Social media has added a whole new layer to the marketing lexicon for law firms.
The traditional and often costly one-dimensional tools of the trade have been joined by the colourful, multi-dimensional, and youthful sounding blogs, wikis, podcasts and apps. With law firms now giving lawyers and clients iPhones and iPads - and even creating their own apps - social media is most definitely the new black (and not the Emperor's new clothes).
At Mallesons, we've decided to embrace social media and fold it into our communications and marketing strategy.
The kit that allows access to these channels isn't a "nice to have" fashion statement - it's a business tool. Our staff have iPhones and some of our partners have iPads, and our view is that if we trust our staff to deal with major clients on advice that often leads to changes in legislation affecting corporate Australia, we can trust them to manage their time if they want to access social media sites whilst at work.
The starting place for us was our social media strategy. This is geared at three key groups in the first instance: clients, law students and alumni.
Through LinkedIn and Facebook we keep in touch with our alumni, and we engage and collaborate with our clients using social media. For example, our smartphone strategy was to develop a rich, yet extremely intuitive application to give our lawyers and clients access to the information relevant to their work at any particular time. This might include locating a lawyer with the right skills and availability, checking progress on a particular client's project, or accessing securely the electronic file on a particular transaction.
Our IP Whiteboard includes insight on the latest IP trends and issues - we have about 1000 subscribers from around the globe and content is re-tweeted by other law firms, academics, clients and bloggers.
Through Facebook, we have conversations with graduates. We tweet to those who want to follow us on Twitter and we use YouTube to share our videos.
It was important from the outset to understand how all these sites, and potentially many more, would be used, to ensure a common link, look and feel between them all, to tell the Mallesons story and underpin our brand and strategic direction in an online environment.
With the recruitment process upon us, we realised that we needed to focus on a more active Facebook presence. We wanted to communicate with law students via a channel which research shows they actively use and source information from. Secondly, we wanted to try and generate a two-way conversation with law students.
The traditional routes to market, in what is a fierce war for the best talent, still remain, so social media won't replace attendance at career fairs and face-to-face meetings, but it will help us differentiate our offer even more.
Setting sail in unchartered waters
We engaged a specialist online brand agency and they guided us through the process, making sure that any decision made - from the design and content perspective - was based on sound research. They interviewed a sample of our graduate intake from last year, our recruitment partners and law students. As a result, we had an incredibly useful body of knowledge on which to base our approach.
"Would we alienate certain groups and would users on Facebook 'un-like' us?"
Sue Ashe, head of communications, Mallesons Stephen Jaques
And yet despite all the research, there was still a sense that we were navigating unchartered waters. We had significant discussions about the impact of social media on our brand. What if a negative comment sparked a run on our reputation? How quickly could we react? Would we alienate certain groups and would users on Facebook 'un-like' us? How often would we need to post? What tone would we need to set?
Two key considerations during this process were the impact of social media on our brand and how we would mitigate risk given that social media, unlike other routes to market, can potentially expose a brand to a vast audience where comments are passed on and shared, and where connections are made in real time.
In terms of these two considerations, neither was a reason to not take part in social media. The solution is to listen and monitor, and have in place a process to mitigate the risk. This is about having in place systems, processes, policies and adequate resources to react when necessary.
Our people and development team, along with our recruitment partners and a group called our 'Facebook Ambassadors', as well as the communications team, all monitor and respond to posts on our Facebook wall. We also agree what posts go up, and when.
We try to keep it relatively informal and run competitions as well as ask questions. Lately we've been tweeting the results of a competition we're running on our Facebook page where law students can, in no more than 140 characters, tell us what impact social media will have on lawyers of the future. With 50 entries and gems such as 'Litigation will be a breeze - imagine how much easier discovery will be when all correspondence between parties is 140 characters or less?' we're quite enjoying our presence on Facebook.
To date we have just over 1,200 'likes'. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, after China and India.
We've got a long way to go ... but we're very happy with our on-line community so far.
Sue Ashe is the head of communications at Mallesons Stephen Jaques.