September 14, 2016
Welcome to The Verdict, our inaugural study into the way that corporate law firms engage on social media. Using our proprietary model we have analysed the social media performance of the UK Top 30 firms.
In an age when, in the UK, 72% of adult internet users have a social media profile, the case for engagement by law firms – and professional services firms more broadly – should be self evident. Social platforms can facilitate and support brand building, reputation management, recruitment, as well as building and maintaining relationships.
After a slow start (particularly if you compare to other professional firms such as accountants) UK law firms are starting to find their social media feet. All 30 law firms analysed are active on social media with a combined follower count across both LinkedIn and Twitter totalling over 1 million, averaging at over 34,000 followers per firm.
Our analysis ranked each of the UK Top 30 firms’ social media engagement in three categories: presence, impact and quality. Together we feel that these measures provide a sound qualitative and quantitative assessment of social media performance. The scores for each category were combined to generate our leaderboard (see p.5) with Baker & McKenzie topping the list by virtue of ranking first for its social media presence and in the top five for both impact and quality. Making up the top five were Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, Clifford Chance and Pinsent Masons.
Our analysis shows that law firms are at a critical juncture in the development of social media channels. All the firms analysed have a well-established presence on Twitter and LinkedIn and the business case to do so appears to have been accepted by communications professionals and fee earners alike. Yet only a few are truly unlocking the opportunities and benefits associated with social media engagement.
Part of the challenge for law firms is functional – successful social media strategies need to work in conjunction with marketing, business development, digital, external and internal communications, HR and senior leadership teams – not always an easy feat in a non-corporate environment.
Whether it is internal alignment or limited resource, we found a wide discrepancy in the quality of social media output from law firms, meaning the overall impact has taken a hit. This is still very much a learning curve for many firms, so our report highlights some of the more impressive campaigns during the period we studied. However, there is still work to be done to reach the holy grail of having great content, repurposed specifically for social media with strong visuals and pegged to the social (as well as traditional) media agenda.
We collected and analysed data on the UK Top 30 law firms* over a six-month period**. Twitter and LinkedIn were the focus of our research, given the platforms’ established use as B2B communications channels.
To measure the effectiveness of each firm’s presence, FTI broke the measurement into three categories assessing: the Presence, or static digital footprint of a firm; Impact based on best-performing content as judged by engagements; and Quality of the content, taking into account the look and feel of the channels, the use of visual content and the effectiveness in utilising the features of each platform, such as hashtags on Twitter.
FTI has also conducted a qualitative analysis, which can be found later in this document, indicating some examples of high-performers and innovations in the legal sector.
Will White, Director of Global Communications, Baker & McKenzie
As the leader in FTI’s audit of the uses of social media channels by law firms, Will White talks about Baker & McKenzie’s approach to success.
“I come from a Big Four background and it is noticeable how much more fragmented and therefore competitive the legal sector is compared to accountancy in terms of communication. Social media is another important channel by which Baker & McKenzie seeks to create brand differentiation and show our personality.”
“Not all social media channels are created equal and we have a clear strategy for each. Facebook has been successful in promoting our pro bono and CSR work. Twitter is about having conversations and speaking to broader audiences and LinkedIn about connecting directly to client audiences. It is fair to say that the ROI for LinkedIn is more tangible and as a result, we tend to spend time and effort on thinking about repurposing content and thought leadership for that channel.
Twitter is not as easy to measure, quantify or understand the audience, but is undoubtedly important for profile raising and for our brand.”
“Responsibility for social media falls primarily within the communications team and all of us need to be able to use social. It’s very much about developing the content first and then re-purposing for the different channels.
One of the most successful recent campaigns was around an event which incorporated a lot of activity on LinkedIn and is an example of the comms team working closely with Business Development and marketing.”
“We have created a culture which encourages every single member of staff to have a strong LinkedIn profile and consider more broadly how social media might help their own careers and practice areas. This is led from the top: our Global Chairman has his own Twitter feed and blog. He feels strongly this has aided connectivity within the firm, engagement with clients on a real time basis and appeal to the next generation of lawyers.”
“Our strategy is focused primarily around building the global channels and we aim to push as much stuff from that account as possible. But we are very open to offices having their own channels when English is not their first language. And there are some very successful channels in practice areas which lend themselves to Twitter, for instance the trade sanction and employment groups. These have helped drive general traffic to our website.”
Key to success on social media is having a comprehensive and informed content strategy, which is relevant to the broad church of audiences – clients, influencers, media and potential employees. This content strategy should, at heart, be directly linked to the firm’s strategy and business objectives, and then tailored to ensure it is relevant to these key audiences.
To help law firms develop a content strategy, we looked at the types of posts that drove the most engagement on Twitter and LinkedIn. Specifically, we looked at each firm’s Top 10 most engaged-with posts across both platforms. Unsurprisingly insights and thought leadership were most valued overall – particularly on Twitter.
On LinkedIn, posts about firm news and awards also received high levels of engagement, most likely because of the number of employees in the follower base.
At the other end of the scale, updates about jobs and events rarely ranked amongst the top ten most engaged with posts across the firms analysed.
For most law firms, events are content driven and a vital platform to showcase thought leadership. Considering the level of effort many firms put into developing events, it seems there is a real opportunity to engage online audiences around events.
In our view, social media does offer an opportunity to bring events to life and gain significant audience engagement – but this involves more planning than merely turning up on the day and taking a photo for Twitter. Successful event amplification requires firms to plan content, advertise the event beforehand, develop visual assets in advance, capture content from the event, encourage audience engagement on the day and repackage and reuse this content after the event.
Marc Donfrancesco, Head of Public Relations, Eversheds
Ranked 14th in our social media report, Eversheds’ new Head of PR is focused on developing the firm’s social media strategy around the firm’s new brand identity.
“Last year, Eversheds launched a new, modern and clearly defined visual identity; it’s a natural time to further develop our social media strategy.
We have been successful in building a strong following on our main corporate Twitter channel, but we now need to kick-on and clarify what we want to achieve with that. Senior management sees the value of social platforms not just to underpin, but to showcase our brand values and show the wider world our personality. Eversheds is a down-to-earth firm. We have ‘real people’ and we work for ‘real people.’ We want to present lawyers as such – technically gifted but also approachable and able to put themselves in their clients’ position.”
“Undoubtedly our people can enhance the impact of our social media. We have recently updated our policy for the internal audience and will be generating a community list of active participants to bring more into the fold.
Our next step will be about employing smart governance – exercising the right controls but also positive messaging. I am not in the business of forcing lawyers down the route of social media, nor in sending mass emails pushing people to like or share content. It has to be more subtle than that. You have to treat people like adults, letting our people be themselves on social media but observing sensible protocols.”
“I don’t believe in a ‘dedicated’ social individual or team that exists in a bubble. Ultimately the strategy should be driven by content and that needs to be consistent across the comms function.”
“Determining success doesn’t come from just measuring numbers or comparing monitoring scores. For me the success is around what are we trying to do with whom and are we getting there? Our social channels should reflect the personality of the business and show we have something to say on the topical issues close to the hearts of our target market. As with strategy, often the role is as much as deciding what not to do than what to do.”
it was shared by an individual, rather than official account. This figure is 2.5 for professional firms.
Some firms are taking advantage of engaged employees, activating them as brand advocates. Freshfields for instance, empowers people within the firm to share updates, either sharing posts from the company page or directly from individual accounts.
As shown in the examples on the right, this is done across the full strata of the firm, from associates to senior partner, Edward Braham.
At DLA Piper, senior partner Sir Nigel Knowles has a voice on LinkedIn, drafting posts to appear on the feeds of employees, potential hires, clients and potential clients on the platform.
Senior leadership taking an active, public role in championing the firm can pay significant dividends in both building a brand and engaging employees – a great case of leading by example.
Tim Baxter, Global Head of Communications, Allen & Overy
“I think the legal sector needs a mind-set shift in order to take best advantage of, not just social but, any communications opportunities. There is a debate about how much content to ‘give away’ for the sake of profile and brand- raising and how much to keep to foster and enhance client relationships. This issue in the legal sector goes beyond just social and is crucial to crack if we are to develop successful content strategies.”
“Our senior leadership is plugged into social media – our senior partner uses social media to keep up with news and contacts while on the road and so understands that in global business, it has a value in keeping in touch with stakeholders. With three quarters of our work cross-border, it’s critical to keep up these relationships.
When we might have a harder job is in the mid to senior level people who have had very successful careers without social media. These are usually the high performing transactional lawyers, so time is a factor too.
We’ve had some success in the past training up our partners, which has gone from showing them the basics on a LinkedIn profile to identifying groups for them to enter into discussions with. LinkedIn Groups have been successful for us here.”
“One partner in our TMT practice has had fantastic success with its LinkedIn handle The team went about diligently researching its target market on LinkedIn, identifying the main influencers and developing a relevant content strategy. They got them in front of people they hadn’t been able to reach previously – a lead came directly from the social media activity, which was then converted into a client.
More recently, Brexit was a good opportunity to show how we can add our voice to a high profile, highly topical debate and we did this pretty well. It showed us that for specific topics you need to think hashtag over handle, using the collateral you have to tap into ongoing conversations. Hashtags aren’t about ownership, but presence.”
“What we have found is that ‘people’ news has performed particularly well. This is the ‘social’ part of social networking – our people are sharing news of promotions and hires with their network and it generates a lot of interest.
One of the things you have to look at is what your audience wants. We have a lot of content to go around, so you have to ask which clients actually want this stuff? And in what format?”
“The PR team does social media. We need people who communicate effectively, so it is about upskilling the
PR team to build social into their day-to-day work. Where we may need specialist advice is advising on new platforms and technical developments on the existing ones.”
Indeed, our analysis suggests that firms have been relatively slow to adapt to the distributive culture of social media, moving the juicy insights to the headline (or in this case, into the tweet or post) and employing visual storytelling to simplify more complex concepts.
Ashurst does well to show rather than tell their research and insights. The examples here show how infographics can be used to bring to life firm or
industry research. Numbers and statistics are often some of the easiest points to illustrate from reports, but images such as maps (right) can also help place insights within context.
On platforms like Twitter, where content is constantly zooming by in front of users’ eyes, visual content, particularly moving visual content, is critical to grab your audience’s attention.
*The Lawyer UK Top 100 2015
**November 2015 to April 2016