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Reputation management for professional services firms in the social age

For the most part, professional services firms are quite sceptical about social media. You’ll often see marketing and PR departments keen to engage but often stymied by reluctance at senior level where stakeholders are often unsure as to what the connection is between their business’s bottom-line and people posting pictures of cats on the web.

I joke, but there’s a serious point to be made here – whilst your managing partner, or board, may not immediately understand the role which social media can play in delivering real business benefits, communicators can’t afford not to know.  Social media can, at the very least, provide crucial insights into market behaviour, coming trends and client sentiment which can be leveraged by businesses of all types to great effect – any organisations which believe that it ‘doesn’t apply’ to them  in 2014 should probably reconsider.

It is of course important to remember that not all social media activity is right for everyone – not all companies need to be on Facebook or to Tweet, for example – but it’s equally important to emphasise that it’s a rare business which can afford to ignore it altogether. Here is our list of top five tips to professional services firms looking to get involved:

  1. Analyse.

Before working out what you want to do on social media, and where, organisations should undertake an analysis of their sector’s current profile online – who is saying what, where, about the issues your business cares about? Make sure you undertake a digital audit, so you can understand what is already out there and analyse your landscape. For example what are people saying about you already, who are the bloggers that matter (if indeed there are any), what are your competitors doing?

Really get to understand the environment before you engage so that you can make sure your efforts are focussed and not wasted just doing something for the sake of it, as not every channel will be relevant to your firm – or for the messages you are seeking to communicate or the audiences you’re seeking to reach.  Thorough research will allow you to work out where you need to be, what’s worth saying – and whether there’s any point in proceeding to engagement.

      2.  Monitor and listen.

If you still aren’t sure if you are ready to engage the least a firm should be doing is monitoring the online world and listening. The social space provides some great insight just from listening and looking. You might find some great campaign, or seminar ideas, by looking to see what a certain sector is concerned about on LinkedIn. What are your competitors doing – does a report / or event they are doing clash with something you are doing? Are there any key influencers online in the sector you should make contact with? What are the media saying about your sector on Twitter? What industry trends are people discussing on forums?

It might alert you to a potential problem -are there any comments online about the firm that you need to address from clients, employees or previous employees, or is there a potential crisis looming on the horizon? The important point is not just to listen but to use this intelligence to inform your communications – and potentially business – strategy. Monitoring, though, is crucial for all businesses – not utilising it in 2014 is as wrong as ignoring your press clippings in the mid-90s.

       3.  Engage.

Only once you have done the above and really understand the environment should you engage. A clear plan and business case should be drawn up to ensure your efforts are pointed in the right direction and not wasted – always ask ‘why are we doing this? How does doing this support other business / communications objectives?’. If the answer to such questions is ‘hm, not really sure’ then perhaps you shouldn’t bother with social media after all.

Make sure you also plan carefully and have clear definable and measurable goals – these are less about numbers and more about business value. Will you track yourself against traffic driven to certain pages on your website,  engagements with your core set of target influencers? Any of these are valid – make sure you know what you’re measuring and what it shows before you start.

I’ve heard of some great examples where lawyers have won work directly through LinkedIn, just by simply taking the time to congratulate someone on a new job, and even through Facebook interactions. The use of social media is a great engagement tool, not just for reaching certain types of clients but for reaching a wide variety of stakeholders, like graduates, and important organisations within your industry.

      4.  Educate.

Make sure you have a social media policy and you educate staff on this. Plan in advance before starting on social – define who will use it, how they will use it, when they will use it, the tools they will use, the things they will always say/be and the things they will never say/be…not to mention how you will respond if there are arguments / complaints online (this is the web, after all). For large organisations you can’t be effective having just one person running all your social media so you need policies and training in place to enable staff to go out there and engage.  However, make sure there is always a coordinating team who have oversight and all the company logins so they could delete/or amend things in a crisis.

In addition, make sure all staff are educated about their own use of social media as employees (and therefore brand representatives); most social media issues in professional service firms caused by internal staff are genuine naïve mistakes, which is why education, policies and culture are so important.

       5. Protect.

When needed, protect your reputation online. Work to get the bad news off the frontpage of  Google( less than 6% click of users click through to the second page). It’s here that monitoring comes into its own, enabling you to discover reputational issues online in timely fashion – combined with the preparatory work I mentioned above, this can be the difference between a minor issue which is resolved quickly and a genuine reputational concern.

And remember that there will ALWAYS be people saying negative things about you and your brand online and across social media – the trick is knowing when you need to care and when you should just ignore it.

 

For more information please contact Charlotte Collins-White on CharlotteCW@lansons.com