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Column No. 23, January 1997
Copyright 1997 Robert J. Ambrogi
Internet Marketing 101: Alternatives To The Web
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Youre feeling a bit behind, technologically speaking.
Just today, the lawyer next door showed you her new home page -- lots of fancy graphics; even a Java applet. Yesterday, as you were leaving a deposition, opposing counsel handed you a card that announced, "Visit my virtual office at www.depo-demon.com."
Its time for you to start marketing over the Internet, you decide. Now how do you go about setting up your Web site?
Is The Net For You?
Well, back up for a moment. The first question is not how but whether to market on the Internet. Just because your colleagues are doing it doesnt mean you should.
To answer the question, consider what the Internet offers: the ability to reach a global market for relatively little expense.
Sounds great, but do you really care whether you reach someone across the country or across the world? One of the fundamental rules of marketing is to target your efforts at the market you want to reach. If you are a general practitioner with a local practice, the Internet is unlikely to bring clients through your door.
On the other hand, your goal might be not to attract new clients, but to retain existing ones. Many lawyers use their Web sites just as they would a client newsletter, posting information about the firm, updates on the law, and original articles, all designed to serve as an easy and inexpensive way to keep current clients informed.
Alternatives To The Web
OK, youve considered the market and decided to take the plunge. Now what about that Web site?
Slow down. There are other ways to market on the Internet. Weve come to equate marketing with a Web site. But there are alternatives that will consume far less of your time and money e-mail and Usenet. Before diving into creating and maintaining a Web site, consider these less drastic alternatives.
The secret of e-mail is not to have it, but to use it. Getting an account is easy: just sign up with a commercial online service such as America Online or CompuServe or open an Internet account with an access provider.
Once you have it, advertise it. Put it on your letterhead, business cards and brochure. Get your e-mail address out there just as you do your phone number. People will start to use it, and some of those people will be prospective clients.
Virtual Meeting Places
Even more effective is to use e-mail and Usenet to reach out to the Internet community. The most visible part of the Internet is the Web, but the greatest activity online is communication. Much of this communication is one-to-one, but if there is a community in Cyberspace, its meeting places are to be found among the many electronic mailing lists and Usenet news groups.
Mailing lists often called "listservs" after a software used to manage them allow people with common interests to send and receive e-mail messages among a group who share those interests. Similarly, Usenet news groups allow people to post messages, as if on an electronic bulletin board, for others with shared interests to read and comment on.
In the real world, a tried and true technique of legal marketing is to attend or speak at meetings in your community of people who are potential clients, be it the Chamber of Commerce or a tenants rights group. The same technique works in the virtual world. By participating in mailing lists or news groups devoted to topics related to your area of practice, you reach potential clients.
There is etiquette to be observed here. You dont just type a message in capital letters proclaiming yourself available and send it off to every remotely relevant news group, else youll be accused of "spam" and forever banished to Cyber-Siberia.
Instead, you become an active participant in the group, posting helpful and informative messages. Maybe its an environmental group, and a business owner posts a query about Superfund. By responding with a general explanation of the law, you establish yourself as an expert and build goodwill. You neednt wait to respond to someones query; from time to time, you can post news about court decisions or regulatory changes.
Electronic Business Cards
An important element of marketing via e-mail or Usenet is your "sig," or signature. If youve ever used e-mail youve probably seen one a block of text at the bottom of a message with the senders name and contact information. These are the business cards of the Internet. It does you little good to get your name out there if no one knows how to contact you.
Every one of the common e-mail programs nowadays will allow you to create a sig. Keep it simple avoid sigs that consume half a page and incorporate favorite quotes and cute pictures made from typographical symbols. Include your name, physical address, phone, e-mail address and, if you have one, Web address. If you include a description of your area of practice, dont forget your jurisdictions rules governing specialization and advertising.
Consider also whether to create your own domain name, as your opposing counsel at that deposition yesterday did with "depo-demon.com." Having your own domain costs only $50 a year and can be used as your e-mail address (email@example.com) and, if you create a Web site, your Web address (www.lawfirm.com).
Why a domain name? First, it is easier for potential clients to remember than other forms of e-mail or Web addresses. Second, it can help promote your practice area (i.e., "divorcelawyer.com"). Finally, it provides a permanent e-mail address that can be used with most any Internet access provider, so that if you ever change providers, you need not change your address and risk losing important contacts.
OK. Youve considered the market and the alternatives. Still want that Web page? If so, stay tuned for next months column. In the meantime, here are some resources to help with the topics discussed above.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of legal.online, a monthly newsletter about the Internet published by Legal Communications Ltd., Philadelphia. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (978) 546-7898.