What Happens When Client Service Meets Social Media

October 04, 2013

I’ve written before about being part of the startup scene in Boston and the interesting perspective it’s given me on emerging tech companies and their relationships with lawyers. I spent years on the lawyer side of this dynamic, but being able to see it now from the other side has been cool and enlightening.

The latest lesson is no exception. Social Media Can Make Small Client Service Fails Into Massive Ones

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One of the things law firms do to try to get startups on board is offer a fee deferral program. Pretty simple. The firm provides some easy, commodity, impossible-to-screw-up services (e.g. incorporation) and doesn’t collect for those services until the startup gets funding.

But here’s an insider top for all the firms out there that think this is a good idea: you sure as hell better treat those companies as well as you would your most important client.

Because here’s what happens when you don’t:

Top Boston law firm decides to do some low cost marketing with companies at well-known Boston startup accelerator;
Firm kindly offers deferred payment schedule to high potential startup that needs to incorporate;
Startup accepts gracious offer, no doubt impressed by firm’s credentials and credibility;
Firm fails to file incorporation paperwork, leaving startup in lurch at critical moment;
Startup posts to large private Facebook group describing what happened, naming firm and asking for other recommendations;
Post is seen and shared by well over 100 leaders of top tech startups, including someone else currently using that same firm who now is worried;
Firm’s reputation among accelerator startups and their friends sucks worse than if it had made no effort at all.

With just a single mistake, this firm fell to the bottom of the list for all of these potential clients, some of whom will mature into real companies. Social Media Can Make Small Client Service Wins Into Giant Victories

But there’s a flip side to this coin, of course. That same FB post spawned a wave of recommendations for other law firms who, by all accounts, had done a good job carrying out simple tasks. Those messages too were seen by hundreds, in an instant. The tiny investment those firms had made in treating these tiny companies like real clients paid off in tremendous goodwill. Social Media Matters Whether You Use It or Like It or Not, Because Clients Use It

The impact of social media in this instance had absolutely nothing to do with whether these firms had made it a part of their marketing strategy or encouraged or prohibited their lawyers to use it. Not at all. Often that is the only prism through which lawyers consider social media.

Social media mattered here because of the way clients used it. A short, quick message instantaneously shared with an entire community of people accustomed to collaborating, sharing resources and ideas, and drawing from each others’ experiences – a group self-selected to be more likely to credit and act upon each others’ advice. That is a very big deal, and lawyers should be paying attention.