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Linkedin: A Competitive Intelligence Tool

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Shannon Sankstone

Marketing the Law Firm Newsletter

August 14, 2008


Social networking media, so-called Web 2.0 sites, have been in the news recently for their networking and business development possibilities. Leverage them well, and your firm will uncover relationships and connections that will almost literally knock your socks off. Consider this: A friend from 7th grade recently contacted me through Facebook. I hadn't heard from her since I was 13 years old, yet we are both legal marketing professionals. She is a consultant, and is now on my radar should my firm require consulting services.


While "getting back in touch" and determining networks have the potential to generate new business for professional services firms, displaying those networks publicly may not be in the best interest of your firm. Competitive intelligence professionals are just as fascinated with social media as business developers, yet for very different reasons and with very different perspectives. CI pros are using the information freely given on these sites to better position their own firms and to better understand their competitor firms. Although Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace do provide value to business development programs, each firm must strive to balance the need for visibility and networking with safeguarding their firm's competitive advantage.


LinkedIn is the go-to social networking site for professionals, yet it is much more than a means for determining networks and connections. The site's four main portals, people, jobs, answers and companies provide a dynamic picture -- not a snapshot -- of the evolving business environment. Each of these areas provides useful information that can be used for CI, and because LinkedIn is forever growing, the site should be monitored as part of ongoing CI efforts. Currently, few firms and attorneys are active in the answers and jobs sections. Therefore, the best information can be found in the people and companies sections.




People profiles in LinkedIn have four tabs: "Profile," "Q&A," "Recommendations" and "Connections." Many LinkedIn users wish for a robust profile, and make concentrated efforts to update and enrich their information. On the one hand, having numerous recommendations and connections, and providing quality free advice, is a fantastic strategy for building one's credibility and visibility. However, providing too much information on LinkedIn can provide the competition with the intelligence it needs to create a competitive advantage. This is best illustrated with an example:


A quick search for a well-known law firm listed one of their attorneys as the top result. Although Mr. Lawyer made his connections private, he did not shy away from requesting recommendations. He lists over 40 recommendations, 26 of which are from clients. Some of these clients are (names have been withheld, but are available on Mr. Lawyer's profile):


• A publicly listed hotel and resort corporation;


• A large biotech company; and


• A private equity firm.


At first glance, the CI pro now knows at least 20 of Mr. Lawyer's clients (some clients had more than one person recommending Mr. Lawyer). Were a firm considering approaching Mr. Lawyer as a lateral hire, they would include this information, and an analysis of the clients, to determine if Mr. Lawyer's client base was in line with the firm's business development goals.


If, on the other hand, a firm was competing with Mr. Lawyer's firm for work from a company in the hotel industry, then Mr. Lawyer's recommendations might be leveraged to the CI pro's firm's advantage. While Mr. Lawyer may point to his recommendations as proof that he has delighted clients in this industry, the competing firm may highlight this as Mr. Lawyer having a better relationship with a competitor company.




The company listing is probably the most informative of all areas on LinkedIn. This is where LinkedIn presents trends for each law firm or company based on the data within LinkedIn. This is an important point: LinkedIn only analyzes the information reported in its databases by users. In other words, it does not seek to verify or enrich the data. The data, then, tends to provide a general impression of the law firm, rather than a highly accurate profile. It is also skewed somewhat by the proportionately large numbers of 30-something males using the site.


A certain Am Law 100 firm, AMLF, is an excellent example of a great company profile. 56 percent of users are male, and the median age is 35 years old. However, 30 percent of all of this firm's representation on LinkedIn are partners. This suggests that: 1) the partnership is young; and 2) the "Related Companies" may provide reliable data as to clients and hiring trends.


In the "Related Companies" section of the company profile, LinkedIn has mined its data and determined where companies hire from and where personnel go. In this case, LinkedIn has noted two boutique Am Law listed firms have kindly trained many of AMLF's attorneys. Interestingly, one firm is a boutique IP firm, the other a commercial litigation firm. This suggests that AMLF is making a concentrated effort to expand specific practice groups. Furthermore, LinkedIn shows that AMLF, in turn, has provided two smaller Am Law 200 firms with quite a few people. Additional research shows that these Am Law 200 firms are marketing themselves as "family friendly" and providing an excellent work/life balance to potential recruits. Definitely something for AMLF to consider ...


The "most connected" section can provide valuable insight into a company's relationships and people. Although AMLF shows only other law firms in its "most connected" section, another Am Law 100 firm, AMLF2, lists two midsize companies that are HQ'd in the firm's headquarter city. Clients, perhaps? Two other Am Law firms, one in the top 10 and one in the Am Law 200, however, may be concerned about their people's connections: Their firm is well connected with two large search firms. One of these specializes in lateral hiring. Either they are being targeted by these recruiters and/or their clients, or other law firms now know their preferred recruitment firms.




In summation, more than anything, the wealth of information available on LinkedIn to CI professionals is a result of the law of unintended consequences. Attorneys and firms, possessing the good intention of raising their credibility and visibility, have given out more information than was, in hindsight, wise. Here are some simple steps to take to minimize the negative consequences of an otherwise highly beneficial networking tool:


• Study LinkedIn's functionality. The display of information can be limited by individual users.


• Encourage more people within the firm to use the site, and to connect to as many people as possible. Surprisingly, the more varied connections of your firm that your people make, the less likely it is that connections will be concentrated in one or two clients.


• Educate your attorneys. Explain the pros and cons of displaying information.


• Monitor your firm's profile. If the information is inaccurate, contact LinkedIn.


Shannon Sankstone, a member of Marketing the Law Firm's board of editors, is the marketing research analyst at Quarles & Brady, where she is responsible for the marketing and competitive intelligence research function.



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