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Omar HaRedeye

The First Rule of Social Media.
And the Last.

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George Berkeley asked in his 1710 book, A Treatise Concerning the Principles
of Human Knowledge, If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it
make a sound? Berkeley was challenging the position taken by John Locke that we
get our ideas from experiences, asserting the dictum esse est percipi. To be is to be
perceived, and the acquisition of experience is only meaningful if it is actually
observed by the outside mind.
In the context of social media, the busy practitioner
must ask themselves whether it is worth all of their effort to engage in these online
channels if nobody is participating or reading their content. Once youve oriented
yourself to the major social media channels, the next step is usually to figure out
what you are going to write about, and when. This paper will canvas how to get
started with social media, steps you can take to build your profile, selecting the
topics to write about, and how to find time for doing all of the above. These topics
will be addressed by focusing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and the use of
metrics in building your social media plan.

Learning About, and Ignoring, Search Engine Optimization

When looking for information about how to attract readers and potential
clients to your site, lawyers often come across the concept of Search Engine
Optimization (SEO). This concept can often be described as the Golden Grail of legal
marketing, and online marketing generally. In a nutshell, it is the process of ensuring

Gyrgy Buzsk, Neural Syntax: Cell Assemblies, Synapsembles, and Readers, 2010 Neuron 68:3 ,
362 385 at Supplemental Information Note 1.

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that your website or content features on the front page or near the top of search
results for a particular search term, i.e. family lawyer in Orillia. The rationale is
that the closer a result is to the top of a search inquiry, the more likely someone will
be to click on the link. Web users rarely click on search results after the first page,
and usually focus on results above the fold, or initially visible on the screen
without scrolling down. These results can be distinguished from paid or advertised
results, and are referred to as organic. Lawyers and other businesses have been
known to pay web designers and selfprofessed experts to develop these organic
search results.

The quest for search engine prominence has unfortunately led to gaming
search engine results, by attempting to demystify Googles search algorithm and
design websites and content to trick Google into given the site priority. Social media
platforms are often employed to help supplement these strategies. The problem is
that Google, a multimillion dollar enterprise, gains its credibility by providing
search results that are useful to its users, not necessarily those paying to obtain
these results. Google itself describes this priority as follows,

You want the answer, not trillions of webpages. Algorithms are computer programs that look
for clues to give you back exactly what you want.

Consequently, Google is frequently amending its algorithm to improve its utility to
the end user. One of the effects of these changes is that Google has penalized those
gaming its algorithm, pushing those websites even further down in search results.

Google, Algorithms, Retrieved October 13, 2014, available at:

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Paradoxically this has led to businesses paying significant amounts of money for
strategies that have ultimately led to even poorer performance online.
Instead of gaming search results, the best SEO strategy can possibly be
summarized by the infamous quote from the 1999 film Fight Club, "The first rule of
fight club is you do not talk about fight club." SEO results can best be achieved by
(almost) entirely ignoring how Google operates, and why, and focusing on quality
content instead. Lawyers writing unique, interesting, and original content will
invariably provide the Internet with content useful to its readers, thereby
generating sustainable prominence in search engine results over time. This
approach often seems counterintuitive, and is usually not the approach advocated
by independent and thirdparty consultants employed to assist firms, especially
since it is far more challenging to demonstrate shortterm gains.
Putting aside the first rule of SEO momentarily, it can be useful to illustrate
some of the basic principles behind optimization, changes that Google has
implemented in recent years, and how it has affected legal marketing. Google
changes its algorithm up to 600 times a year, but most of these changes are
considered minor. Changes to the Google algorithm go back at least 14 years, with
the introduction of Google Toolbar.
The most significant changes to the algorithm
in recent years are referred to as Panda and Penguin. The changes introduced
with Panda sought to improve search results by promoting higher quality sites

For a complete history of changes to the Google algorithm, see Moz, Google Algorithm Change
History, retrieved October 13, 2014, available at: http://moz.com/googlealgorithmchange

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higher up in searches. Quality was defined by the Panda update as including factors
such as:

Reliability and trustworthiness of article
Original research or analysis by an expert in the field
Lack of duplicate or redundant articles on similar topics
Careful editing and quality control of the article
Lack of excessive advertisements on the page

The result of the Panda update, and subsequent modifications, was that social media
sites featured far more prominently than before. These sites in turn play a larger
role in directing web traffic.
The Penguin update sought to penalize websites who
were gaming Googles algorithm, specifically by attempting to set up back links to
increase a websites perceived importance.
Websites specifically designed to attract
traffic were penalized in particular, meaning some social media sites and directories
focusing on aggregation alone without original content were downgraded.
A more
minor but noteworthy modification to the algorithm recently is Google
Hummingbird, which focuses on the intent behind the search. Instead of focusing
exclusively on facts, Hummingbird promotes sites that attempt to answer the
questions of the users.

Amit Singhal, More guidance on building highquality sites, Google Webmaster Central Blog,
Google, April 6, 2011, available at: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.ca/2011/05/more
Mary Manzo, The Evolution of SEO with Google Panda, Social Media Today, January 10, 2012,
available at: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/evolutionseogooglepanda
Matt Cutts,Another step to reward highquality sites, Google Webmaster Central Blog, April 24,
2012, available at: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.ca/2012/04/anothersteptoreward
Omar HaRedeye, Penguins Freeze for Small Businesses and Firms, Slaw, May 20, 2012, available
at: http://www.slaw.ca/2012/05/20/penguinsfreezeforsmallbusinessesandfirms/

Danny Sullivan, FAQ: All About The New Google Hummingbird Algorithm, Search Engine Land,
September 26, 2013, available at: http://searchengineland.com/googlehummingbird172816

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All of these modifications are continuously fine tuned by Google, but do have
a discernable impact on web traffic. The end result is that lawyers who focus on the
user experience will ultimately be rewarded by Google. Matt Cutts, head of the web
spam team at Google, stated,

One piece of advice I give to S.E.O. masters is, dont chase after Googles algorithm, chase
after your best interpretation of what users want, because thats what Googles chasing after.

One review of 57 different law firm websites comparing average site traffic between
both the Panda and Pigeon updates indicates that law firms may have actually
benefited from these changes, especially with local results.

Utilizing Metrics to Develop a Better Focus and Voice

Even if you are successful in your SEO strategy, this does not mean that you
have been successful in using social media. Online communications is about
engagement, not clicks, as discussed above. A committed, loyal, and dedicated
readership is the best way to establish authority in an area of law, and is a preferred
means of being recognized by individuals referring family members and friends to a
lawyer. One of the greatest benefits of social media, often overlooked by many small
businesses and firms, is the ability to gain information about readership. This target
market demographic information would normally retail for thousands of dollars, but
is generally available free of cost by anyone employing social media tools.
Although proprietary tracking information is available, the most common
and inexpensive is Google Analytics. This can be installed on a website by inserting a

Claire Cain Miller, Web Words That Lure the Readers, New York Times, February 10, 2011,
available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/business/media/11search.html?_r=0
Conrad Saam, Pigeon Rolled Back? Law Firm Study Says Yes, SearchEngineLand, October 9, 2014,
available at: http://searchengineland.com/pigeonrolledbacklawfirmstudysaysyes205060

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simple script, provided by the free Google Analytics account. Once this script is
added to the site it will track all visitors to it, including how they got there, which
pages they visit, and how long they stay. Website metrics can also provide
demographic information about visitors, such as location (up to the city level), and
sometimes age and gender. This information can help develop a better topical focus
for social media strategies. Of particular interest should be key word searches, or
the organic searches leading to a site, and referral sources, the websites that people
click on to get to a webpage. When properly utilized, this information should
provide insight as to what subjects are of greatest interest to a readership and the
public, and this can be used to develop more content along these lines. For a general
practitioner, metrics can be incorporated into business plans to identify growth
areas of practice, especially in areas of publicfacing law such as criminal, civil,
family, wills, estates and immigration law. Other areas of law may not be as useful to
track, such as real estate law, where the client rarely reads about the practice area
or researches the lawyer. Instead, these areas are typically based on referrals from
other professionals. An appropriate strategy to employ in these cases of could be
content geared towards the referral base rather than the client directly. This could
look incorporate information about real estate in different neighbourhoods, trends
in home sales, and the process involved in a real estate transaction. Lawyers
practicing in these areas will typically have a standard rate, but should be cautious
about advertising this publicly in light of the Rules.

For a more detailed discussion of online communications in the context of the Rules of Professional
Conduct, see Bob Tarantino and Omar HaRedeye, Overview: The Rules of Professional Conduct and

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The other free and useful means of collecting metrics are linkshorteners.
The most popular of these is Bit.ly (http://bit.ly), which converts a long url into a
shorter one easily copied and pasted into social media communications like Twitter,
Facebook statutes, LinkedIn updates, etc. These services provide similar
demographic information as the website analytics above, but also include when
people click on the link, and which platform they are clicking on it. For example, to
maximize click rates, post on Google+ first thing in the morning, on Twitter during
lunch, Facebook during the midafternoon, Pinterest on the weekends, and avoid
LinkedIn on Fridays.
Of course such a regimented approach towards social media
completely removes the spontaneity of it, and social media should ultimately be fun.
Through experimentation with different social media platforms, most users will find
that some platforms are more popular for certain types of content than others. This
will vary between lawyers depending on the respective audiences each of them have
online. Over time, this can potentially lead to greater segmentation of content by
focusing on different platforms for different types of content. Link shortners also
provide indirect feedback on stylistic approaches to status updates, and can assist
lawyers in developing sentences which are more concise, provocative, and lead to
greater engagement.

Their Application to the Legal Profession Online (and Off), 2012, Internet and ECommerce Law in
Canada, 12:11, available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2140435
Rachel Gillet, The Best (and Worst) Times to Post on Social Media (Infographic), Fast Company,
September 25, 2014, available at: http://www.fastcompany.com/3036184/howtobeasuccessat

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Elio Gatto describes social media strategy as like painting a room. You can
avoid streaks and ensure that the finished product looks well by doing the

Focus on one goal initially. One you get better at handling the smaller brushes you can start
with overhead rollers and more sophisticated social techniques, but its important to take
baby steps at first by deciding what you want to accomplish with social media. Choose from
factors like awareness and/or sales and retention and start from that point. Choose how
youll measure what works. Youll need to decide on how to measure the effectiveness of the
campaigns and the ROI for each one.

The use of analytics as described above can help to create benchmarks and goals,
and provide structure to periodic evaluations of your social media strategy. Other
benchmarks may include where your sites end up on specific search terms, keeping
in mind that longtail searches, where users input more detailed queries into a
search engine, are experiencing a growth in light of the algorithm changes described
Manually monitoring competitor sites, for example by comparing Google
Page Rank,
can be of some use, but is time consuming, requiring multiple visits,
and can be fraught with erroneous conclusions. Proprietary services such as
BuzzStream (http://www.buzzstream.com/) also offer competitor monitoring, and
there are more complicated and risky ways to employ data scraping to obtain this
information as well.

Elio Gatto, Why Social Media Planning is Like Painting a Room, Social Know How Inc, September
18, 2014, available at: http://socialknowhow.com/blog/whysocialmediaplanningislikepainting
Jayson DeMers, The Resurgence of LongTail Keywords in SEO, Search Engine Watch, March 18,
2013, available at: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2255280/TheResurgenceofLongTail
Google, See a page's importance using PageRank, retrieved October 14, 2014, available at:
Mathew Barby, A Content Marketer's Guide to Data Scraping, The Moz Blog, June 2, 2014,
available at: http://moz.com/blog/acontentmarketersguidetodatascraping

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The best way to engage in social media is to do so with an open mind,
experiment, and enjoy the experience. Lawyers are often advised to customize
content to match search engine preferences, whereas a more realistic, genuine,
authentic strategy beneficial in the longterm is to provide useful content.
Identifying what content is most useful to an online audience can be determined
through the use of website and link shortener analytics. By using this information,
lawyers can better understand who their clients and potential clients are, what
content they are most engaged in, and how they can improve their relevance. This
should be approached as a continuous quality improvement, with perpetual
feedback loop on how to get better. Authenticity is the best strategy possible, and is
not something that can be outsourced. What this means will differ depending on the
practice area and the audience, but the important lesson is that your social media
engagement is yours alone and should reflect your priorities, personality and
perceptions. An authentic voice is the first thing you should keep in mind before
engaging in social media, and if you plan to be successful, it will also be the last.