibility and status but a slippery slope. There appeared to be a small reduction in 2020 of prevalence but have resurfaced in legal and professional services and marketing pitches.
Engagement pods that are prohibited by LinkedIn are set up mostly off the platform and are designed to trick and game the algorithm. Pods group members together (circa 10 to 1,000 nationally and or globally) enforce manual or automated preset engagement strings on each other’s posts to boost visibility.
The vacuous back-patting and inane comments, global third-world country engagement and local echo chamber clamour are as deafening as are useless.
Pods can be free or contract fee-based. The latter has become the typical service offered and grown into a pernicious business service model.
- Paid followers and likes
It’s not just Instagram that has a deluge of paid followers and likes. LinkedIn is awash with paid followers and any form of engagement. Any form of action and response is for sale.
Engaging services to garner the appearance of influencer status has not abated nor has the click farm industry targeted to all professions. A simple search on Google will shock at the brazenness. Why Google doesn’t ban listings is extraordinary.
The illegal issue of plug-in automation is being addressed by LinkedIn regularly but nowhere near enough to make a dent. Automation tools are prohibited in the user agreement. You damage your brand reputation with generic cut and paste spray and pray invitations and follow-ups.
- Outsourcing profile management
Your personal profile is yours to manage so never outsource personal profile activities and connection campaigns. Many outsourced services combine automation, click farms and engagement pod activities as a “done for you” service.
Landing in LinkedIn jail is a real risk resultant of the above practices and members can be suspended or banned.
The above practices have wide-ranging implications notwithstanding the erosion of trust and reputation. And for a legal perspective I asked Ben Thorn, IP and commercial law specialist from Xuveo Legal, to share the legal ramifications. He advised: “From a competition law perspective, attempts to artificially inflate business reputation (for example, through garnering fake followers, non-genuine positive comments or ‘like’ farming) may constitute misleading and deceptive conduct. (In Australia, the ACCC has prosecuted businesses for this type of conduct).
“This could also apply to personal accounts where the individual is a sole trader, director, partner or other prominent person within their business – or if the activity is encouraged or approved by the business itself.
“As legal professionals, we are bound by ethical conduct rules and duties of candour and honesty. Since misleading and deceptive conduct can involve elements of dishonesty, it follows that lawyers who are found to have engaged in such practices might also become subject to regulatory investigation or sanctions for unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.”
There is no easy quick pathway to personal brand influence and authority positioning. Be brave, share your solutions, personality and values together with adroit creativity.
Consistency, honest communications, valuable content and persistence win each time to foster trusted reputations.
Sue Parker is the owner of DARE Group Australia.