Published: The Recorder
By: Sharon Berman
What do best practices have to do with weak ties, and what do these theories have to do with law firm marketing?
These questions were on my mind recently when I attended several conferences that seemingly had nothing to do with legal marketing, but everything to do to with obtaining a fresh perspective and looking at best practices. It is stimulating to compare and contrast what other markets are doing to see what you can borrow from them in order to keep your own marketing invigorated.
The best practices theory has intrigued me ever since it was touted years ago. At that time, the focus was on studying other industries and how you might be able to adapt and apply what they were doing to professional services. However, in recent years, the idea of best practices has moved from looking outward to glean ideas from other arenas, to looking inward at what is happening in our legal services world. The questions we now tend to ask are what are other law firm doing and what are their best practices? While we need to keep our eyes on our market, looking only at what other law firms are doing—even the most innovative ones—can be limiting. The most refreshing ideas come not from looking solely at the legal arena, but from looking beyond the boundaries of our own marketplace.
Coincident with the idea that we tend to look at best practices within our respective industries is the theory of the strength of weak ties, an important and powerful concept formalized decades ago by the American sociologist Mark Granovetter. Granovetter’s research points to the idea that more novel information flows to individuals through loose associations, or weak ties, rather than through the strong connections we have with those who share our characteristics. Because our close friends and professional associates tend to move in the same circles we do, the information we receive in the normal course of our lives overlaps considerably with what we already know. Those outside our tight circles, by contrast, know people we do not and may offer more novel information.
These two concepts formalize what may seem obvious: If you approach conferences, seminars, and other activities with the right mindset, you will find ideas and methods that can differentiate you from the competition. If you listen intently to “familiars,” those outside your circle with whom you have regular contact—a personal trainer, hairstylist, or golf pro, for example—you can pinpoint ideas you can integrate into your business development.
The right mindset means being proactive and having the intention of not just listening, let’s say, to the material presented, but also observing other aspects, for instance, how the material is presented, how the event has been marketed, and how the presenters handle their own business development. In terms of gleaning ideas from weak ties, it means listening to what falls between the lines.
Too, when it comes to best practices, you have to decide that you will put yourself in an environment that is new, which can mean stepping outside a comfort zone, let alone overcoming the voices that may be telling you that your time can be better spent. The idea is to approach this as something that will cross over from “their” world into yours, in addition to focusing on something that interests you beyond your work-a-day practice.
What I learned at these recent events about marketing was not new material. I had heard these concepts many times before in the context of law firm marketing. But hearing about them as they related to other industries revitalized the material. It also validated and reinforced the counsel my team and I deliver to clients.
In particular, I gained fresh knowledge about two aspects of the online world: first, its inexorable expansion into and critical role in marketing and, second, that lawyers are not the only ones grappling with social media. If you plan to expand your business, you have to concentrate on expanding your online footprint and figuring out how to make it work for your firm. While this point would seem obvious, based on many law firms’ actions, it is not. Hearing marketers in other industries urging their prospective clients to embrace online marketing reinforces the drumbeat.
It is also instructive to see that law firms are not the only ones figuring out how to embrace social media and incorporate it into their marketing. Even those of a younger generation who grew up in a web-based world are being pushed by their own industry-based marketing consultants to use social media in marketing their businesses. And, surprisingly, the consultants are encountering resistance. Anyone with a product or service to sell today is dealing with social media’s challenges, which means, now is the time to act. Get involved and experiment to see what makes sense for your own practice development.
Looking outside one’s own industry offers innovative ideas and opportunities, and moving beyond our regular professional and social circles can also yield great rewards. So, during our standard course of business, while we may still tend to focus intently on developing relationships with those within our professional groups and should continue to do so, we should also look to other industries and mingle with those beyond our usual realms. In this way, we can access previously unheralded marketing and business development ideas and pointers and enhance our educations. Additionally, when we venture into new arenas, we never know who will need a referral to someone in
our circles. For new possibilities to manifest, however, we need to be open-minded, inquisitive, and attentive. If we are not listening and asking questions, we could miss wonderful opportunities that could prove beneficial for years to come.