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ABA Journal Podcast

How lawyers can get the most out of Facebook’s paid status updates (podcast with transcript)

Posted Apr 7, 2014 8:59 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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With more than one billion people on Facebook each month, there’s probably a higher chance of reaching potential clients there than through more traditional lawyer advertising methods, like phone book listings or direct mail. But how can lawyers take advantage of Facebook ethically and effectively?

ABA Journal reporter Stephanie Francis Ward speaks with our guests to hear about their experiences and get tips on how lawyers can best utilize their Facebook accounts to attract clients.

In This Podcast:

Micah U. Buchdahl

Micah U. Buchdahl, a lawyer, is president of the law marketing company HTMLawyers Inc. Based in New Jersey, he has served as editor in chief for Law Practice Today, a monthly webzine published by the American Bar Association's Law Practice Division.

Nicole Hyland

Nicole Hyland is a partner with New York's Frankfurt Kurnit Kurnit Klein & Selz. She defends lawyers in disciplinary proceedings and also counsels on ethics issues, including advertising and social media. She chairs the New York City Bar Association's committee of professional ethics, and also writes for the Legal Ethics Forum blog.

Anthony C. Johnson

Anthony C. Johnson, an Arkansas plaintiffs personal injury lawyer, is a partner with Johnson & Vines. A former SEO/SEM/web development company owner, in 2012 he was featured by the ABA Journal as one of "America's Techiest Lawyers."

Podcast Transcript

Micah Buchdahl: One thing that makes Facebook so effective is that people aren't afraid to talk about their personal problems. It's not surprising whether somebody says, "Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?" or "Does anyone know a good plumber?"

Stephanie Francis Ward: With more than a billion people on Facebook each month, there's probably a higher chance of reaching potential clients there than more traditional lawyer advertising methods, like phone book listings or direct mail.

But how can lawyers take advantage of Facebook ethically and effectively? When we return, our guests will share their tips.

Advertiser: This ABA Journal Podcast is brought to you by Westlaw Next. Folder sharing in Westlaw Next enables you to tap into previous research across organizational boundaries like never before, saving you time from reinventing the wheel. Learn more at westlawnext.com.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I'm ABA Journal reporter Stephanie Francis Ward, and I'm here with lawyers Micah Buchdahl, Nicole Hyland and Anthony Johnson. Micah is president of a legal marketing company. Nicole is the chair for the New York City Bar's professional ethics committee and defends lawyers in disciplinary proceedings. And Anthony is a former SEO company owner and practicing personal injury attorney.

What I wanted to know first off—and Anthony if you can take this question first—how well have you found that the Facebook paid status updates work for you in terms of business development?

Anthony Johnson: That's a loaded question. You know, they work pretty good. I think we're in the infancy of Facebook advertising and kind of social media advertising. It didn't exist ten years ago. So it's a good supplement right now, and it's good for specific things, I guess is my best way to answer that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And how much of your marketing plan is it, is it half of it or a quarter?

Anthony Johnson: Yeah, I would call it kind of smaller part, maybe 10 to 15 percent of it, kind of a supplemental part right now. I think it's really, in the grand scheme it's better for more of a branding instrument. And I know we'll probably get into this later, but rather than kind of an instrument that can convert new clients per se, so we kind of use it to supplement our branding and imaging and messaging.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. And have any of you seen a situation where a status on Facebook actually results in a paying client?

Anthony Johnson: Yeah, I can give one. This is Anthony. The one thing that I've noticed, particularly lately, is that certain situations are perfect for this social media, Facebook type of situation. Especially things like current events that affect large numbers of consumers. We've done some recent experiments on some big single events that have happened. And what we did is we had used to Facebook to kind of launch an informational kind of engagement site for the single event. Not really with the mindset of getting clients in mind, but just to kind of get the information out there. And did use paid status, and boost posts, and stuff like that to kind of get the ball rolling.

But when you get this kind of community, those kind of geotargeted [groups] that have interest in this current event, you can really get some kind of viral activity on things like social media. And then we inherently got tens and tens of people asking whether we'd sign them up, and there ended up being a class action in another state, we couldn't help them. But we did see a lot of engagement and we ended up referring those out to—referring those out to a firm that was local there.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Oh, that's interesting. Do you see many lawyers who do the plaintiff work, gathering up their class on Facebook? It seems like it would make a lot of sense.

Anthony Johnson: This is our first kind of experiment with it. I don't know. I think it's hard to be first. It depends on what kind of state you're in. You know, if it's a first-to-file state that might be more difficult. Most people know somebody right when it happens. But if you need kind of the numerosity, or if it turns into a mini mass tort type situation, I think that's a great instrument to inform the public, kind of grow a group of people that are interested in one particular thing and then convert them into clients.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Nicole, in terms of professional conduct rules in attorney advertising, what should one keep in mind if he or she is using Facebook to promote their practice?

Nicole Hyland: It really depends how they're using it. So my view of social media&mash; and I'm an avid user of social media in addition to being an ethics lawyer, so I really enjoy social media. I'm on a lot of different platforms. And I like to see how other lawyers and law firms are using social media. But if you're taking what I believe is, in my view, the best approach to social media, you're using it really more in a more holistic way. It's part of an overall branding, I think as was mentioned. It's sort of overall branding strategy. You want to use it to increase your profile in your particular area to create really effective and good content.

As a direct advertising tool, that's where you're going to get into a little bit more—some trickier issues with ethics. So if you're using it in this overall content-development and content-distribution type of platform, there's still a lot of things that you have to consider, that you have to think about, in terms of making sure you don't breach confidentiality and inadvertently engage in solicitation. But when you're using it in a very proactive advertising context, then you really have the focus on what statements you're making, who you're directing those statements to, and ensuring that you're complying with whatever the professional conduct rules are.

My view of social media is it's less effective. And I think it will probably continue to be less effective (I may be wrong) as a very direct advertising and target marketing tool for lawyers. I think it's great for other types of brands. I think for lawyers, I think it's most effective useful in building a reputation; getting your name out there; building your expertise in a particular area; becoming known; and putting out great content. And not necessarily tweeting "Hey, hire me. I'm a great lawyer." Which can not only get you into trouble ethically, but probably isn't going to be effective.

Anthony Johnson: I think there's a shifting dynamic on social media that more and more consumers are becoming demanding for this immediacy of information and news. And they're going to social media like Twitter and Facebook to get that news. I think it's going to slowly convert as the generations move upwards towards needing more attorneys. For people relying on these types of networks to directly get access to who they're going to hire as a service provider. And a lot of these social media avenues don't lend the availability to comply fully with all these ethical laws.

So I kind of get on the soapbox right now, I mean you can't stick a disclaimer in a tweet. You just can't properly do some of these things. And ethics laws are so archaic when it comes to that, it's so slow moving that—I don't know, I just think it's a little bit of stalemate between pragmatism and growth and change, and the actual guidelines of the ethical rules.

Nicole Hyland: I agree that the ethics rules have not kept up with the social media technology and opportunities out there. I think it's very difficult because that area is changing and developing so quickly, it's very difficult for ethics committees and people who do what I do to stay in front of that trend. And so by the time—and there was a great example of this in New York state. Where the New York State Bar Association Ethics Committee issued an ethics opinion on an aspect, an element, a feature, of LinkedIn, which by the time they issued the opinion that future no longer existed. So they had this great opinion, I guess, about a feature that was no longer even available, and in fact had stopped being offered at the point where the opinion was issued.

Micah Buchdahl: I mean, I actually saw very effective Facebook sponsored story last night, which came from a law firm. And really it was a video that dealt with welcoming home a war hero. And so the entire video was really simply the law firm effectively welcoming home a war hero with some accompanying video.

I would not suggest then in that case that I was selling my services. At the same time it was an enormously successful sponsored story in regard to the combination of the likes and shares, and the visibility received. And to me, that is one of the greater success stories and impacts of a possible law firm use.

And it usually tied to a community event, it's tied to a charity, it's tied to a scholarship, it's tied to something that's really about giving back in the community rather than selling a legal service.

Nicole Hyland: And I think this was a great illustration of why social media presents this very quite new issue for ethics lawyers. Because people—lawyers are potentially going to be on social media paying for what in the real world might be considered advertising because they're paying for this content to be distributed.

But because social media works differently from traditional advertising and it's more about the content and gaining engagement and not direct soliciting employment because that's how social media generally works most effectively, we have sort of a new type of advertising.

And I don't think the legal field has examined how that fits in yet with the ethics rules.

Stephanie Francis Ward: If you do want to do these paid status updates, can you guys give me a sense, what should your budget be?

Anthony Johnson: Well, I kind of—I switch it—I put it in two different categories, really, when I do it. This is Anthony talking. First of all, going back to the kind of categorization, there's a few ways to pay for status updates on Facebook. There's through the advertising platform you can pay on the sidebar, you can pay to be in the newsfeed, and you can also boost the post.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I'm going to stop you for a quick second, Anthony. Tell us what the difference is between boosting a post and a paid status update, if you would, please.

Anthony Johnson: So there is a lot of overlap. But typically, on the very basic sense of it, a boost post you'll actually just do it after the post. You'll click "boost." You'll set a budget. And it will go to an estimated number of people that will either be fans of the page of friends of their fans. Whereas a sponsored ad, you would set a daily or weekly budget in a time period of which you're going to spend. And then you can actually set your demographic, whether it's people that like pages, or just anyone, or anyone in Arkansas, or anyone in the U.S., or numerous other things.

Nicole Hyland: Just to add to that, I think the boost offers fewer options for targeting and customization. Though some people view it as less useful, it's just more convenient because it's right there on the post, so you can do it right there. But if you make a little bit more of an effort and go to the ad manager and do more customization, you might have more success in terms of how you are targeting your update.

Micah Buchdahl: Yeah, but the key differential between the two is that the boost has a—it's a network that's already got some tie to you. And so as Anthony mentioned, it's either people that have already liked you or friend of friends, but you know it's already people that are somewhat aware of you or your organization, versus the paid status, which is potentially for the entire Facebook audience.

Stephanie Francis Ward: How much does a boost cost? It seems to me what you'd really want to do is get it to people who don't know about you.

Micah Buchdahl: Yeah, and that would not be for a boost. A boost would be for people that already know who you are.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Oh, I thought you could transfer it as well, OK.

Anthony Johnson: Well, on the boost though, you are getting the friends of your fans. I actually like it when you're talking about getting new clients because there's actually an affiliation there. I mean, there's a link where someone can say, "OK, I saw this post. I know my buddy Joe is a fan of their page, maybe I should call him up." And it's almost an opportunity for a soft one-to-one referral type situation.

Micah Buchdahl: If you only have 100 fans, then your audience—

Anthony Johnson: Which is a lot for lawyers!

Micah Buchdahl: Right. It could be a lot different. The lawyer that has the most Facebook likes has just under 100,000 for cruise ship law. But most of them, usually you'll find have between 10 and 50.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have a sense of which practices Facebook advertising or the paid status updates work the best, for what sort of practice? I think the sense is that it's probably consumer law, might be the area that would benefit from it the most, but I just don't know. What do you all think?

Micah Buchdahl: I would say consumer-oriented practices for the most part. Although I had an intellectual property lawyer that got a big piece of business off of Facebook just from one of his old frat buddies seeing him on there 10 years later.

But for the most part, you're looking at residential real estate, personal bankruptcy, PI, family law, and the ability to—especially for some of those components, like, for residential real estate, you know for closings or certainly for family law, the ability to really target your audience both geographically, age-wise, the ability to basically just hit married people for family law—obviously you're not going to target singles for divorce—but all of those capabilities make it a powerful tool.

Anthony Johnson: It's amazing the kind of targeting that you have the ability to do on social networks, whereas you don't have anywhere close to that on any other network. And that's kind of one of my points on where I think that more of this conversion-centric advertising will go to social. Unlike anything else before can you know a person without actually knowing them.

Stephanie Francis Ward: So final question. If you were going to do a paid status update, what sort of things should you post in order to attract potential clients: useful information, self promotion, or a mixture? Anthony, you want go ahead and take that first?

Anthony Johnson: Yeah. I think useful information, engagement—getting engaging information is always the key to any type of content marketing or social media status updates and all that.

But that being said, I think that you should always have a call to action basically, rather than self promotion, almost like a self-promotion kicker. You know, ask them to engage. Ask them to say what their thoughts are. Tell them that if they have further questions to call you, something like that. But the core intent on the content, I think should be engaging and useful, primarily.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. And Nicole, what do you think?

Nicole Hyland: You have to do a lot of work, a lot of small engagement. Talking to people. Putting out great content. And then you can, after you've gained people's trust and developed those relationships, then you can throw your right hook, which is your ask. So it really is putting up—I believe putting a lot of helpful useful content, engagement, conversation; and then when you've developed your reputation, then you're in a position to ask because you've given so much.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And Micah, what do you think?

Micah Buchdahl: I mean, again it shown that the more interactive you make that post, the more likely you're going to get a click through. And whether it's polls, whether it's videos, a lot of law firms give out gifts, or dollar to the American Cancer Society, or two cans of food to the food bank. And those really go in line with what Nicole had to say in terms of just sort of improving or increasing your own brand awareness. There's a website that actually tells you the most popular lawyers on Facebook. And it breaks down—or the most liked I should say—Likedlawyers.com. And it actually grabs—you can go in there by state, and it shows you the ten most liked attorneys in the United States according to the Facebook likes.

On that list is Edgar Snyder, who's a very proactive marketing attorney in Pittsburg. And he's got over 19,000. And when I look at his page, you know he's got t-shirt giveaways, there's a scholarship. There's a lot of community involvement. There's a lot of interaction. There's a lot of news. And as Nicole mentioned, he's not sitting there saying, you know, "Call me if you've got a worker's comp claim."

But that's sort of—that's almost the subliminal understatement surrounding the other data. And that really is probably the most effective today.

But I would also add that if you're looking in the online world, there are really two audiences that matter the most. And they're the Google audience and they're the Facebook audience, in terms of mass and numbers, and where most people are. You kind of want to be visible and hit audiences within those two spaces if you're going to look to get the greatest return and reach the broadest audience possible.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. That's everything we have time for today. I want to thank you all so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Advertiser: This ABA Journal Podcast is brought to you by Westlaw Next powered by WestSearch, the world's most advanced legal search engine delivering the best results in seconds. Learn more at westlawnext.com.

End of transcript.

Updated at 2 p.m. to change the statistic on how many Facebook users access the website on a monthly basis, and on April 10 to add the transcript.

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