Can Your Firm Take a Joke?

May 7, 2019

When companies first began to embrace social media platforms like Twitter about decade ago, they did so cautiously and in the same carefully crafted language they used in their other marketing materials. But because the tone of their communications didn’t match the tone of these platforms, the efforts mostly fell flat, ignored or sometimes even ridiculed for their stodginess in the form of “Who let Dad go on the internet?”

But as marketing departments have developed a more sophisticated understanding of online culture, they’ve taken more risks with different kinds of outreach to connect with their customers through social media. When these Twitter campaigns work, it’s usually because they show a sense of humor. Take, for example, Arby’s response to an ongoing bit on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show about how unappetizing Arby’s food is. Instead of taking itself deadly seriously and issuing a defensive statement, the chain showed online that it could take a joke, playfully responding to Stewart’s jabs and even getting the last word when he announced his retirement from the show by offering him a job at Arby’s.

Law firms have been slower to embrace a more relaxed tone online for obvious reasons: choosing your words carefully is central to a lawyer’s job description. But we know firsthand from relationships with our attorney clients that beneath the professional veneer, lawyers really are humans and they want to engage authentically. They know that a little well-placed irreverence can do a lot to humanize the relationship between attorney and client. So how can attorneys and firms have a little fun in their online communication without crossing any lines?

Segment your communication. Customization is key to creating an authentic social media presence. What works on Twitter is not going to land the same way on LinkedIn, for example. Make sure you are crafting tweets and posts with the unique tenor of each platform in mind.

Choose your spokesperson carefully. When selecting individual lawyers to post about a particular subject or story, think about how to match the representative to the intended tone of the post. It might not be a great idea for the chair of the firm to make a wisecrack about a news story, but the humor might feel more natural and authentic coming from a 40-year-old practice leader. Think too about who is best situated to identify with topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is a chance to show the many faces (and voices and personalities) of your firm.

Make connections in unexpected places. Authenticity happens when people bring their whole selves to their communications. Encourage attorneys posting for the firm to move beyond the realm of law and politics stories to draw connections between their work and the broader culture. From where do they draw inspiration and insight? Sports, films, books, theater, art, food, and hobbies might offer surprising connections to the legal issues under discussion. The quirkier and more unexpected, the better. 

Good humor is not just a marketing strategy. Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh,” and most potential clients probably feel the same. Let your true self show through in your communications, and build the trust that will lead to more business.