I have always maintained that 'There is no competition." And I believe this still today.
However, when it comes to positioning yourself in the legal market you still need to fully understand the competitive environment of the legal profession and figure out the best way to position yourself properly.
What continually interests me these many years is the increasing number of venues available today to solo practitioners to acquire information not only about those deemed competition but also about their potential client. This 'intelligence' 1) didn't really exist before the last few years and 2) still remains a mystery to the most of your colleagues. This is a huge benefit to you.
Social media in all its incarnations (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, review sites such as Yelp, lawyer websites, blogs, podcasts, wikis, listservs, communities, etc.) is a 'soft intelligence' gathering vehicle unparalleled in terms of 'real time' results, accessibility, and low cost.
Why are these particular vehicles more brilliant and decidedly different then most traditional information gathering vehicles? Those who are participating in social media are doing so voluntarily, generally unfiltered, and with great enthusiasm. They are offering their opinions in a decidedly raw, unsanitized way. Let's face it, when we think we are dealing with our peers we are more spontaneous, honest and more revealing then if we were cold-called or surveyed.
For lawyers who understand and appreciate the value of social media, what can you learn in terms of soft competitive intelligence? If you know what you are looking for you will find:
• Attitudes about you, your services, your competitors and the profession
• What they like and don't like about the above
• Specific challenges you will face when trying to attract clients and deliver your services
• Trends in the profession in your practice area and as a whole
• (Most importantly) The unmet needs of your clients, or potential clients and even those who would be ambassadors for your services.
The key, however, is this information is in real time conversation. And interactivity on the web is increasing exponentially. We see this over and over again. Tweets will have hashtags to highlight a particular topic. Facebook interactivity occurs with 'likes' and comments on 'status' updates. If you are tuned-in and engaged you would be wise to join the conversation to learn more about the issue and try to address the issue immediately.
This soft intelligence isn't really about actual facts and figures. It is about attitudes and why your potential clients may act the way they do. Yet, attitude can be just as important, if not more important than, traditional market research.
When you glimpse into the mind of your potential client it can help you understand their underlying assumptions, which not only helps to explain their behavior today but also helps you to see how they are likely to behave in the future (both good and bad). I'm not saying to forgo traditional data research, but for the solo, this low cost analysis of social media in conjunction with the more traditional use of social media can provide the ultimate information you need to shape your marketing plan and tailor your services.
It's a reasonable assumption that most users of social media do so to check out what everyone else is doing. Seldom will they turn the light back upon themselves by spending time analyzing what's right in front of them. When was the last time you really analyzed the comments on your blog and who was doing the commenting? Have we analyzed who is following us on Twitter and why? Same thing when it comes to who is connecting with us on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Paying attention to what is being said about you, whether to your face or behind your back is important. Paying attention to who is intentionally not talking about you at all and why is even more important. I'm not preaching paranoia here. I'm simply stating there is a vast pool of information available to you and you should be seeking it out, receiving it, and working with it correctly in order to improve your practice, the client experience and your competitive edge.
It may seem like another incredibly time-consuming task that will take you away from your work and your clients. But it really isn't all that time-consuming. What is important is understanding why it is necessary to your practice to do so. Try this one very simple step for starters:
Create Google Alerts (or any another service like Mention) for:
- Your personal name
- Your firm name
- Your practice area
- Your primary and secondary competitor
- Key words in your practice area
- Your clients' names, businesses, etc.
- Potential clients' names, businesses, etc.
Have these alerts come not more than once a day.
If you are monitoring a particular matter, have alerts on a given topic, name, etc. just for that period of time it interests you.
This is one simple step you can take to monitor conversations in real time.
Many pay large sums of their hard earned dollars to legal marketing firms to learn 'soft intelligence' and these marketing firms are the very ones who are a little too dismissive of social media as a waste of time. Most solos have neither the money nor the inclination to pay marketing firms for information they can gather themselves, especially when they already utilize social media. Understanding the value of this soft intelligence plus utilizing this simple ''no-cost' solution keeps you ahead of the curve with your potential clients and light years ahead of the competition.