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February 18, 2009

I Might As Well Have Been Speaking Venusian....Why We Need Social Media Sherpas

http://www.drwill.com/wp-content/uploads/alien.pngThe other week I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to guest speak at a small and intimate gathering of established small business owners and others (each one nicer than the next!) who sought me out specifically to address the subject "How to Attract Clients in a Down Economy."  I was flattered because only a third were lawyers, the rest in the financial field including trust officers at larger banks. This issue crosses professions. 

But a funny thing happened.  Somewhere along the way they started hearing Venusian. Let me explain.

If you are reading this blog then you are (maybe) already conversant in what a blog is, how to comment, have possibly explored Twitter and are trying to understand about differentiation and everything else I and others speak of on a regular basis. But those who are constantly engaged in social media get caught up in their social media bubble talking with others who use these tools.  As a result they forget we are a very, very, very small and distinct, yet progressive, minority within not only our profession but others. And to some degree we create an elitism with our 'knowledge' and quite often with our attitude.

The rest of the world just ain't talking our language....yet. And, as I keep learning, most are very timid and intimidated about learning the language of the internet and social media on their own.  They are looking for others who are reputable to help educate them.

As part of my responsibility to this group, it was requested I facilitate conversation on the topic. So I went around the room and asked each their business, their individual responsibility for attracting clients and if they had created a defined marketing plan to bring in new clients? Three quarters did not have any marketing plan, just felt a vague unease and mild concern knowing they needed to get new clients because they were seeing changes in their business.  They really weren't 100% sure if it was due to the economy.  But they still understood they needed to do something different, just did not quite know what. 

About two thirds had a static website, some were business card style.  One person had a website with a built-in blogging component which allowed updates but no commenting. He was the most advanced. Another was more creative and hands on attending trade shows and handing out a newly created educational pamphlet.  It was a very good educational marketing piece. They all understood the concept of education-based marketing.

When I asked if anyone used social media they looked at each other and asked collectively, "what is social media?"  This is the truth. And that's when I might as well have been speaking Venusian.  When I asked if anyone was on Facebook they suppressed some giggles. No one was on LinkedIn.

Only one younger lawyer was a little more familiar with social media and was actually on Facebook. I know this because when she heard I was going to speak she connected with me on Facebook and said she was looking forward to meeting me.  She is slowly easing into Twitter, too.  The person she works with showed evidence he is actively receptive to creating a blog and utilizing other social media platforms. He, while clearly intrigued by the concept, did not impress me as someone who would design his own blog and then spend the countless hours first figuring out the rules.  It simply would not be cost-effective for his business. He would hire a reputable sherpa.

But here is the other undeniable truth.  Most simply didn't know anything about blogging or tweeting or Facebook or LinkedIn and those who did were holding back because they were terrified of making huge and costly mistakes walking into an arena they simply have no familiarity with. 

The internet truly scares those who haven't learned how to use it beyond searching for a bookstore on Google. They understand it is about providing education to attract clients, something a yellow page ad can't do. And their goal is to attract clients, not entertain the masses with their witticisms or criticisms and sensational posts to drive traffic. They are the ones who seek out blogging and social media sherpas. 

Their goal is not to learn how to game the system, but simply to learn how to get in the game meaningfully without destroying their reputations or making huge missteps.  There is a difference.

Yesterday, a 10 year veteran solo practitioner who has an antiquated website told me he was ready to investigate pay-per-click programs to get his practice visible on the internet.  He then told me he and his wife didn't understand this 'fad' that is Facebook.  Is he 85?  No. He's 35 and stuck in the 20th century.

So, to all my new readers, who may not realize I was once a blogging newbie a very short while ago even though today I may seem to present to you as a veteran, I apologize. I've crossed the river with guides who helped me.

This is my advice if you are interested.

Do not be afraid to engage reputable sherpas who can guide you through the use of social media so you do not make costly professional mistakes.  Do not listen to people who tell you it's easy simply because it happened to be easy for them, or more interesting to them, or they are gifted writers and tripped over the finish line by happenstance and intuition.  Yes, some things come easier to others.  Separate fact from someone's personal opinion.  And know your own needs, where you want to go and then find the best way to get there that works for you.

Social media can be a minefield but to not get involved sooner rather than later can be costly in time, money and lost opportunity. Learn what you don't know from those who clearly do.  If you think hiring a good and reputable guide to make the journey a little easier is a smart move for you then do so.  Check around.  It is certainly easy enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is no shortage of people to ask. You still have to be the 'social one' in social media regardless the platform.  But at least you will learn how to do so with someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doing it correctly.  That's spending money wisely.

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

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Kimberly Alderman

I totally know what you mean! As a favor to a fellow solo, I took a look at her first newsletter. She's not particularly tech-enabled, so she's sending this one out print. Well, it's a start. The articles were like law journal articles, boring and just synopses of statutory or case law developments. I told she needed to give her readers information they can *use*. You know, "How to Protect Your Business From Whatever" or "How the New EPA Changes Affect YOUR Company"? Nothing, Venusian. Deaf ears.

Even if attorneys aren't going to get on the e-train, there are so many basic business principles to be learned online that can be extrapolated to "real life" practice. Its going to be difficult to drag these people into the new millenia. And, until we do, we're going to keep getting boring newsletters and confused comments about that "fad" that is Facebook.

Doesn't hurt to try, though!

James Chartrand - Men with Pens

I am consistently reminded that I am amongst the elite who knows the Internet and its world well. Most people in the area I live have as much knowledge as the group you met in your post - and I am always met with blank looks when I mention my life, my job and what I do.

And yes, dialup is still very common where I live, which is by no means an impoverished location.

We of the web world truly are egotistical to think everyone is just like us, and I thank you for reminding those who have forgotten that we need to help lead, not move beyond.


Please stop educating the masses. It reduces the competitive advantage of those of us conversant and comfortable in LinkedIn, pay-per-click advertising, web based client relations, etc. etc. :)

I kid. It really is imperative that solos and small practices understand the business aspect of law in a way not required in larger firms, and that includes the technology that clients are using. If your client is on LinkedIn, you should be on LinkedIn, &tc.

Joseph Dang

I just started my blogging, and twitter, and facebook. Resisted myspace because of its unprofessional nature, and that spilled over to Facebook. Well now that I am on FB, I've already gotten two prospects, one of which followed through to the blog and then emailed me from there. That client didn't pan out but hey, I have another one this weekend.

What you say is the truth. I know of two more solos who don't even have a website, and one who had a law.com page but no more. I told him he needs to do something (he's busy as hell he says, but barely making ends meet). After I showed him my blog, he said, "Awesome! I want one. Who has to update it, me? No way."

I left it at that.

Daphne Moritz

Love the post. I am that one who is trying and plan to usher in a new day in the North Country. It may take a bit of time but I'm committed to the cause. Then one day I'll be blogging about those vacant stares.

Leanna Hamill

Susan, what a great post. I often find that in my "off line" circle of folks, I am the sherpa. I finally realized that if I wanted my suite-mate to be on Twitter, we had to sit down together and set up her account, get her started following people, show her how to reply to the people who had just said hi to her, and then let her explore on her own. Sort of like inviting her to a party with a group of all my friends and not just expecting her to show up and know what's going on. I went in with her, introduced her to some people and then let her take a stroll around the room. I'm around if she needs me, I can point out some people she might want to meet (or follow) and soon enough she'll be at ease.

I think rather than telling people to come join us at this great party, we might be more helpful if we say "why don't we meet for coffee with our laptops and we can get you set up on Facebook, Twitter, Avvo, etc."

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

@Kim - you of all people with your nomadtoes should be 'sherpa'-ing away!

@James - couldn't agree more that we should help others to catch up if our goal is to bring clients into the environment where we work with such comfort. It would make our lives easier as we progress

@Chris - Hey, how can I stop educating, that would be like not breathing! :-)

@Joseph - You can lead a horse to water, right?

@Daphne - yes, you will lead your people of the North Country..or at least lead your firm :-)

@Leanna - hands on is the best way to show them 'the light.' You are a great sherpa!

Joseph C. McDaniel

Thank you for your compassion towards my generation (I'm 58 going on 59). The process of getting into blogging is remarkably intimidating at first, and I'm slowly working away at it. And putting a toe into linkedin and facebook. But I still have no clue how to use twitter in the practice, so I'll be surfing the internet over the weekend trying to get it. "Getting it" gets harder over time, so I appreciate it that you're working to help educate those of us who are still working at it. Still, the harder I work, the luckier I get!

John N. Skiba

I realize I'm a little behind in adding my comments to this post, but I wanted to add my appreciation for the valuable thoughts offered. I've been working hard to build up my social media accounts to help my business and I have to say it has really paid off. It's been a long road but I love blogging and I'm finally starting to understand how I can use my other social media platforms to promote and feed my business blog. Thanks again.

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