Predictions on the future of marketing for law firms – part 2

Posted by David Kerr, client relationship director at Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology

Social media: its marketing use will die out

Following the first part of my predictions – which were that lawyers will stop marketing themselves as ‘lawyers’ and ‘solicitors’, there will be greater focus on lead nurturing and relationship management, and lawyers will flock to trusted advisers for marketing, let’s start the second and final part with something not at all contentious:

Social media marketing will die out

The signs are already there. The companies that succeed on social media are those that use it to listen, to assist, to empower, to inform, to respond and to connect to people as individuals. That just can’t be outsourced, automated or pre-packaged.

We urge those lawyers who enjoy social media and who use it in interesting and meaningful ways – to connect with peers, to post interesting insights and to engage in debate – to continue to do so. It isn’t social media that will die; it’s social media marketing.

So, why is social media marketing dying? The University of Maryland conducted research into social media usage which casts some light on the reason why. It found that 60-80% of US social media users admit to using social media solely for entertainment or to kill time. That is to say, they have no intention of using social media to do anything of consequence.

Social media, Twitter, in particular, is a firehose of information. Law firms tweeting articles are competing with an ever-more-discerning audience for their ever-diminishing attention span.

Social media, for many SMEs, isn’t a marketing channel. It’s not even ‘new media’ anymore. It’s just media. Posting an advertising message on someone’s Twitter feed is now no different to placing an ad on a billboard – with the one caveat that social media users can block, mute or unfollow you

Let’s be clear – social media isn’t dead. It’s very much alive and thriving. Networks will come and go: Bebo, Myspace, Friends Reunited, Google+ and others have been supplanted by other platforms. The signs are that Twitter is on the decline too. Indeed, overuse of the platform by marketers is regarded by many as one of the main factors in that.

Using social media for its intended purpose – being social – still has its place, even for law firms. There are many lawyers (and firms) on Twitter and LinkedIn who use those platforms to debate issues, connect with their peers, share interesting takes on the law, share, discuss and debate their personal interests and we wholeheartedly think that’s a brilliant idea.

But the inescapable conclusion is that outsourced social media marketing for law firms just doesn’t contribute to their online success like it used to.

‘Voice search’ will become commonplace

Until now, there have been inherent weaknesses in voice recognition and speech-to-text software that have slowed adoption. Inaccuracy, inability to recognise uncommon words (particularly problematic for lawyers) and an almost stubborn refusal to cope with regional accents have meant voice recognition programmes have been a sideshow rather than a serious business tool.

Even Apple, the undisputed champion of identifying tech niches and engineering magnificently intuitive solutions, wrestled with the problem of voice recognition for more than 20 years before getting it right.

However, Apple and Microsoft, with their Siri and Cortana programmes and Google’s ‘OK Google’ TV ads (the three technology companies with the most impact on SEO), have managed to make voice recognition work.

My Windows 10 laptop now implores me to ‘ask it anything’, Google search on mobile is built around a microphone icon and Siri has been an integral part of our iPhones since 2011. Facebook is also rumoured to be developing its own voice search app.

As users begin to trust voice search, and these platforms become more sophisticated, we’ll see the share of search traffic from voice searches grow and grow. At a recent search engine marketing convention, Google’s head of ‘conversational search’ stated that its voice recognition error rate was down from 25% two years ago to just 8%.

The result is that we are more comfortable using natural sentences and asking questions like ‘What’s the weather like in Madrid tomorrow?’ rather than a more perfunctory typed equivalent like ‘Madrid weather forecast’. When typing, we use the most direct query that will generate an answer, and those staccato bursts of keywords don’t feel ‘right’ when spoken.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella says that one day, human language will be the UI (user interface) layer. Traditionally, websites are designed around the existing UI of the keyboard, mouse, screen and, in recent years, touch screen and smaller devices. Now, however, we must also take account of how people think and speak when building online business generation platforms’.

Going forward, law firms will build their sites around natural, conversational, human language.

…but virtual reality won’t

This has been touted as the year of virtual reality in many fields. Indeed, some firms are using virtual reality as a means of knowledge transfer for clients and their employees. However, my prediction is that virtual reality won’t be commonplace in society just yet, and it won’t have any meaningful impact on the business of law.

The reasons are threefold: high barrier to entry for consumers (most decent-quality headsets cost £300+), high software development costs and, most fundamentally, the user experience isn’t intuitive, comfortable or enjoyable for long periods.

While virtual reality will continue for niche pursuits like video gaming, it won’t influence how lawyers practice or do business in the immediate future.

The Internet of things will die out

There are objects which have worked for aeons just fine that aren’t enhanced by an internet connection. For example, one man recently spent 11 hours attempting to make a cup of tea using a Wi-Fi kettle.

Light switches have been around since the first lightbulb went off above Thomas Edison’s head. Since then, some aesthetic upgrades aside, they remain pretty much unchanged. Sure, your Wi-Fi connected lightbulb might let you turn the light off without getting off the couch, but what about when the tech is underpinning it becomes obsolete, needs to be updated or is turned off by the company, as was the case with Nest’s REVOLV hub?

There are also security implications. If hackers get into your lightbulb, thermostat, cooker or another device, then they could potentially hack into everything else. One hotel was recently the victim of a ‘ransomware attack’. Hackers accessed their hotel door system and locked guests out.

Ransomware programs are used by hackers to lock out all or part of a system and force the owner to pay to have access restored. By demanding relatively minor payment (€1,500 in the case of the hotel) they can get paid relatively quickly and easily.

If you returned home after a day’s work and were asked by a hacker to pay, say, £50 to be able to turn the lights on, turn the washing machine on, cook and use your TV, there’s a fair chance many of us would just stump up.

In short, unless having an internet connection actively improves the object’s ability to perform its intended function AND provides an improved user experience, then users simply will not engage with it. Wi-Fi connected speakers (such as the Sonos system), smart TVs and home media hubs like PlayStation are actively improved by being connected to the internet. Hairbrushes (seriously), kettles, fridges and washing machines are not.

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