Is social networking “In” or is it “Out” when it comes to legal marketing??

I came across two competing blog posts today: Larry Bodine’s SEO and Email Better for Law Firm Marketing than Social Networking and Kevin O’Keefe’s Law firm websites dead as a firm’s primary Internet marketing tool? Each post highlighted a different study on the effectiveness of social networking, extrapolating the results to the legal industry.

According to Marketing Sherpa, where the SEO study (pdf) comes from:

There’s no doubt that social media is an immensely important trend or perhaps even a sea change in how we buy, sell and communicate. Still, the chart below puts the role of social and Web 2.0 tactics in some kind of perspective when compared to search engine optimization and tried-but-true house email. For the time being, the main drivers of website traffic are the known quantities of SEM (free and paid), email and display.

I’m not certain that I agree with the premise that driving traffic to your website is the goal, or should be a measurement for success, for a social networking campaign.

Social networking sites, as far as I am concerned, are about engagement. And while I use both Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to my blog, the goal is not to increase my visitors, but to engage in a dialogue and build my reputation. And while my web stats might or might not go up with any given post, I have noticed that my phone rings more and more.

I am more inclined towards what Steve Rubel, SVP at Edelman Digital, had to say in his recent post on the The End of the Destination Web Era:

Unfortunately, digital marketing is still wired for the destination web era. To succeed going forward we have to change our thinking. “Earned media” through direct public engagement in the venues where our consumers spend time will become the only way to truly influence a behavior change. The greatest advantages will go to the first movers who embrace this shift. It’s not too late.

Kevin O’Keefe (of course) gets it:

Engagement? That’s interesting. Engagement is how good lawyers have traditionally grown their business.

By networking with clients, prospective clients, and their influencers (reporters, editors, conference coordinators, business associates etc.) a lawyer established their reputation as a reliable and trusted in a niche area of the law. This reputation spread by word of mouth.

Websites have never been the be all and end all of law firm Internet marketing. Good lawyers get their best work by networking through the Internet, not by building shrines to themselves in the form of websites.