Social media: From guesswork to precision
How paid social media delivers for your firm
Originally published 2016
How do you reach potential clients in the internet-driven media age?
The variety of online marketing platforms available to law firms these days is almost overwhelming. But the basics have not changed: You need to advertise where legal consumers can see your message. And you need to make sure that the consumers that see your marketing messages are the people you want to reach.
Viewed through that lens, what might seem a bewildering landscape becomes a world of opportunity. The fact is, advertising on social media platforms provides very high value access to an immense audience at a low cost. This is particularly true of Facebook. The social network has 1.5 billion users worldwide. More than half of all Americans have a Facebook page. 1 And according to a study released in May 2016 by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation, 44 percent of the U.S. population accesses their news on Facebook.2
In short, Facebook has become a uniquely powerful advertising medium.
In addition, evidence shows increasing numbers of consumers use social media to find attorneys to represent them. According to a 2016 Thomson Reuters survey, 84 percent of all U.S. consumers across all demographics are on social media. That includes 72 percent of baby boomers. Of those consumers, 40 percent say they’re more likely to use a lawyer with a social presence. Among legal consumers using various channels to evaluate attorneys, perceived importance of Facebook posts from an attorney increased 64.7 percent from 2014 to 2016.3
Facebook has proven to be a powerful advertising channel that offers both superb value and precision targeting. Based on the review of thousands of accounts, FindLaw’s data shows that the average cost to get your firm’s name in front of 1,000 targeted users on Facebook falls between $10 and $15.
Let’s put it another way, Facebook can get your firm in front of someone who fits the age, income level, employment, family status, neighborhood and interests of the kind of people that need your expertise for as little as one cent per impression.
Compare that with an offline advertising platform like Yellow Pages, where simply being seen by the same-sized audience can cost up to 10 times as much.
But even more important than the cost, the big difference between social media and traditional advertising platforms is the quality of its audience. Facebook gathers an incredible amount of detail about its members and uses it as a tool to help advertisers put their ads in front of relevant consumers. In contrast, Yellow Pages ads and television commercials are mass- media plays — most of the people who see these messages are not potential clients.
In short, Facebook’s targeting is a way to put your name in front of just those potential clients you actually want. Further, Facebook delivers a massive number of these legal consumers for a relatively small cost.
But there is a caveat. This situation, especially the low costs, won’t last forever. Eventually everyone else — and that includes your competitors — will catch on. This is a window of opportunity that might not stay open all that long.
As a medium for legal advertising, social media is still in its relative infancy. But evidence suggests that savvy firms are recognizing this opportunity, and the faster that advertisers adopt social media, the more expensive it will become.
Establishing the terms
Although Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all allow advertisers to narrowly target their audience, FindLaw research has shown that Facebook consistently remains the most cost-effective social platform for law firms. Additionally, links from Facebook are now responsible for 25 percent of all internet traffic. 4 And the company (like all social media platforms) encourages its millions of users to interact with the content that people, businesses, and organizations post there.
For these reasons, we’ll focus on Facebook throughout this paper. We also will use “social” as a short-hand term for social media. This is common usage in the digital marketing world. Additionally, this paper will distinguish and emphasize paid social activity over organic social posts.
- Organic social refers to any non-paid activity on your firm’s social profile. Such activity includes linking to your blog, sharing news articles, or posting photos. The visibility of your organic posts derives from how valuable the online community deems them. For that reason, organic social works best when audiences actively seek out your content.
- Paid social is any social activity that you pay to display to a targeted audience. Like organic social, paid social requires that you create posts that attract attention. But Facebook and the other social media giants have created advertising platforms that enable businesses to pay to put their posts in front of users. In this paper, we’ll discuss promoted Facebook posts as paid advertising, rather than other types of social media advertising, such as the ads that appear along the side of the Facebook feed. With paid social, the content is the advertising.
Your firm’s social media strategy will be most effective if it incorporates both organic social and paid social. Here, we’ll focus on paid social, which has eclipsed organic in both reach and specificity.
The problem with getting seen
In the past, a law firm’s social marketing strategy could have successfully focused solely on organic social. That’s no longer true. For several years, social networks, particularly Facebook, have increasingly deprioritized posts from businesses within individual followers’ news feeds. In 2012, a typical post from a business could expect to reach about 16 percent of their Facebook fans.5 That has dramatically decreased to less than two percent today.
Let’s break that down. Several years ago, if you had even 85 people following your firm’s Facebook page — and that’s a pretty high number for a law firm — only 13 or 14 of them would see any given post. By the end of 2013, that same post would have reached approximately three people.6 And today, a post on that hypothetical page would reach at most only two people.
This doesn’t mean that you should abandon organic social. It’s still a useful, cost-effective way to build your brand with legal consumers — just not through mass visibility. But adding paid social to the mix will help your firm’s marketing messages be seen by as many of these potential clients as possible.
With paid social, instead of hoping to catch the eye of one or two of those 85 social users who already care about your law firm, you have the ability to attract attention from thousands of the right people in your community. In other words, you are paying to get in front of new potential clients who would otherwise never encountered your firm.
Why is paid social overtaking organic?
Paid social’s ability to target is unparalleled
As we have noted, social offers advertisers targeting capabilities that are far more sophisticated than those of any other medium. In the past, law firms and marketers alike were stuck with a scattershot approach to advertising. Essentially, the goal was to be seen by as many people as possible, in hope that some sliver of that audience would actually make good clients.
Consider billboards, for example. For years, advertisers have used billboards to broadcast their messages to anyone and everyone who passes by.7 The more money you spend on a billboard, the longer it will stay up on a highly travelled road. As that spending level increases, so does the number of people who see the billboard. That includes, of course, a great many people who have no interest in what the billboard is marketing.
By contrast, paid social advertising directly homes in on a targeted audience. For instance, think of a firm that has been devoted to helping military families with legal issues like estate planning and divorce. Although the firm also provides services to non-military clients, its primary marketing focus is on ensuring that the local military community knows the firm understands the complexities of helping service members.
With Facebook, this firm can exclusively target those who are in the military or married to a service member. Rather than spending money to reach uninterested civilians, the firm can use Facebook targeting to advertise directly to their ideal clients.
Law firms can achieve this deep level of targeting because consumers are so remarkably candid on social media. They willingly provide an astonishing amount of information about themselves, which Facebook incorporates into the algorithms it uses in ad targeting. Everything a Facebook user does while logged into the network contributes to a more accurate picture of who they are. This graphic provides one example of how Facebook gathers more and more user information.
Facebook’s data-gathering prowess allows you to select from a nearly limitless inventory of demographic details to create an audience that reflects exactly the types of clients your firm needs. This level of specific targeting is what sets Facebook advertising apart from nearly every other marketing channel.
Paid social is acceptable
Not only are Facebook users willing to share vast amounts of personal information, they’re also remarkably open to commercial messages from the companies they follow. Visitors to the FindLaw legal directory were presented with this statement: “I am comfortable with law firms advertising to me on social media with legal services that I may require.” Those who agreed or strongly agreed accounted for 41 percent of the responses. Even neutral opinions took second place, with 38 percent, while those who were not comfortable being marketed to amounted to only 19 percent of the replies.
Paid social is cost effective
A 2016 study from the Content Marketing Institute found that 76 percent of marketers from around the world use paid social, and 61 percent of those users found promoted posts effective, rating them either 4 or 5 on a 5-point effectiveness scale.8 When FindLaw analyzed the paid social results of law firms, for just $1, the typical firm can be seen by 100 targeted users. For as little as $10, law firms can be seen by 1,000 people in their community. 9
Paid social is unclaimed territory
According to a 2016 FindLaw analysis of U.S. law firms, only 16 percent of those firms surveyed currently engage in paid social advertising. And even fewer do so at a steady frequency. 10
As the legal space becomes more competitive, the time to step forward is now. This is one of those rare opportunities to become an early adopter of a well-established, proven marketing technique.
To understand why, consider pay-per-click (PPC). This long-established online advertising model connects advertisers to keywords in order to drive traffic to the advertiser’s website. Years ago, few attorneys used it. As a result, legal keywords were available at a relatively low cost.
PPC is still effective. But legal terms now are some of the most expensive and sought-after keywords in the search world. By contrast, Facebook is about 75 percent to 85 percent cheaper. But history often repeats. The lesson of PPC keywords suggests that, in a few years, paid social advertising will not be the “doorbuster” deal that it is today.
The three elements of paid social
You should not make the mistake of thinking effective paid social advertising is simply a matter of supercharging your regular social posts with a few dollars. There is much more that goes into crafting an effective paid social campaign. We will examine three key elements: the audience, the message, and the results.
1. The audience
If you’re like most attorneys, your firm serves a wide variety of clients from different backgrounds and legal needs. That said, you can probably identify one or two top segments. Treat these as your “sweet spots” and devote your paid social efforts to them. You then can link those segments to the targeting capabilities at your disposal to drill down into the traits and behaviors of the potential clients you’re most eager to reach.
Here are the steps to crafting a targeting strategy:
- Determine your ideal demographic
- Home in on a location
- Gauge the interests of your ideal demographic’s members
- Construct the demographic’s behaviors
- Optimize the timing of your advertising
To see this approach in action, let’s say your firm specializes in DUI cases. You might well determine that your ideal demographic comprises males aged 18 through 23, so you will target your messages to locations where this audience is particularly easy to find — a local college would be one such venue.
You can also determine the positioning of your paid posts based on the likely interests of this demographic. Sports and craft beers would be two notable examples. From there, you can target members of this demographic who have checked in on Facebook at popular local bars and brewery taprooms. Finally, you can time your posts for a time of year when these young men are most likely to get excessively celebratory — the start of the football season, for instance.
2. The message
After determining your target audience, you need to craft your message. And it should not be a pushy one. Despite their openness to marketing, today’s consumers are turned off by obvious self-promotion. But they do appreciate a law firm that can educate them on issues they care about. If you can provide this kind of information through your posted content, legal consumers are more likely to contact you when they do need an attorney, or even to refer a family member or friend to your firm in the future. And that’s the case even if they themselves have never utilized your services.
According to a FindLaw study, legal consumers who search for a specific law firm or attorney are twice as likely to hire that firm, compared with people who conduct a broader search for a lawyer in general.
So how do you earn consumers’ trust through paid social while avoiding a hard sell? As is the case with organic social, good content rules:
- First and foremost, your content should meet the needs of your audience. Do most new clients share the same questions when they first contact your firm? Consider answering those questions via an online post. Is a law changing in your state? Let people know how that change could impact their lives. Alternatively, provide basic guidance about how to handle certain situations that often lead to legal difficulty, such as being pulled over by a police officer or establishing a new business. The key here is making sure that the content focuses entirely on addressing the potential clients’ concerns. This is not the time and place to push your firm’s services.
- The second goal of strong content is to establish your firm’s credibility. By accurately explaining legal concepts in a way that consumers can understand, you will build trust. People in your online community will begin to view you as someone they would want to turn to if they encounter legal trouble.
And keep in mind that people interact with social advertising and content in a variety of ways. That kind of interactivity is unique to online advertising, and it’s most effective on social. If you want people to remember your firm’s name, you want them to interact with your firm via your posts and your advertising.
61 percent of consumers say that they are generally more likely to make purchases from companies providing unique content. 11 Marketers who emphasize providing helpful content are 13 times more likely to produce a positive ROI.12 When it comes to paid social, connect users who choose to click on your firm’s ad with genuinely useful content.
One firm that has embraced paid social and crafted a successful content strategy is Darras Law, a disability law firm based in Ontario, California. Darras Law found that the best content to share was “detailed, tailored to our target client’s day-to-day work demands, and comprehensive.” Thanks to its paid social content campaign, the firm found an increase in leads from its very specific target audience: nurses and certified nursing assistants. 13
3. The results
Vigilant measuring and monitoring will help you refine both your paid and organic social content to make them more effective. Here are the metrics you can (and should) measure:
- Brand awareness: You can measure this through your post’s social reach and your website’s increased traffic generated from the post’s paid content. This figure will tell you how many people were exposed to your firm.
- Engagement: Indicators of engagement include social actions such as likes (reactions), comments and shares, as well as the length of time visitors stay with the content you provided. This metric will tell you how frequently your online community is developing a positive sentiment about your firm.
- Contacts: After you have run your paid social program for a few months, determine whether your firm’s contacts have increased over the same time last year. Be sure to compare year over year — most law firms see seasonal trends in their traffic and contacts.
By focusing on the overall crafting of your content — audience, message, measurement — you can make sure that your paid social strategy is delivering as strong an ROI as possible.
A note about ethics
There’s another aspect to paid social that your firm should consider — professional ethics. Generally, the same rules governing other forms of attorney advertising and communication also apply to paid social. Most notably, statements about the attorney or attorney’s service cannot be “false or misleading.” False or misleading statements include those making unsubstantiated comparisons to other firms or creating unjustified expectations.
Paid social posts also may require disclaimers, depending upon the state in which your firm does business. For instance, some states do not allow discussions of past case results. In those that do, you might need to add a phrase such as “past results do not guarantee that you’ll get the same outcome.”
Additional disclaimers on the promoted post may be required or recommended. The state of New York, for example, requires that the phrase “attorney advertising” be placed on all forms of advertising, and that includes paid social posts on Facebook. In any case, attorneys should check with their state’s bar association to see its position on promoted posts.
But while paid social posts may be considered advertising, their function is different from that of a television commercial or Yellow Pages ad, where the goal is to get the consumer to contact your firm today. Paid social’s goal is more long- term. Its objective is to build your brand — and to get potential clients returning to your page or site. That way, when they or someone they care about needs a lawyer, your name will be more likely to come to mind.
In summation: Make your move now
The unique combination of targeting opportunities and low cost of entry make social advertising one of the most effective, efficient ways of getting a law firm’s name in front of people. And paid social on Facebook can make your messages’ reach to potential clients even more effective.
That’s the good news. But the data also suggests law firms are catching on to the power of social marketing, including paid social. That means competition for the audience you want to reach is likely to intensify. There is also evidence that the window for this kind of price efficiency will almost certainly close over the next few years. The current high cost of legal keywords used in pay- per-click advertising suggests such inevitability.
The future increases in real costs and the current lost opportunity costs of ignoring social marketing make it crucial that you and your firm determine whether social advertising will work for you. As you weigh your decision, consider these factors. The risk of using paid social is minuscule compared with traditional advertising.
Spending $100 could give you access to as many as 10,000 people. You can get a good initial sense of the opportunity available to you without breaking your firm’s marketing budget.
This low cost also means a lot more flexibility to develop multiple audiences for your advertising message. Paid social allows you to target multiple audiences with content that speaks directly to their real-world situations. As you build out your advertising program, you can actually run concurrent campaigns with varying messages that are more likely to engage the specific legal consumers you wish to reach. And you can achieve all this while spending substantially less money than you would on a traditional advertising campaign.
The numbers all point to paid social as an immense opportunity. But at the risk of sounding like an infomercial, this opportunity will not be around long. More and more advertisers are using paid social every day. The legal industry is behind on this trend, but law firms are bound to catch on. Strike while the iron is hot. If you don’t go after your audience, your competitors will.
- 2016 FindLaw U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey
- Content Marketing Institute, 2016
- Based on all paid Facebook ads run by FindLaw between August 2015 and June 2016
- 2016 Analysis of FindLaw Subscriptions
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