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Online identity

Online identity

Lawyers Weekly

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, so what impression does your online persona present to prospective clients?

The age of the internet, coupled with today’s competitive market, has significantly altered the way legal services are sought.

Increasingly in professional services, clients are looking for assistance online, meaning the way legal professionals and law firms conduct themselves behind the screens has become paramount to their success.

Just one rookie error or inappropriate headshot can convey an image of untrustworthiness or unprofessionalism, leading to a loss of clientele and therefore a loss of revenue.

On the contrary, those that use the internet to their advantage by way of successful social media engagement and/or digital marketing are set to reap the rewards, attracting more clients from the get-go and paving the way for follow-up business and further referrals.

The right foot

When it comes to securing a client in today’s tech-heavy world, a first impression has the potential to make or break the relationship.

The rise of the internet has made that first impression much more important, as clients are increasingly online and know from a quick Google search that they have an abundance of choices available.

As such, the persona that legal professionals make available to clients on their private social media networks, their firm’s website, their LinkedIn page or other forms of digital marketing has become imperative.

According to Chris Sprott from Sprott Photography, just one image of you can form a representation of your entire firm – for better or worse.

“People will make judgments about who you and/or your company are by the images you portray online,” he says.

“If your headshot is an amateur snap shot, people may assume this is reflective of your company.

“It makes sense to put your best foot forward in all aspects of your business profile. This includes promoting yourself and your people by using professional corporate portraits.”

Mr Sprott shares some tips on how to make a great first impression through online marketing. His first recommendation is hiring a professional.

“I think having a headshot done by a professional photographer is essential in promoting yourself and your company in the best possible light. It shows that you are professional and take what you do seriously," Mr Sprott says.

“A lot of effort is put into marketing and promoting a business and developing a professional website, so having headshots that are equally as professional makes sense if you want to be consistent in your presentation.”

He also advises legal professionals to keep it simple.

“A white background is most effective, particularly if you are wearing darker colours. It really makes you pop out and the white background also seamlessly blends into most company websites,” Mr Sprott says.

“If you have too many things going on behind you, it can be distracting. Don’t forget most headshots on websites or social media sites are quite small, so you want people to see your face and easily identify you very quickly, so don’t have too much of your body in the shot – from the chest up works best.”

Mr Sprott also recommends taking a varied approach.

“Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a variety of shots, to show your diversity or the different looks you may have,” he says.

“For example, often people who wear glasses like to have some shots with and some without them.

“Sometimes people like to use shots that are more corporate for the company website and a little more relaxed for their LinkedIn profile.”

Looking your best

On the other side of the coin, there are many blunders legal professionals are guilty of when it comes to making a good first impression.

To avoid putting clients off, Mr Sprott says legal professionals should beware of the ‘#selfie’ and ‘#nofilter’ shots.

“Selfies are never good. Neither are shots of you out at a bar or on a fishing trip with your mates,” he says.

“When it comes to presenting yourself well on your company website or on LinkedIn, you need to show yourself at your professional, not personal, best.Save the selfies for Facebook.”

Avoiding overkill is another way legal professionals can make a good first impression with clients, according to Mr Sprott.

“Try to avoid too many patterns or clashing colours on your clothing.

“Make sure you put an effort into looking your best for the shot (hair, makeup, etc). You will appreciate the outcome.”

He also recommends saying no to the “cheese factor”.

“You want to come across as professional and approachable,” he explains.

“You don’t want to look too serious, but at the same time you don’t want to look cheesy either.

“Somewhere in between is best – a relaxed smile is good, but just don’t overdo it.”

Dividing differences

Although it’s necessary to have a good headshot regardless of what online platform you’re using to market your services, there are a number of other do’s and don’ts for each.

For example, many legal professionals use LinkedIn to connect with staff of the same firm or longstanding clients, whereas Facebook is often employed purely as a marketing tool, complete with sponsored ads and cross-promotion through blogs.

The number and type of platforms that work best vary depending on the individual, says Brutal Pixie director Leticia Mooney.

“Each channel has its own audience and its own purpose,” she says.

Brutal Pixie specialises in providing content strategy tips for legal professionals – something Ms Mooney notes is increasingly being taken up as law firms look to gain an edge over the competition online.

She notes that while people often come to her business saying they want to be on all social media channels, they’re actually sometimes better off picking just one or two, especially if they’re not effective users of such platforms.

“I’ve seen lawyers use Facebook for business corporate law, so what’s happening is they end up focusing on things that are clickbait, for example: pictures of puppies, because they want the clicks and likes, because if they don’t get it they don’t get the visibility,” she says.

“The problem is their audience isn’t there. Also, likes are not revenue or an inquiry.”

Ms Mooney says many people make the mistake of getting “lost in the sand of social media”.

“People post things and when people ‘like’ them, that reinforces their feel-good ego so they do more of it, and then it comes to the end of the month and we ask ‘How many leads did we get out of that?’, and we didn’t get any,” she explains.

“Facing that reality is quite tough and I’ve had clients where we’ve made the decision to get out of social media platforms because it just wasn’t valuable to them long-term.”

Anecdotally, Ms Mooney says that when one particular firm identified the platform that best suited its target clientele, it was able to generate huge value from social media.

“[The firm] was using Pinterest as a place to stash their images that they were using elsewhere, and two years down the track that’s now generating leads for them because they were on the platform early and so their board is quite active,” she says.

“When they explain to you that their [target clientele] is a lot of families, that completely makes sense because lots of mums are on Pinterest.”

But it’s not just social media sites that legal professionals need to be wary of.

Ms Mooney highlights that a law firm’s website can also warp clients’ perceptions and consequently attract or repel them.

“In terms of the website, a lot of people believe that their website exists to get business and that that’s the main purpose of it, but it’s actually not often the reason,” she says.

“Sometimes a website exists to back up a firm’s position as a thought leader in a space, and for some firms that’s really important, especially if they’re in intellectual property, for example.

“Sometimes it’s to deliver credibility, so that they meet their clients in person but the website is the check-up to see that they’re legit or [see] what else they do. Sometimes it’s a landing page to generate leads.”

Placing value

For many law firms, the emphasis on having a good online presence is not being lost.

Firms are becoming increasingly aware that their clients, both young and old, are using the internet to solve their inquiries, like ‘closest law firm near me’ or ‘best personal injury lawyer’.

However, some more than others are ramping up their efforts when it comes to the personas behind the screen, making sure all staff are aware of the consequences a bad online perception can have for the firm.

“We expect our people to behave in a responsible manner – both on their corporate and social media accounts,” says MinterEllison partner Paul Kallenbach.

“We have [a] social media policy that reflects this. I think most people realise that it’s common sense that actions on personal social media accounts can have ramifications for the firm, as well as for their career now or down the track. We have never had any issues.”

Mr Kallenbach says that by placing value on having an online presence and conducting effective digital marketing, MinterEllison has been able to get the upper hand over firms that are not as interested in this space.

“MinterEllison has many online channels it leverages to reach current and potential clients, including specialist blogs, LinkedIn, Instagram, SlideShare, Twitter and Facebook, and so for us, online simply offers additional channels we can tap into,” he says.

“Because we think about online in this manner, it means our online marketing strategies are tightly integrated into our marketing planning. It is important that all of our marketing channels are aligned, online and offline, to ensure we portray a consistent brand, with consistent messages, across all of the channels we leverage.

“We are also very aware of interacting with channels for specific purposes, and that we know will reach the desired audience. For example, LinkedIn is very much a business tool, and we interact with it extensively to reach current and potential clients. Facebook, however, is a great channel for communicating with law graduates, but I wouldn’t expect to use it to reach members of the C-suite. It is really important to be specific and be clear on who you want to reach, and the best channel or channels to do this.”

Mr Kallenbach notes that MinterEllison uses the full spectrum of online marketing tools, but says it takes a vastly different approach for its website in comparison to its social media accounts.

“Our corporate website plays a different role to social media,” Mr Kallenbach says.

“The website is a more traditional way of communicating, offering opportunities to communicate corporate information, content and thought leadership, as well as profiling specific areas of the firm and its expertise, credentials and capabilities. It allows us to broadcast messages to our audience.

“Social media has changed the dynamics of how we interact online. With social media, we can interact and talk with individuals on a one-to-one basis. The ideal situation is to have social media and website content aligned, so that clients can access a rich suite of content and see the full scope of the firm’s expertise and capabilities, and then also engage in two-way communications with the firm in a way that is tailored and meaningful to that client.”

Ultimately, Mr Kallenbach says that by capitalising on the age of the internet, firms can reap many rewards. A big win, he says, is being able to attract and retain key clients, as well as staff.

“Clients want to know they are in capable hands. They want to know you are professional and your headshot [and online marketing] contributes to that message,” he says.

“It’s the same with potential new team members: they want to know they are joining a reputable and professional firm that they will feel proud to be a part of.”

WHAT NOT TO DO ON SOCIAL MEDIA: AS TOLD BY PAUL KALLENBACH, PARTNER, MINTERELLISON

1. Prioritising the quantity of content over quality

With the growing importance of social media, there could be a tendency to feel the need to share something every minute of the day.

You can share too much on social media, which can come across as spam.

Stick to meaningful, high-quality content that will resonate with your audience.

2. Sharing ‘marketing speak’ rather than thought leadership

Clients will follow you on social media if you add value to their online day by sharing interesting articles, contentrich posts (for example, using LinkedIn’s blog-posting functionality) and thought leadership.

It’s likely that your clients and prospective clients will be far less interested in obvious marketing messages, such as that you attended a particular event or met a particular person. Those things are best left to bore your friends on your own Facebook page.

3. Using every social network available

There is an ever-growing list of social channels available, and if you try to build a presence on each channel you’ll fail miserably.

Stick to the channels that your clients use, and develop a presence on these.

Also, be mindful of business versus personal channels, and choose accordingly.

4. Ignoring comments and questions

When you develop a social media brand, you are opening yourself up to being contacted. If you are going to post content to attract clients, they may want to interact with you and you need to respond.

The beauty of social media is its ability to facilitate two-way conversations.

5. Neglecting your personal profile

If you are active on social media, you need to maintain and update your own profiles and accounts. Your reputation is an important ‘brand’.

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