Over at the MyCase blog, Niki Black (who also contributes here) gave me — and by extension, all of you — a shout-out for my social media chops:

Lawyerist followers are a loyal, devoted tribe. And, to whom do you think this tribe refers Minnesota-based business entrepreneurs who are seeking legal counsel? If you guessed Sam Glover, then I bet you’re right.

There’s just one problem. While the Lawyerist “tribe” may have well over a hundred thousand “members,” I have trouble making much of a referral connection between Lawyerist and my law practice.

(You are loyal and devoted, right? I can’t always tell from the comments.)

I don’t get clients as a result of Lawyerist

I have a couple of ideas about why this is, for what it’s worth. For starters, Lawyerist is not about startups, which are what I represent in my law practice. I doubt anyone reads my reviews of iPad accessories and thinks “that guy probably knows how to counsel a business on restricted stock grants!” Besides, Minnesota readers make up a fraction of our readership, and I doubt non-Minnesota lawyers are flush with Minnesota referrals.

Also, to the extent I want to be known as a good lawyer, rather than as someone who has opinions about technology and “internet stuff,” I actually find Lawyerist to be an impediment. People know my name, but not necessarily because I represent startups. I was flattered to be named a Rising Star last year, but I will always suspect it had more to do with Lawyerist-related name recognition than with the reputation I hope I have for being a good lawyer.

In short, I have trouble coming up with any specific examples of clients who were referred to me as a result of Lawyerist. Maybe I could come up with a few, if you give me time and some leeway when it comes to the meaning of “referred” and “as a result of Lawyerist,” but that’s a poor return on the time and effort I have put into this blog. Lawyerist is just not a good example of how to build a referral network using social media.

I’m not saying Niki is necessarily wrong about social media, just that she chose an unfortunate example in Lawyerist — and possibly MILO, as well. (MILO is a Mac-user email list, and the other example Niki used in her blog post.) Some lawyers, including me, have definitely been successful using social media to market their law practices. But that’s hard to duplicate. It’s not great for direct marketing, either. It’s also hard to do well, and there are many consultants trying to convince you to do it poorly.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to find good examples of social media success, although Niki is planning to try.

Where are the social media success stories?

I feel like almost all the social media success stories I read about are from people trying to make money from social media consulting.

Why is this? I have a theory. Those who really figure out how to make a lot of money from something are more likely to go on making money from it than they are to turn consultant. If something really works, then why would they turn around and give away the secret? Not to mention why would they start another business doing something unrelated to the work that made them so successful? Assuming there are lawyers who truly have social media figured out, they probably don’t have time to talk about it. They are too busy serving the clients they have amassed due to their social savvy and sailing around on the giant yacht they bought with the profits. Or they don’t exist.

This is (one reason, at least) why lawyers like those who converged on my last post are so down on lawyers-turned-marketers. If they were any good at marketing, wouldn’t they be employing their expertise in their extremely lucrative law practices? (I’m not persuaded this reasoning applies to all lawyers-turned-marketers, but it’s certainly true for many.) It’s circumstantial evidence that social media success stories don’t exist.

Actually, though, I agree with Niki. I think social media success stories do exist, but we just aren’t hearing about them because the successful ones are out being successful, and because the real stories are a lot less amazing-sounding than the marketing consultants want them to be. They don’t involve teachable tricks, just lawyers being awesome on the internet like they are in real life.

Maybe Niki will have better luck with her future installments, which will include Pinterest, blogging, and BigLaw. I hope so, because if social media is so awesome, it shouldn’t be so difficult to find some examples. And when she does, I hope they include the detail we need to determine what success means. Social media marketers almost never say anything like “Joe Smith can trace half his clients and 55% of his fee income to his social media marketing,” together with some idea of how many clients Joe Smith has and what his total fee income might be.

That’s what I’d like to see.