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Social Media v. Referrals: No long an either/or proposition

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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.

  • Great post Carolyn! I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, in part because I’m writing a series of posts about it at the MyCase blog. I aree with you 100% that discussing it as referral or social media is no longer the correct way to frame the discussion. This is because, as I stated in a recent blog post (

    “An effective online presence is one that ultimately forwards your business goals, which for most lawyers means bringing in new business. Of course, the path that leads to this result is different for every lawyer and varies depending on each lawyer’s specific goals and the chosen platforms for online interaction.The difficulty with measuring the effectiveness of an attorney’s online presence is that it’s not always easily quantifiable. This is because an online presence represents the totality of its parts. So, sometimes potential clients land on your blog post or website as a result of a Google search. Sometimes clients are referred to you by lawyers who are familiar with your because of your online activities. Other times, your online presence results in media mentions which result in calls from potential clients.  And, oftentimes, you receive a call but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the business came from. And, you leave it at that, since pestering callers to determine exactly how they discovered your firm isn’t exactly good for business.”

    (It’s Niki Black that posted this–I intended to post via my personal Twitter account. Sorry about that!)

  • Sorry, it’s Niki Black that posted the 

  • Gene

    We’ve had people approach us on Facebook just a few days after putting up a page. I can’t imagine why anyone would skip out on that front when all it takes is minutes. And I have to be honest, our page is nothing to be proud of (yet)

  • Matt Kaiser

    I wonder if there is a study that breaks this down by type of client serviced. For lawyers who represent consumers it make a lot of sense to me that the internet and social media would be huge. But I wonder if that’s the case for business clients, especially larger ones.

    I’d imagine most of your clients are businesses – what’s your experience been? How much does social media or the internet matter to an energy client?

  • exactly.

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