With the recent launch of Google+ Pages, Google announced that its social network is finally open for businesses. But is this new tool, which boasts more than 40 million users, ready for lawyers and law firms to start using for marketing and networking? And, perhaps of equal importance, are lawyers and law firms ready for Google+?
For Larry Bodine, former board member of Recorder affiliate Law Technology News and current editor-in-chief of LexisNexis sites Lawyers.com and Martindale.com, it's been ready for months: "I see HUGE potential for using Google+ in law firm marketing," Bodine says. "Many lawyers have already proceeded to set up Google+ accounts individually, not waiting for brands to be allowed."
What does Pages add to Google+ users' experience? Depending upon which source you quote: quite a bit or too little, too late. Andrew Cherwenka, of the Huffington Post, sees promise in a feature called Direct Connect. "Type '+Pepsi' in the Google search field and you'll see their logo, name and description in the dropdown." This direct portal to the company's Google+ page, "twice as tall" as the other automatic entries, is a "slam dunk," says Cherwenka.
Having a direct connection to the most popular search engine in Internet history wouldn't seem to hurt your brand. Bodine sees multiple advantages on the horizon in the way Google's social network "ties in with the entire Google suite:
• SEO is central to web marketing, and 65 [percent] of all searches go through Google.
• A lawyer's Google Local online bio is the center of all your Google marketing. Eighty-two percent of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase (See searchenginewatch.com/article/2049109/Search-Leads-to-Offline-Conversions-Too.)
• I see the future of law firm marketing in online video. YouTube, which Google owns, is the king of online video.
• Google+ taps into the users of Google calendar, docs, Gmail, photos, Groups and Reader."
If Google+ delivers on these promises, what's not to like? Adrian Dayton, attorney and online columnist for The Recorder's sibling publication The National Law Journal and author of "LinkedIn and Blogs for Lawyers: Building High-Value Relationships in a Digital Age" (available in January), finds nothing to hate — and nothing to rave about. For Dayton, since Google+'s initial launch, he never felt that immediate excitement you have when you're facing something new that gives a service staying power: "Being a little bit better doesn't solve any problems."
Dayton offers as a counterexample his experience when he first got on Twitter, when it was at the 5 million-user mark, of "something unique. A better way to find information and a better way to share it." While Google+'s integration with Google search could be a distinct advantage, in Dayton's view, "It's not intuitive yet. If search integration really works, we'll start to see case studies in the next six or nine months: 'I Didn't Start a Blog, I Just Started Using Google+.'"
Bodine has been touting something that was new with the launch of Google+ called Circles. Facebook has since modified its Lists in a way, that, let's say, flatters Circles. In an article he wrote for LTN in June, Bodine showed how this feature, which allows you to sort your contacts into categories, might be beneficial to lawyers: "Being a lawyer, I separate my circles into 'clients,' 'potential clients,' 'colleagues,' 'friends,' and 'family.'" Bodine details another benefit: "Plus offers targeted marketing to lawyers — you can send a message to a single person and it's a DM [direct message], you can send a message to a selected circle and it's a newsletter, you can send a message to Public and it's a Tweet to the whole world."
Bodine also finds Plus to be "a highly effective publishing and marketing platform for lawyers." He offers examples from other lawyers on the social network: "North Carolina lawyer Damon Duncan posted Why Have I Stopped Getting Statements or Bills After Filing Bankruptcy? — effectively promoting his practice. Stephanie Kimbro posted on Plus that the Canadian bar might create a private cloud just for Internet lawyers. This tells me she is a lawyer who knows about Internet law."
Plus isn't the only social network on which you can post, share and publish your work, but it is incorporating useful features from other sites into its own original offerings. Dayton sees this as a potential problem: "Google+ is not trying to be a Facebook killer, it is trying to be a Facebook AND LinkedIn killer by combining the best of both worlds in one convenient place. What they don't appreciate is how much professionals like to keep the worlds separate."
Dayton makes the point that a bigger hurdle than demonstrating to lawyers that your new business tool has fresh new features is getting them to sign on in the first place. For IT and marketing departments, "the No. 1 priority is: How do you get your lawyers to participate? The second step is how to create content." For him the question is how do you convince lawyers still struggling with LinkedIn that Google+ is now the place to be.
Getting older lawyers, especially, on LinkedIn has been an uphill battle. He points to a 2010 Corporate Counsel survey from Greentarget that finds "in the age group of 50 to 59 of in-house counsel, only 29 percent reported using LinkedIn in the last 24 hours, while in the age group of 60+ this dropped to 13 percent." The survey is a little dated, Dayton notes, but the numbers are still telling.
LinkedIn does seem to be ascendant still when it comes to law firm marketing. Ari Kaplan, principal of Ari Kaplan Advisors and author of "Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace," cautions that he's not a social media consultant, but backs up this assertion. He notes that in his own practice, "I rarely receive questions from lawyers about Google +. Many are still trying to figure out how to maximize their use of LinkedIn." He adds, "Ultimately, professionals should engage where their clients are interacting, rather than use a tool for the sake of simply demonstrating an aptitude for social media."
When asked to look for values in Google+, Dayton admitted that with Circles "when you have messages that won't be relevant, you can cut down on the clutter users of Twitter and Facebook have to wade through." Another selling point for lawyers is that unlike Facebook which is "overly personal, with Google + "the user is in complete control" of who sees what content. I think both Bodine and Dayton might agree this level of control is appealing, and often necessary, to lawyers.
Dayton also sees how Google+ could be a place to troll for clients in technology startups and even other social networks: "If your potential clients are young and tech-savvy, this could be a great place to get those valuable interactions." He cites a report that over $3 billion of venture capital has been invested in social media companies in 2011, into its second quarter. There are some pretty big fish there.
Still, Dayton remains skeptical how many of Google+'s 40 million-plus members are engaged in the site on a daily basis; it may have "critical mass of users, but I'm not convinced it has critical mass of participation."
But, and I'm sure Dayton would agree, never make the assumption that you're speaking for everyone. Says Bodine, "I, too, was initially excited by Plus but I never stopped using it. Every day I get messages that new people are following me — people I would never have otherwise met. In addition, I can click on their profile to see what kind of messages they post, to determine whether they are worth following back. Two hundred ninety-six other people have me in their circles and I follow 61. I find that people on Plus are more responsive, more likely to comment, and more likely to post interesting material."
So, there you have it. A promising, still-new social network with a lot of potential to reach out to prospective clients — remember its integration with a search engine that boasts 1 billion-plus users — if people use it. Whether it's past its prime already or just getting started remains to be seen.
As Dayton observes, "We want the best technology to win. It doesn't always happen that way."
Michael Roach is associate editor at Law Technology News, a Recorder affiliate.
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