When a person markets herself (whether online or off) and receives some attention around it, colleagues can become envious. Some may speculate that she’s not a team player, and that she’s more interested in getting her name known than the firm’s.
Others might pick at her with comments like “You spend too much time on your blog, not doing client work.” Just anticipating these sentiments could preclude her from promoting herself, as if she’d be stepping out of bounds.
But marketing in the professions of law or accounting is much more about relationships than about leveraging a corporate-like brand.
People want to buy from people. Not from logos.
Logos and brands aren’t accountable and accessible. People are. Brands are inherently impersonal yet your firm’s value and long-term appeal are based on your people.
Rock Stars and Record Labels
A good way to look at your firm's marketing is to view the firm as a record label and your people as performers ... with some as potential rock stars.
When a label has only one rock star, you could chalk it up to luck in discovering that talent. With two rock stars signed, people start to wonder if it’s more than just luck. Three rock stars and it’s a trend: the label consistently finds and draws talent.
A record label that has signed multiple stars is more prestigious among its competitors and is more attractive to aspiring stars. There’s something magical about that label; it appears to have a formula for success.
Your firm should want your attorneys or CPAs to become rock stars so they can elevate the firm’s visibility and reputation.
Rock-stars using social media can quickly put their firm on the map. The higher profile of the firm, in turn, raises the profile of all its attorneys or CPAs.
Creating the Connection
With the visibility comes responsibility.
In all his marketing interactions, a lawyer or CPA should associate himself with his firm in appropriate ways. Online, this means naming the firm and linking to the firm’s website within his bios on social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and blogs.
This doesn’t mean that every profile or photo needs to incorporate the firm’s branding, just that the connection to the firm is consistently reflected on social sites.
And if the person avoids referring to the firm, you might have reason to question his purpose in marketing so independently.
But this isn’t just a social-media problem, it’s an age-old concern. I know of a partner who contributed an article to a local print publication and refrained from naming his firm in his byline. He confessed his intent was to distance himself from the firm—he felt the firm didn’t support his interest in marketing. Whatever his reason, his behavior reflected an underlying problem. The behavior was just the symptom, the root cause was a deeper issue.
In a scenario like this, be careful to address issues like these for what they really are. Don't let fear preclude you from nurturing rock stars.
Leaving the Label
So there’s this one lingering concern: what if you do support the growth of a rising star, and then she leaves your label?
Your big stars could certainly migrate just as top artists change record companies. This is one reason it’s best to have several rock stars.
It’s true that blogs and social networking sites make it easier than ever for people to build visibility and social capital. And this certainly means they can leave and take this social capital with them. The important thing to remember is that your firm’s stature is already higher for being associated with your stars. That stature stays even when they go.
There’s one way to be particularly proactive about associates or partners possibly leaving that also inspires people to want to create content: establish who will own content like articles and blog posts.
Regardless of the firm’s ability to assert copyright, the wiser approach is a generous spirit of sharing. Agree to let authors use their own articles even after they leave while being clear that the firm can also continue to use the content.
Here’s why you want to share copyright:
When a firm insists on solely owning the content, it creates a disincentive for people (especially non-partners) to contribute their intellectual capital. I’ve seen this completely kill blog efforts, which is a shame because providing content is some of the most valuable marketing you, in a knowledge profession, can do.
Alternately, if the departing attorney or CPA solely owns her content, the firm faces a hassle of scrubbing blogs and websites to remove her content.
Keep it simple and take the high road: agree that the firm and the departing professional can both use it.
When your firm aspires to create, equip, and support as many rock stars as it can, you’ll have far more success than trouble as a result. Encourage your practitioners to create content and participate in social networks to raise both their profiles and the firm’s.
Feature photo courtesy of feiticeira_org on flickr.