Referral marketing ain’t dead; but, I do have some bad news: it’s becoming a less successful method for building a law practice, where it was traditionally the absolute best way to launch and maintain a law firm. And, the reason for this is that consumers, especially millennials, are far more comfortable seeking out referrals for service providers online. In other words, new school law firm clients don’t require a personal recommendation — or, probably more importantly for purposes of this discussion, an in-person recommendation. And, that’s a big problem for attorneys who rely on traditional referral marketing, which is based almost entirely on the need for in-person recommendations.
Attorneys (and, it’s still the majority of attorneys) who have built their entire book of business on personal referrals meet one person at a cocktail party and tie to that relationship the fervent hope that that one person will meet another person at another cocktail party, and will then remember that prior conversation, and then make a recommendation. That still happens, don’t get me wrong: it just happens less and less often. These days, consumers searching for lawyers probably don’t know another lawyer who can make a referral to a colleague, and they’re also far more likely to perform due diligence on their own, rather than wait for an opportune time to get a recommendation from a heretofore unknown person, at some late date. The modern consumer is not as patient as the traditional consumer; and, frankly, it’s far easier to do your own research online than to go try and find somebody who can recommend somebody else. That’s a lot of degrees of separation for a person who can just watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones by asking their Smart TV to put it on for them.
So, as a modern lawyer seeking out referrals, you can’t any longer just rely on word of mouth, because even those outlying consumers who want a personal recommendation from another human being will fact check that recommendation online, just to make sure they’re not missing out on any dispositive information. What does that mean for you, referral marketing attorney in this day and age? Well, you just have to be sensitive as to where modern consumers are going to look for or make choices about particular service providers, and make sure that you control the narrative in those spaces. Since even those consumers who have a referral in hand are going to Google you, you need to know what shows up when your name is Googled; and, if you don’t already know, you need to control that vanity search, in that only information that you want populating populates. Part of controlling that narrative is making sure that your directory profiles and social media landing pages are completed; not only will this drive more compelling search results, it will also cover for those consumers who perform ‘in-app’ searches for service providers, by going to social media and other applications directly, without ever making it to a Google search.
The truth about modern referral marketing is that, even for those consumers who are willing to take a personal referral, the modus operandi is trust but verify — whereas, previously, the verification process was either bypassed, or not as robust as the internet has allowed it to become. In short, law firms leaning on referral marketing now cannot ignore the requirement of a robust and targeted online presence.