If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re familiar with the perennial debate over whether social media or personal referrals are the best way to grow a business. Those who hail from the referral-based school of marketing contend that social media is a waste of time, attracting tire-kickers and dud clients. Meanwhile, those who endorse social media as the be all and end all of marketing deride those who don’t unquestioningly jump on the bandwagon as hopelessly out of touch.
As for me, I’ve never understood why social media versus referral marketing was ever an either/or. And a recent study by LEXIS bears out that consumers are using both personal references and and social media in hiring a lawyer. As the attached chart shows, personal references are still the dominant source over any single type of Internet or social media platform. But social media, blogging and websites collectively hold greater influence over consumer hiring decisions than referrals.
Moreover, considering the evidence in the report and chart, it seems that the line between where personal referrals leave off and where social media or search engines kick in is growing increasingly blurred. When a homeowner asks fellow neighbors on a community association website on Facebook for a referral to a good real estate lawyer, does the resulting business come from social media? Or a personal referral? If I tell a green energy company about a terrific regulatory lawyer, and the company CEO checks the lawyer’s credentials on LinkedIn, does that count as a social-media based referral or a personal one? As our lives move seamlessly between online and offline, it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other picks up – and so it’s not surprising that this merging of media is beginning to have a discernible impact on how clients find lawyers.
Ten years from now, I don’t know that we’ll ever have real law firms (as opposed to non-lawyer providers) who generate business exclusively online without ever shaking a human hand. But at the same time, I doubt we’ll have many lawyers still earning a living from pressing the flesh at local bar events. Instead, lawyers will straddle the online and offline world so seamlessly that we won’t even notice social media any more than we notice television or telephones today. Which is how it should be.