In March 2011 the Permanent Secretary for Government Communications recommended that the 65-year-old Central Office of Information undergoes a dramatic overhaul – replacing it with a more focused Government Communications Centre.
The COI is responsible for best practice and overall spending on marketing and communications to external agencies on the government’s behalf and in his report, the Permanent Secretary Matt Tee called for a more strategic approach to paid for communication, which he believes will improve effectiveness and save money.
The review was not complementary of current practices; concluding that the government’s approach to communication has been steadily undermined by a strategy rooted in the past. Traditional marketing, PR or awareness campaigns are no longer attracting the attention of audiences which have switched their gaze elsewhere or simply do not possess the necessary attention span to absorb messages as they once did, often consuming more than one media channel at a time.
What, you might ask does this have to do with Legal Services or legal PR strategies?
Well, the private sector should also admit that it may be guilty of the same thing.
In 2010 online social networks accounted for 23% of all time spent using the internet, rising from only 9% in 2007 and while law firms have slowly begun to target and influence their audiences through them, most of us tend to scratch our heads about whether these are appropriate to use or just funnels for useless chatter.
What social networks actually represent is a modern means of discovering, filtering and expanding your audience. They allow you to listen in and contribute to conversations and debates that specified groups are having just as you would in a normal physical networking environment. There’s no need for handshakes and your business cards can stay in the handbag; from now on, it’s your online profile and the demographics of those you want to reach that should matter.
On 21 March 2011 LinkedIn passed its 100 millionth member and some fascinating user statistics emerged, including the staggering number of networking groups it has enabled. Some 871,000 individual groups have amassed, with 1.2 million pieces of content added to them every day.
The Law Society Gazette is one of the most significant proponents in this arena, with its own LinkedIn Group amassing over 5000 members and individual discussion topics regularly generating dozens of comments from professionals seeking to convey their opinions and share ideas.
Users of networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora or DiscUs, don’t expect to be sold to, but they may be willing to buy. The question therefore is how would you normally network and at what point has a relationship formed? We all know roughly the drill to follow; circulate a room, shake a few hands, ask some questions and provide a few answers. Listen or contribute; nudge opinions or be rhetorical.
In the government’s case Mr Tee is advocating communication with citizens who are consumers of public services, using targeted messages and if possible, two-way engagements through digital media, like social networks.
BT actually began this process with consumers by having its complaints and customer service department monitoring traffic about its brand on Twitter. This has since been built into a comprehensive presence across every network imaginable, from Facebook, Stumbleupon and Digg, to Youtube and Xing.
Professionals like lawyers are beginning to recognise the value of their online profiles, cleaning them up with a good photo and some useful information about their experience and interests and as they learn the ropes, the online networking activity is clearly increasing. But until lawyers take seriously the validity of online social networking, they risk falling behind the curve.