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Commentary: The social media cocktail party, part II

In the first part of this column, in the March 18 edition, we credited marketing experts Tim Tobin and Lisa Braziel with suggesting that the activity generated by social media sites is analogous to a giant, ongoing 24/7 party. The name of their book neatly sums up their philosophy: “Social Media Marketing is a Cocktail Party: Why You Already Know the Rules of Social Media Marketing.”

They believe sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter provide ongoing streams of cyber conversation that you can — and should — step into and out of at will.

While there’s no question that marketing through social media offers another avenue to sell yourself and build relationships, it continues to perplex many lawyers and law firms. They know they need to move in that direction, but the “how” escapes them.

The way to succeed with social media is to embrace the simple but effective rules of relationship-based, word-of-mouth marketing. It’s cold outside; shall we head back to the party?

By the time the appetizers have emerged, people are gathered in small groups, chatting and getting to know one another. In the kitchen, a group is engaged in a heated debate over an article in The New York Times, while another group discusses the next big thing in technology.

In the dining room, a group of professionals who happen to be animal lovers stand at the buffet table, cellphones in hand, chatting and sharing pictures of pets.

On the living room couch, two lawyers discuss business next to a couple of other people talking about the state of the economy.

From the hallway come bursts of laughter as someone tells a joke to a group gathered there.

The hosts

Supporting all of this activity, the hosts (think social media sites) are working non-stop in the background, providing a location for the party, greeting newcomers and introducing people who have things in common.

From the introductions to the heated political discussions, from the dog pictures to the jokes, there are strong parallels between cocktail party happenings and the 24/7 goings-on in cyberspace.

The posts

There are some people who love parties and thrive on social interaction, and there are those who don’t.

For those wondering how to navigate this new social scene — and do a little marketing at the same time — the territory can seem foreign and fraught with problems.

For one thing, everything you “say” at an online party (think posted comments) is written and recorded, and some words, once written, are very hard to retrieve.

Don’t worry, say Tobin and Braziel, it’s easy. Use the same conversational strategies and follow the same rules you would use at a cocktail party, and you’ll be fine.

For example, you wouldn’t go to a party spewing one long commercial message about how great you and your firm are, and you shouldn’t do it online either. In a real social situation, surrounded by people you don’t know, you’d start with small talk, share a little about yourself personally, ask questions of your fellow partygoers, tell a funny story or two, and only then mention something about your firm.

Or, you might be introduced as an attorney, say a little about what you do, and then spend some time finding out what everyone else does. There’s give and take. You might talk of business mixed with conversation about your family, your hobbies, or maybe the sports you follow or the last trip you took.

The ‘50-30-10-10 Rule’

Attorney and popular blogger Nicole Black offers some instructive guidelines on this subject. She recommends using the “50-30-10-10 rule” when operating in an online forum. (Her forum of choice is Twitter, but this rule can apply to almost any social media forum.)

Here’s the advice she gives attorneys who decide to step into the social media cocktail party:

• 50 percent of your posts should provide followers with links to articles, blog posts and other online content you think might be of interest. That includes “re-tweets,” or “sharing” of relevant content. If you want to be seen as an expert in a particular field, this is the opportunity to aggregate information on a specific subject matter and share it with others, but do so in a way that is helpful and informative.

• 30 percent of your posts and comments should consist of replies to other users’ posts, links, status updates or tweets — in other words, engage in conversations with others at least a third of the time. Don’t make a habit of focusing only on yourself and your needs.

• 10 percent of your posts can consist of self-promotion, including your firm’s blog posts and information about professional activities and accomplishments.

• The final 10 percent of your online communication can be comprised of posts or tweets that are devoted to your personal interests and hobbies.

While nothing will ever replace live human contact for real marketing effectiveness, adhering to the cocktail party rules and following the applicable conversational guidelines will help you navigate the world of social media successfully.

Just remember: Don’t make it all about you. Be sociable — it’s a party.

Michael Hammond, a founder of Atticus, is a certified practice advisor. He has experience in lawyer marketing, one-on-one business coaching and strategic planning. Mark Powers is the president of Atticus Inc., and co-author of “How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers” and “Time Management for Attorneys.” He can be contacted at [email protected] A version of this column originally appeared in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, sister publication to The Daily Record.