We’ve Moved!

October 26, 2011

It was great, WordPress.com – and we’re grateful to still have your exceptional DNA – but it’s time for the Shatterbox blog to move on up to its own de-luxe domain in the cloud: Shatterbox.biz.

For you, gentle readers, not much has changed. The look, feel and layout are a little fresher and – one hopes – more engaging. The biggest changes will be going on behind the scenes, where we’ll be working to maximize the blog’s potential through cunning plug-ins and more customization.

Since it’s a launch of sorts, we’ll take this opportunity to rededicate Shatterbox to the motto:

“Endeavor to make it useful”

We hope you will follow us to our new home and continue to share your insights and opinions there as the spirit moves you.

Video for Lawyers: ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

October 24, 2011

While it might seem like incorporating background music into your firm’s marketing and informational videos will add a “professional” sheen, it’s a risky choice. Whatever is playing during the narration should unobtrusively complement and elevate what’s being said, not compete with it.

The video below on methods of purchasing a business is intended to instruct, which requires a higher level of concentration than a video meant to create a general impression. The folksy finger-picked acoustic guitar riff is too prominent and distracting, making it difficult to focus on the information being conveyed, let alone retain it.

What do you think? Does the music enhance or detract from the video’s overall effectiveness? What would you have done differently?

Social Media for Lawyers: Contemplating the Nuclear Option

October 21, 2011

You’ve tried training, guilting, pleading, appealing to professionalism, more training — and still, getting your associates to blog, tweet or even share one of their presentations is like pulling teeth.

Have you considered linking social media content creation to performance metrics and merit increases? OK, forget social media. What about carrots and/or sticks for traditional business development and networking activities?

For all the hand-wringing about the difficulty of getting lawyers to create content for social media and participate in networking activities, there seems to be a deep-rooted resistance to even considering the use of performance evaluations and compensation as a management tool for driving those behaviors.

Having tried a voluntary approach to participation in the firm’s marketing and business development activities, one of my clients  recently instituted some mandatory measures. In addition to weekly one-hour professional development meetings, firm management requires associates to log at least 72 hours of business development activities per year, which is tracked through a billing code in its ProLaw system. Research and writing time for blogs and articles count, as do networking coffees and lunches. However, passive activities like event attendance do not. Results will be discussed in annual reviews and factor into merit increases and bonuses.

Money Motivates

  • Spiffs – Practically everyone who’s held a sales job is familiar with “spiffs” — spot awards for selling particular items. If you’re having trouble getting people to submit blog posts or newsletter articles, try periodically offering $5 Starbucks or iTunes gift cards for the next submission. You’ll be surprised at how motivating a free spiced pumpkin latte or smartphone game download can be.
  • Pay per submission – I worked with one firm that gave away $50 spot bonuses for every accepted staff blog post submission. Even the partners were eligible, and the managing partner took pride in his second income. So for only $7,800 per year — 3 posts a week, 52 weeks a year — the firm had a strong pipeline and frequency of posts.
  • Executive face time – Lunch with the managing partner is a pearl of great price. See how many JD Supra submissions you can generate by offering associates that incentive (and they’ll have something to talk about during the meal).
  • Time off – Offering extra personal days as an incentive for extraordinary contributions to your content marketing could be the most motivating compensation of all.

Twitter for Lawyers: Not All Tweets Are Created Equal

October 13, 2011

There is no lack of tools that help you decide who to follow and unfollow on Twitter by examining the activity of accounts in your Twitter ecosystem.

One of the current “buzz” Twitter clients, Twit Cleaner, provides users a very interesting detailed breakdown of how it identifies potential “garbage” accounts among people, organizations and bots you follow on Twitter.

In general, tweets that demonstrate active engagement (e.g. “@” messages, retweets and links) are favored, while automated tweets (e.g. paper.li distributions, Foursquare check-ins, RSS bot feeds) count against you if used extensively.

After you request an analysis of your Twitter followers, Twit Cleaner sends you a Twitter direct message containing a link to your customized results. In addition to the statistical breakdown by “type,” the analysis includes thumbnail avatars of all the Tweeps in each category, which yield individual details as you mouse over each with your cursor.

To cull out the undesirables, just click on the corresponding avatars.

Here’s how the categories break down:

Potentially Dodgy Behavior

  • App spam – More than 50 percent of tweets are auto-generated messages, aka “app spam” (e.g. paper.li, Foursquare, blip.fm)
  • Uses advertising networks
  • Nothing but links – Few retweets, no “@” messages
  • Repeating the same URLs – Duplicates the same link more than 25 percent of the time
  • Posting identical tweets

Other Dodgy Behavior, Now Absent

No Activity in Over a Month

Not Much Interaction – Fewer than 10 tweets

  • Not active yet
  • Don’t interact with anyone – No “@” messages or retweets
  • Bots – M0re than 90 percent of tweets pumped out from an RSS feed
  • Hardly follow anyone – People who follow back fewer than 10 percent of those who follow them

All Talk, All the Time – Averages more than 24 tweets a day (excluding @ replies and direct messages)

Little Original Content – Retweets are 70 percent or more of total output

  • High percentage of retweets
  • High percentage of quotes

Not So Interesting – More than 50 percent of their tweets are about themselves

  • Self-obsessed
  • Relatively unpopular – Few followers

So if you’re having trouble attracting and/or keeping the  followers you seek on Twitter, a quick self-diagnostic might be in order.

Twitter for Lawyers: The Simplest Way to Schedule Tweets and Track Your Links

October 7, 2011

I started writing this post on Monday and, as often happens in social media, two big-name bloggers beat me to the punch with a level of thoroughness that left little to elaborate upon. So instead, I’ll crib, credit and cobble together some excerpts from those posts to make my point.

The condensed version is that lawyers who’ve been sitting on the Twitter sidelines, as well as Twitter veterans who want to boost their effectiveness, should immediately set up a Buffer account to schedule your tweets and a  bitly URL shortener account to monitor the activity of the links you’re tweeting.

I’ve been tweeting and commenting a lot about tweet scheduling app Buffer lately, and Jay Baer came over the top with a full-throated endorsement this week:

“One of my favorite Twitter add-ons is Buffer, an easy-to-use service that allows you to quickly queue up many tweets at one time, with those missives and bon mots then automatically parceled out one at a time on a schedule you determine.(Buffer also works for Facebook)

For people like me that do a lot of curation via Twitter, this is a real workflow advantage. Instead of finding and tweeting interesting content several times daily, I can scan dozens of blogs and email newsletter and RSS feeds in one sitting in the morning, and then use the Buffer browser app to set up tweets throughout the day. Doing so allows me to focus my other Twitter interactions on engagement and response, rather than curation.”

“Buffer automatically sets up your tweets to be sent when more people tend to be using Twitter, naturally increasing potential audience for many Buffer users. You can override the Buffer default settings (as I do) to Tweet more often, on a more diffuse pattern, to include nights and weekends, and/or to Tweet closer to the top and bottom of the hour.”

I you’re unfamiliar with bit.ly, here’s Danny Brown’s elegant summary:

“Primarily a URL shortener to make it easier to share blog URL’s on space-restricted platforms like Twitter, bit.ly (like Hootsuite and BackType) offers a great mix of analytics about the amount of shares each post got, as well as the top referrers so you can see where the links were shared the most.

bit.ly metrics summary

Additionally, much like other analytic services, bit.ly also gives you a breakdown of the countries that have clicked through on your link. This is ideal for getting a better understanding of your readers, and whether you need to install a translation option or not.

You can also gauge when the most popular time of day (and day of the week) seems to be for your links, so you can then schedule tweets to go out at these times to maximize the chance for extra blog traffic at these times.

The bit.ly services offers free and premium versions, with the premium option offering branded links, a more in-depth dashboard and integration with other social media platforms.”

Have you tried either Buffer or bit.ly? Give them a shot. The free versions are plenty useful.

3 Ways to Get More Than a Tote Bag and an Online Listing Out of Your NPR Sponsorship

October 4, 2011

Today’s the last day for Austin NPR affiliate KUT’s on-air membership drive, and once again law firms have been heavily represented in the shoutouts provided to “Business Circle” contributors. If you’re doing it because it’s a cause you believe in — and it truly is an outstanding news and entertainment resource — thank you, and God bless. But recognize that on its own it’s a pretty poor use of scarce marketing dollars — a few mentions within a laundry list of names during the pledge drive, a random mention the following week, and an online directetory listing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are a few simple ways to leverage your support for NPR that can generate direct, measurable marketing lift out of your generous contribution:

  • LinkedIn mining – Use the online business directory to create a list of networking prospects in your area. Your shared interest in/sponsorship of public radio is a great opening line for an invitation to join your network.
  • CLE for NPR lovers – Devise a CLE session for your fellow NPR supporters, inviting the prospects on the aforementioned LinkedIn list and existing members of your network.
  • Take the station’s development director to lunch – As I’ve written before, fundraisers at non-profit organizations are creative, resourceful and formidable marketers. Odds are good that someone in the development department would make time to sit down with you over coffee and knock around some ideas for creating some mutually beneficial networking opportunities.

Do you support your local NPR station? Any networking stories you’d like to share?

Of Groupons, Contract Law, and My Son’s Birthday Party

September 30, 2011

Dear contract law mavens,

I’m interested in your opinions on a recent kerfuffle I experienced concerning a local business that ran a Groupon promotion.

In mid-June I purchased a Groupon for a kid’s party at a nearby swim school. Both the online ad and the barcoded Groupon .pdf that I had to print out and present for redemption showed a Dec. 17 expiration date. I made a Dec. 11 reservation over the phone, and a few days later  went to the facility in person to present the Groupon and complete the purchase. No questions, no complications. I was all set for a fun-filled family celebration — or so I thought [cue ominous music].

Three months later…I received a call from the swim school’s customer service manager, who informed me that promotion expiration date in the school’s contract with Groupon was a date in November, so the Dec. 17 date on the advertising materials and redemption coupon was incorrect. She informed me that because of Groupon’s error, the school would not honor my coupon, and if I still wanted to hold my event I would have to pay the difference between the Groupon price and the full rack rate.

I told her that I expected to move forward as planned without additional charges because, regardless of whether Groupon breached the contract with the swim school, my agreement with the facility was still valid and binding. I am not a lawyer, but here’s the reasoning I gave her for my position:

  • I entered into a formal, written and signed agreement with the facility in good faith, and
  • The validity of the coupon was not questioned by the salesperson at the time of purchase and it was accepted as full payment.

The manager’s response to the second point was that the staff who handled reservations and payment processing at the time did not know that the ads and coupons had the “wrong” expiration date. My gut-level reply was “If you don’t train your staff on the details of a major promotion, that’s your problem and I don’t intend to pay for it.”

I continued to argue my position, and eventually the manager agreed to “make an exception” and allow my party to go on as planned (and I requested/received a confirmation e-mail from her as added insurance — don’t want to show up the day of the party with dozens giddy 1st graders just to get shaken down for more money).

So did I get my way through a blustery bluff, or does it sound like I probably had an enforceable contract?

[Note: I will not construe any responses as legal advice, or assume an attorney-client relationship. Does that help?]

Six Sigma for Law Firms: Move Over Client Surveys, Make Way for Net Promoter Scores

September 23, 2011

As I’ve written about previously, I am proud of my GE pedigree, particularly the invaluable Six Sigma and “Lean” training in operational rigor, analysis, continuous improvement, measurement and repeatable processes. So I was interested and encouraged to see Lisa Damon of Seyfarth Shaw honored as one of the ABA’s 2011 Legal Rebels for her work championing SeyfarthLean, the firm’s Six Sigma-inflected initiative to drive strategy and operational effectiveness that delivers both cost reduction for clients and revenue growth for the firm.

And earlier this week I came across a post by Darryl Mountain on the SLAW blog that discussed how to apply a standard Six Sigma DMAIC tool — the fishbone diagram — to analyze legal problems.

It seems like the time might be right for innovative firms to consider importing another quality and customer engagement tool from the business sector into law practice management: the Net Promoter Score, a customer/client loyalty metric and a operational discipline for using customer feedback to fuel profitable growth. Adopted by companies like GE, P&G, Intuit and American Express, the NPS is derived from a single question posed to customers/clients: “How likely are you to recommend [Company X] to a friend or colleague?”

Survey participants respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale divided into three groupings:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will continue buying and
    will refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who
    might be receptive to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your
    brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

To calculate the Net Promoter Score (NPS), subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters. In concert with the survey, NPS companies develop an operational model to drive improvements in customer loyalty and enable profitable growth. Key elements of the model include leadership commitment, effective business processes, and systems to deliver real-time information to employees so they can respond to customer feedback.

Studies examining the NPS “loyalty effect” have shown that companies with the highest customer loyalty typically increase revenues at more than twice the rate of competitors.

Know of any law firms that have tried NPS or a similar methodology with clients?

How Yelp Is Upending Lawyer Ratings and Reviews

September 22, 2011

If it gives you peace of mind to continue investing time and money in “pay-to-play” and “claim your profile”  lawyer ratings and reviews websites, then god bless and best wishes. But the mind share these vestigial marketing tools– “basic boxes” to check — continues to command could be distracting lawyers — particularly small and solo general practice firms — from leveraging local word-of-mouth communities, Yelp in particular.

Consider this quick-and-dirty case study.

As of this writing, a general search for “lawyers” on Yelp’s San Francisco community site turned up 5,557 profiles.  General litigation and estate planning attorney Michael Blacksburg showed up near the top of the results page. His 63 reviews yielded a 5-out-of-5 stars rating. In a “Michael Blacksburg San Francisco lawyer” Google search, his Yelp profile was the first listing after links to his own website. A Super Lawyers link turned up down the page, but notably absent from the first page of results were links to “basic boxes”Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell.

Interestingly, a basic Google search for San Francisco immigration law firm Van Der Hout Brigagliano & Nightingale LLP — which had a 5-star overall rating based on two Yelp reviews — produced similar results. The top search result was the firm’s own website, followed by the firm’s Yelp profile.

Why Yelp Deserves More Attention from Lawyers

  • Yelp is the online ratings and reviews destination of first resort for service businesses – While it’s not necessarily a household name, Yelp has higher top of mind awareness with the general public than lawyer review sites. Ask an average person on the street whether they’ve heard of Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell or Super Lawyers and you’ll get blank stares. Heck, ask the average lawyer and you’ll likely get the same response.
  • Yelp has monster SEO clout – As discussed above, even a modest Yelp profile is easily found through a basic name search on Google. As of June 2011, more than 53 million people had visited Yelp in the previous  30 days. That compares with Avvo’s claim of 2 million unique visitors per month. Because Yelp is a multi-category site and Avvo is limited to lawyers and physicians, the sheer volume of visitors and the resulting flow of fresh content makes Yelp’s search benefits for members practically insurmountable.
  • Positive experiences in one service category means higher propensity among Yelpers to consult the site for other, unrelated service providers – In other words, finding a plumber or HVAC guy they like increases the probabilty that a Yelper will look for a dentist or lawyer there, too.
  • Yelpers trust other Yelpers – Every Yelp reviewer has his/her own ratings — even followers and fans — which factors into the perceived authority of their opinions. It’s also important to note that Yelp’s filtering and page rank algorithms favor the contributions of established users.

Have you established a Yelp business profile? What’s your experience been so far? Any advice?

Online Ratings and Reviews: Don’t Ask for Positive Comments

September 20, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard and read well-intentioned legal marketers recommend asking clients, legal colleagues and other referral sources for favorable comments on ratings and review websites like Yelp and Avvo.

While it might seem counterintuitive, asking for favorable reviews generally is unproductive and could actually discourage positive comments.

Unlike asking for a referral, where the referer can act on the request privately and selectively, asking for a public, permanent online recommendation puts your professional contacts and clients on the spot. Implicitly you’re saying “I’ll be watching, and I’m expecting it to be great.” It’s a no-win situation insofar as you risk alienating your supporters and stifling positive word of mouth, and even if they do post a recommendation it likely will be a generic expression of approval rather than a helpful precis of your capabilities and character.

But don’t take my word, here’s what Yelp’s blog has to say:

Why would an online review site discourage review solicitation?

Two big reasons:

1. Would-be customers might not trust you. Let’s face it, most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers (read: yelpers) can smell from a mile away. No business is perfect, and it’s impossible to please 100% of your customers 100% of the time.

2. The solicited reviews may get filtered, and that will drive you crazy. Solicited reviews often get filtered by our automated review filter. Why do these reviews sometimes get filtered? Well, we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between. Imagine, for example, the business owner who “solicits” a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when solicited reviews get filtered.

Yelp exists to connect people with great local businesses. We do this by providing people with as much trustworthy information as we can. If consumers don’t trust our content, people stop using Yelp, and everyone loses: consumers don’t have a resource they can trust to make spending decisions, would-be customers stop visiting your business listing.

How to Leverage Your Review Site Profiles and Encourage Reviews Without Directly Asking

A better way to derive value from your online ratings and reviews AND to motivate professional contacts and clients to recommend you is to let them know where to find your profiles. Display badges on your blog and website homepages, email signature and social media pages that link directly to your profile on Yelp, Avvo and other ratings and reviews websites.

Again, from the Yelp blog:

The power of word-of-mouth is that folks generally trust recommendations when they occur as part of an organic process.  There is an important distinction between “Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,” [BAD] and “Hey, check us out on Yelp!” [GOOD]. It’s the difference between actively pursuing testimonials and simply creating awareness of your business through social media outlets.

The latter allows consumers to vet your online reputation without feeling like they’re being solicited. To an established Yelp community member, a reminder of your Yelp presence can act like a dog-whistle prompting them to share their feedback about your business with fellow Yelpers.

How do you monitor and manage your online reputation via ratings and reviews sites?