This thoughtful contribution to our series is from Oliver Thoenen, Senior Manager of Strategic Communications at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. Oliver highlights the rise of live video by brands as a transformational occurrence in 2016. Read why he thinks law firms would do well to internalize this, as well as his doubts about automating content on social media.
What has shifted in the last 12 months in social & digital media?
Bar none, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is the biggest social media story of 2016. But for his Twitter megaphone, does Trump get elected? I don't think so. But that's a story that has already been covered in this series. So I'm going to point to the emergence of streaming live video as a hugely important shift this year. Meerkat and Twitter's Periscope got things kicked off in early 2015, but the roll-out of Facebook Live in January 2016 produced a veritable explosion of branded, publisher and celebrity live video streaming.
In April, Mashable announced that it was shifting its content strategy to focus on branded video. According to Digiday, digital publishers like Vox and Fusion are now routinely capturing millions of views of their Facebook Live feeds, and even popular podcasts – see for example "Keepin' it 1600" – have started to work live video into their content mix. In October, Vox Media announced 'Tonight Show' producer Gavin Purcell had been tapped as their new head of video, with Vox CEO Jim Bankoff stating that video had become "the significant investment area" for the company. And a few days ago, Twitter announced that users would now be able to create and tweet live video directly from the Twitter app, gushing in a company statement that "live video brings moments and events to life in a way that no other medium can."
In short, Internet historians will point to 2016 as the year live video went mainstream.
What has caught your eye recently as a smart use of social & digital media?
I'm going to stick with the live video theme. Branded content has come out to play in a very big way in 2016. I'm a childhood fan of Chelsea FC and as an Englishman and former rugby player I've also had the great pleasure of cheering on the English rugby team through an undefeated season this year. The social media teams of both these outfits have become increasingly effective in their use of live video. The teams have adopted a TV news reporting style, with live pregame footage, player interviews and live studio analysis shows. The lesson is that brands are becoming increasingly competitive with traditional broadcasters in both share of voice and content. That is a lesson that should not be lost on law firms and their marketing and PR teams.
What’s the biggest challenge for law firms trying to be active in the social & digital media space, and how can they overcome it?
Staffing probably remains the biggest challenge for law firms in the social space. To be successful, a firm's social media operator needs a high degree of autonomy to make snap decisions with regard to messaging and social interactions. That autonomy is only possible where the operator has an excellent understanding of – and interest in – the business end of lawyering, along with the firm's clients and the firm's strategic priorities. In the absence of someone with such a skillset, a law firm's social media program likely will remain little more than a push marketing operation, with lead generation a largely unattainable dream.
What's the next big thing in social & digital media marketing for law firms for 2017?
Automated content on social is a huge open question in my mind. What legal marketers have discovered is that in social – just like with many other traditional marketing activities – it is challenging to get even a minority of their attorneys to play ball. Given that we operate within the constraints of an attorney compensation system that remains heavily focused on hours billed, this is hardly surprising. To solve this dilemma, a number of cloud-based services have recently emerged – see e.g. ClearView Social, Passle and the new startup Scroll – that propose to automate or facilitate the publishing of curated content on attorney social media profiles. However, an automated approach carries with it the risk of a loss of authenticity and interactivity, two extremely important factors in achieving success on social media. Legal marketers are going to have to think long and hard about whether a regularly maintained presence on social media – for both the brand and its attorneys – is worth the price of an automated or ghostwritten approach to content.
About Oliver Thoenen
Oliver Thoenen is the Senior Manager of Strategic Communications at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. A recovering lawyer, he has more than a decade of experience managing major law firm content initiatives and public relations. Born in Switzerland and raised in England, he now makes his home in the Twin Cities, where his American wife and two young boys are helping him cement his Minnesota roots. Favorite slippers on couch hobbies include reading about behavioral economics, history and military strategy, along with swashbuckling maritime yarns such as the Patrick O'Brian "Aubrey-Maturin" novels.
In case you missed it:
Save The Date!
Save the date for Tuesday, January 17, 1 PM CT/ 2 PM ET as the Social & Digital Media SIG is kicking off the new year by tackling an important issue. "Conquering the Generational Content Divide: What You Need to Know to Reach All Generations with Your Digital Content," with presenters Molly Miller, Chief Content Officer, ALM, Helen Bertelli, Vice President, Infinite Global Consulting, and new Social & Digital Media SIG co-chair, Karen Cariello, Vice President, JD Supra. Register early so you can get this important webinar on your calendar!