Law Practice

Google+ Plus or Minus? Opinions Vary Widely on the Social Network’s Value

Posted Oct 1, 2012 2:10 AM CDT
By Mark Zamora and Eric Hunter

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Illustration by Anthony Freda

In June 2011 Google launched Google+, which according to the Internet giant “aims to make sharing on the Web more like sharing in real life.” But a year and 250 million subscribers later, just what does that mean for lawyers?

We asked two legal professionals to take sides on whether Google+ really is a plus. Mark Zamora is a practicing lawyer whose firm Mark Zamora and Associates has offices in Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., as well as Bradenton, Fla. He also has a blog: A Georgia Lawyer.

Eric Hunter is director of knowledge, innovation and technology strategies at California’s Bradford & Barthel and has established a Google-driven environment of social media knowledge and collaboration at the firm.

Zamora and Hunter’s approaches are different, as are their conclusions.

GOOGLE+ MINUS

Mark Zamora: I spent the first few minutes writing this article by trying to define Google+. Ten minutes later, the first concern about using this service is apparent–what in the heck is it? I did find this explanation: “G+ does make it easier to share and filter content based on different groups of friends (circles), to discover things based on your interests (sparks), and to ‘like’ content right in Google Search results (+1 button).” (A note: I do have a G+ account, if only to preserve my name and contact information.)

So why isn’t Google+ a good fit for lawyers and firms just yet? Because so many law firm websites lack many of the basics, and because if any firm is going to share content anywhere–whether G+, Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere–firm websites have to not suck. Most law firm sites are terrible. They are littered with stock photographs of gavels, courthouses and anonymous skylines or buildings. Content never changes on most sites, so is that where you send G+ connections?

In my view, lawyers need to focus not only on the firm website but also on a real, substantive Web presence. Build a niche site with content on a key practice area for the firm, limit it and then be able to easily change it. Develop a blog or more than one.

To me, there is nothing worse than seeing a firm website with 20 (or more) subject matter areas. Or worse, 20 subject areas with a firm of three lawyers.

And too many law firms dive into an uncertain new social media site but spend little to no time or money with Google AdWords. Spending money just to put your own firm’s name at the top of the page is a simple task that is missed by many firms.

If I know your name but don’t have your number, you have to be easily found. (Google+ might be a source for your firm to be found. For now, I would suggest spending 1 to 2 percent of your marketing time each month on sites like Twitter and Google+.)

Once your key building blocks are in place, your work is only begun. Daily and weekly updates and addition of content are key. Then and only then should a firm take a dip into the water of true social networking. To me, Twitter, Facebook and possibly later G+ will be a part of that.

Remember when Myspace was the be-all and end-all? Remember Google Wave? Google Audio Ads? Will Google+ be another failure? Right now I’m betting on maybe.

GOOGLE+ PLUS

Eric Hunter: I think of Google+ primarily as a catalyst for behavioral change within an organization. Google+ in conjunction with Google Apps provides an enterprise-level social media solution for law firms.

For my 275-user, 11-office firm, this means tapping into an organization redesigned for project management and teams; it also means leveraging a social platform that creates a new interface for clients, promotes intercommunication and has the ability to bring individuals, practice groups and firm clients together.

Firms already using portions of Google Apps (email, documents, calendar, sites, voice, chat and video) can leverage Google+ accounts for their business domain—the firm maintains control over policy and can merge Google+ with evolving email and messaging platforms. Used in this fashion, Google+ takes on a social media-flavored intranet concept.

Google+ works in circles, which we can use as a model for law firms struggling to adapt to the changing needs of our times.

I tend to think of traditional business models as linear, with the evolving business model as spherical. What does that mean? At Bradford & Barthel, our account management team is distributed through our attorney and client relations structure. We apply both a decentralized and centralized management model with individuals working as part of broader project teams while still focusing on their specialties. Project teams built in this fashion are organized in part off the Six Sigma model. What better way for these account managers to communicate than via Google+ through shared circles, shared video hangouts and streaming brainstorming sessions? The circles are relative to area of practice, project focus, client focus and any alternative fee structures involved.

As for those alternative fees, Google+ provides transparency, efficiency and a method of delivery. Law firms with innovative knowledge management departments already utilize KM-driven portals with their clients to deliver content and assist in enabling alternative fees. Shared circles through Google+ offer new layers of transparency with the client, and the ability to deliver shared and expedient service in ways previously unthought of—thus changing the dynamic of the business model.

And law firms are in need of an evolving business model, as our profession and clients continue to merge with the realities of consumer-driven social media for enterprise. The implementation of Six Sigma business strategy, project management restructuring and alternative fee arrangements only increase the need for a continually evolving business model. Through Google+, we no longer divorce process from technology or external-driven social media from enterprise-driven results.

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