Profiting from Social Media

  • 17 juillet 2014
  • James Careless

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Digitally-savvy lawyers can increase their billables through effective use of social media such as Owning up to personal failures as well as promoting successes can actually be good for business. And forget about collect-as-many-business-cards as you can networking: Life is too short for it to be effective.

These are just some of thought-provoking ideas of Ari Kaplan, an expert on networking and business development and the principal of Ari Kaplan Advisors. Kaplan drew on his 9 years of experience practising law at New York law firms to highlight key elements of career success for lawyers and law students in his book The Opportunity Maker: Strategies For Inspiring Your Legal Career, published in 2008. His latest, Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace (2011), offers creative yet concrete advice on using social media effectively, rather than tweeting about your daily choice of power suits on Twitter. It is a handbook for lawyers who want to improve their business, using the new digital tools that have become widely available.

CBA PracticeLink recently spoke with Kaplan to get his first-hand thoughts on profiting from social media.

PL: What initially inspired you to write Reinventing Professional Services?

AK: Between speaking engagements in Minneapolis, I was in a taxi and the driver generously offered me a bottle of water. After a few questions, he admitted that he always provides water for his passengers because it increases the potential tip an average of 15-20%. It also prompts a future ride.

Just like that, he exceeded my expectations and reinvented what it means to be a cab driver. He did not create the next iPad. He did not give me a deep discount. He simply raised the bar ever so slightly on his customer service.

And it worked. I increased the tip even though I did not take the water. In a recovering economy, students and professionals are considering various ways to reinvent what they offer. Those considerations do not need to be dramatic. Be relevant, responsive and refreshing.

Professionals need to consider what their bottle of water is and how they can broadcast that talent.

PL: What approach to networking do you prescribe in the book, and what convinced you there was a need for such advice?

AK: This book is meant to be a road map for creatively reaching your audience and raising your profile in a genuine and organic way.

I had been touring the country for a couple of years talking about how students and professionals can stand out in the stagnant economy. During many of the conversations, I sensed that there was a shift occurring in the way in which those students and professionals were approaching their career and business development. Ultimately I learned that the key skill that professionals need to prosper in the next decade really boiled down to hustling. In fact, almost every time I asked a successful individual how he or she achieved that goal, the response was often “I am a hustler.”

PL: What’s involved in populating your social media strategically, and why does it matter?

AK: The key to developing strong connections is to target your audience. Those professionals that identify the people to whom they can provide value and that are aligned with their skills and talents tend to find the greatest success.

Once you spotlight that group of people, you can leverage technology and social media to create those relationships.

For example, instead using LinkedIn to randomly reach out to potential contacts, use LinkedIn's advanced search feature and find individuals with whom you share a connection, e.g., alumni of your law school, neighbors, those with similar experience, and so forth. 

Create your own group on LinkedIn and invite them to join. Begin to follow those individuals on Twitter and share their commentary.

Focus on the relationship, rather than the tool. Use the tool to build the connection. It is critical in the current market because everyone is more willing to develop additional contacts that are will be of value.

PL:  What are the biggest myths about networking by legal professionals?

AK: There’s a misplaced emphasis on collecting business cards. Too many professionals believe that business development is about meeting as many people as possible, because you never know the source of a potential opportunity. 

This could be an effective plan if we had unlimited time. However, in an industry where time is one's most precious commodity, professionals must target their audience for optimal effectiveness. 

Consider who you want to meet and then find creative ways to meet those specific individuals, rather than going to networking event after networking event and hoping to connect with someone in that target group.

PL: One potentially touchy idea – You say that it is okay to share your failures with people, as well as your successes. Why so?

AK: Everyone fails and can appreciate that perspective. It reflects your character and highlights your authenticity. 

Sharing your success is much more genuine after you have also recounted your failures. We actually want people who have failed to eventually succeed.

PL: Collectively, your insights beg a question -- How effectively are young lawyers using digital marketing to sell their services?

AK: Many are successful, but most are generally doing less than they could. It is not the technology; it is a fear of failure that prevents most professionals from marketing themselves.

When I left the practice of law in New York City after nearly nine years and started speaking, I was often asked to address junior professionals. Today, my audiences range from first year law students to senior partners and executive directors of the largest firms in the world. I find that the urgency in the market prompts the more experienced attendees at my seminars to implement my recommendations as actively as those who are just beginning their careers.

PL: Are your ideas limited to the legal profession, or do they apply across the board?

AK: The ideas in the book have universal applicability regardless of your profession or your role within that industry. The principles of organically connecting with others, reflecting your character in your approach to marketing initiatives, and understanding the needs of your clients and prospects are timeless. The (down) economy is motivating professionals, who once seemed immune from cyclical downturns, to focus on honing these skills for the long term.

PL: Now for the bottom line – Can effective use of social media actually boost a lawyer’s business over time?

AK: Using social media will result in immediate new business. There is so much commentary about social networking that the message has become clouded.

You do not need to leverage social media for success, but you can enhance your potential for success by participating in the collective conversation. By following industry-specific individuals on Twitter or creating a LinkedIn group related to your practice area, you will increase your chances of developing relationships with those people to whom you can provide a benefit, and who may eventually need your advice and counsel.

– The text of this interview was edited for length.