By Mark Hinkle
Law firms try cases, negotiate complex mergers and file patents. But first and foremost, they are in the client services business. In the age of social media, part of that service commitment means keeping abreast of developments chronicled in blogs, LinkedIn, and Twitter that hold information about client businesses, competitive firms, or trends in the firm’s areas of focus—intelligence that could lead to new opportunities.
In larger law firms, the task of tracking business intelligence has fallen largely to business development and marketing staff. In the past, searches were conducted manually and then compiled into reports for partners and firm management to review. It quickly became evident that this was far too time consuming. To somewhat automate the process, firms turned to Google Alerts. This application proved to be useful for gathering lots of information. The problem is that the alerts that Google generates can quickly begin to accumulate, and the information provided is far too broad and not relevant.
Enter Listening Platforms
Listening Platforms (sometimes called “listening tools”) pose a solution for law firm professionals trying to monitor social media for client intelligence and industry trends. Several tools, such as Nielsen NetRatings and Radian6, have emerged to serve corporate America’s social intelligence needs, yet these platforms are not well suited for the very specific needs of the legal profession.
Fortunately, Listening Platforms developed specifically for law firms have recently emerged. Users set up parameters about what clients, competitors, industries, and practice areas they want to follow. The application then searches for and analyzes legal and industry-specific news sources, blogs, Twitter feeds and other social media, and delivers only results that are relevant to the professional, categorized in a manner that places that information in a clear context. Users can opt to receive this information through daily or weekly emails, RSS feeds, detailed customized reports or a “dashboard” view that these technologies provide. Where legal professionals once needed to track down important and relevant information proactively, the information now essentially finds them. A number of firms are now using Listening Platforms in some of the following ways:
- Practice & Industry Perspective – Helps legal professionals to understand topics, trends and developments within their practice and industry sectors
- Client Insight – Uncovers important information about existing and prospective clients, revealing opportunities and risks
- Competitive Analysis – Helps benchmark competition at the firm, practice, and attorney level
- Brand Intelligence – Gives attorneys, practice groups, and firms visibility into their online presence and share of voice
Many larger firms have adopted listening platform technology in the last year. “We are always looking for ways to isolate and aggregate actionable intelligence for key practice and client teams,” said Hans Haglund, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Patton Boggs, a 550-attorney international firm based in Washington, D.C. “Since January, we’ve used a business and social intelligence platform for issue spotting, trend analysis, and monitoring clients. The program scans blogs and Twitter feeds to identify issues our clients may be facing and uncover possible problems before they hit the mainstream media and news outlets,” Haglund continued. “It’s allowed us to get ahead of potential problems and to proactively pose solutions before our clients may even know these problems exist. With the listening platform technology, we’ve been able to gather and disseminate actionable intelligence on a weekly basis. We are smarter as a firm, and in a better position to support client initiatives.”
While larger firms are primarily using listening platforms to gather client and competitive intelligence—information pertaining to the business of law—solo practitioners and attorneys in smaller firms are leveraging the technology to stay abreast of developments in the practice of law. The platforms can be set up to scour practice-area specific blogs and other online content so attorneys can stay up to speed on new developments in their practice area, monitor trends within industries, identify new client opportunities, and follow commentary offered by larger firms. Practitioners from corporate firms can track plaintiff firms, and defense firms can do the same.
The legal profession, perhaps more than any other profession, is faced with an ever-growing mountain of information. Listening platforms offer a solution that can help firms summit the mountain, and achieve the views and insights into business intelligence that are both important and critical to giving them an advantage, and helping them to serve their clients.
Mark Hinkle is Co-Founder, President, and COO of Manzama. He is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the company along with leading the Client Services Division. Most recently, Mark served as Director of Western Advertising Sales at Autobytel, where he headed up the advertising sales efforts for the company and was responsible for selling and managing advertising campaigns for major west coast advertising agencies and their clients, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai.