Finding the Utility of Social Networks

Finding the Utility of Social Networks

AUTHOR NOTE (Read this first): This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Marketing the Law Firm (which has several other fantastic, in-depth articles about marketing strategy). Reprinted with permission. While this article was written for law firms, the principles are applicable to nearly any professional services firm that is time-strapped but needs to maintain good touchpoints with their client base. 

You’ve heard it a thousand times, you need to market yourself and your firm on social media.

And it’s true, you do, but maybe not for the reasons you think, and maybe not on the networks that self-proclaimed “experts” tell you to be active on.

I had an opportunity to interview Neal Schaffer, an established and influential author, social media speaker, strategy consultant, and community owner of Maximize Your Social, about finding the utility of social networks. We were speaking about why so many established “social media experts” hadn’t taken up Google+ beyond claiming their profile and posting once in a while. Schaffer pointed out that, even though their audience may look up to them as a resource for all social networks, they probably just hadn’t found the right reason, the utility, to warrant diverting time from other activities to spend on Google+.

Head to Google+ Business Spotlight for the full interview and recap notes

So, how does one find the utility of a social network?

finding-the-utility-of-social-networksTo make social work for your business, and be worth your time, you’ll need to combine what you know about your firm (lead nurturing process, core services, buyer personas, etc.) with an understanding of the audience, the reach, and the features of each social network.

From there, you can craft a strategy that is focused and purposeful, no matter what the reasons for joining a specific network.

Let’s explore those three elements:


“My target audience isn’t here” is usually the biggest complaint from business owners about a social network. In some cases, they’re right: it’s unlikely that a company who sells motorized scooters will find much success in directly reaching their buyers on Instagram or Twitter, where the age demographic is much younger than the seniors who buy their product.

Then again…are the seniors the ones buying that motor scooter? Or is it their child, the one with the responsibility of caring for their aging mother or father? If it’s the child, then the scooter company can surely seek out these buyers and conversations on Instagram or Twitter, and start to build relationships with them.

Understanding how your buyer uses a social network will help you evaluate it from a marketing standpoint too. For example, even though most business people have Facebook accounts, not all of them may want to receive marketing messages on Facebook. If you had evaluated your audience on Facebook based on demographics alone, your marketing campaign may be in for some poor results.

Evaluating the audience of a social network may not be for marketing reasons, either. LinkedIn and Google+, for example, both have vibrant communities for topics such as law, real estate, and interior design. Participating in these communities means participating with your peers. Learning, networking, and collaborating are all very good reasons to join a social network, if there is an audience there to support those efforts.


On networks such as Google+, YouTube, or even Pinterest, the reach of the content you share extends beyond the social network itself and into search results. Search, of course, has much more reach, and an audience that spans across nearly all demographics and personas.

(Of note: the term reach may mean something different to you than how I’m describing it, if that’s the case, then think of this section in terms of discoverability)

Now, how likely is it that your individual pins, videos, or Google+ posts find their way into search results? Not very likely, however, in this case, your audience on these networks, and their extended network, will be how word gets out.

Therefore, the purpose and utility for networks like these is to create relevance for your brand and your area of expertise. You’ll want to do a competitive analysis and determine how much work needs to be done to reach that extended audience; in some industries (or areas of the country), there is less competition which means just a little bit of effort goes a long way. In others, just the opposite is true, and you may want to evaluate hiring a marketing team that understands the technical and relationship graph-building aspects of these networks so you are reaching the right (and relevant) audience.

How does this work for a law firm? As I mentioned above, learning, networking, and collaborating on certain social networks creates human and semantic (data/social graph) relationships with peers. You can refer each other business, but your extended networks within the online relationship and social graph also means that your relationship carries out to each others’ extended network.

In other words, since you and I know each other well, and trust each other’s expertise, someone I know who is searching for something you provide will be more likely to see your content in a search result because of the implicit authority our relationship has created for each others’ content.

Search engines want this to happen, they want relevance based on human interactions because it’s harder to game, so their results have more utility for their own users, making their site more valuable.

Of course, building real relationships with people has always been a way to extend your reach, even offline, through word of mouth! But if you take anything from this section, let it be that it’s a good idea to evaluate how a social network can extend your “online word of mouth” reach beyond the network itself, especially if you use it for learning, collaborating, and networking.


Once you’ve evaluated the audience, the reach, and translated that into a purpose for being active on a particular social network, it’s time to look at the features it provides to help you maximize your efforts. Here are some example scenarios:

Using LinkedIn specifically for prospecting? You’ll want to take advantage of the publishing tool to demonstrate thought leadership, get followers and engage with others on their own posts, then begin an engagement strategy that moves from the touchpoints on posts and in groups to a one-on-one in the LinkedIn inbox. Your profile will also have calls to action and lead-gen opportunities through its Projects section.

Let’s say you are a fashion lawyer: Pinterest, Instagram, and other highly visual social networks, as well as Twitter for live events, become your playground to make connections with brands, discover new designers, and just be present in the streams as you shake virtual hands, and become the person that’s top of mind when one of them needs your services. You’re doing this using hashtag searches (Twitter and Instagram), group boards (Pinterest), and lists (Twitter) to filter through the various feeds of content and conversation. In the meantime, your own profiles are posting visuals too, as well as links to useful resources (your own or others’) that will help your audience stay on top of their game.

Or you’re a local practice, which means establishing your Google My Business (previously Google+ Local or Google Maps) listing, encouraging reviews when applicable, and creating semantic relationships within law-related Google+ communities. You can create short videos about topics relevant to your practice that go up on your YouTube channel…the one connected to your Google+ page…that’s simultaneously connected to your Google Maps listing…which has a verified link to your website. The connectivity and data that you’re feeding Google about your website and subject matter helps them feel more confident recommending you in local searches for your practice area. The videos highlight your level of expertise, and make a visual connection that establishes trust even before a prospect meets you in person.

Priorities and Next Steps

All three of the above scenarios used the features of various social networks to reinforce their utility. The features are usually the things being touted in the blogs we read, but are also the things that change drastically on every network over the course of a year.

Making your decision on whether to invest resources in a social network should not be based solely on the available features. Instead, evaluate the human element first (audience), the network element (reach), and finally the optimization element (features). Then, you will be able to adapt to any changes, and continually quantify the results and utility of the time you spend on these networks.

Another author’s note: the articles I’ve been fortunate enough to write for Marketing the Law Firm seem to be among my best pieces, so I encourage you to read the others that I’ve republished here:


About Stephan Hovnanian

I own Shovi Websites, a website design and email marketing company located outside Boston. I spend my days managing websites and staying up to speed with all the latest trends across the web so you don't have to.

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  • Spring Creek Aquatic Concepts

    First , I love how the G+ comments appear first on the actual blog post! Just another reason to +. While my product is pretty high-end and I often loath fb and their practices, I still get leads there even though most of them source from the link on my website. FB is more of a convenient catch-all for my website traffic that is not up to speed on the values of G+. Of course I’d do better had I a parcel of cat photos.

    I may not be using linkedin correctly since I keep falling into the scientific discussions and not spending sufficient energy posting to the real estate sector. On the other hand I am finding the rare associates who can carry out our type of projects.

    G+ is the one indispensable network that places us into local google searches. That alone is worth more than the other networks. Going into the future, features such as “collections” on G+ allow me to develop a sort of blog that is catching more attention, especially since one of the categories is “Fishing tips from Biologists”.

    • Stephan Hovnanian

      Very cool how you’re going to be using Collections, thanks for sharing that with us!