“I’m thinking about trying online marketing.”

I still hear this from lawyers all the time. But there is no such thing as online marketing. There is just marketing, some of which happens online because there is almost no meaningful line between offline and online activity anymore.

Almost everything we do now has offline and online components. We may plan to get together with friends over Facebook. Then we get together, have a great time somewhere offline, and post the pictures back on Facebook while we are out. Similar things happen with legal marketing.

At some point, someone in your network (let’s say it is someone you only know offline) will be in a position to make a referral. Once that new referral has your name, they are probably going to Google it right from their phone. They may even ask for a referral over Facebook or Twitter.

Nothing about that is remotely cutting edge or groundbreaking. Having a law firm website and a Facebook account are roughly as cutting edge as email. (In fact, the bigger news lately is people leaving Facebook, not joining.)

I’m not saying lawyers must go all in on social media marketing. (Probably a bad idea, anyway.) But having an active presence online is just part of being in the world today, especially if you are trying to get people to give you money. You need an online presence because everyone is online, just like you need a phone number because everybody has a phone. Calling it online marketing is meaningless in a world where everyone is connected — or can be — all the time.

I feel compelled to point out that same ethics rules sensibly apply to both. That should be obvious, but some lawyers still seem confused. The rules may be slow to change, but that is a feature, not a bug. With some time and perspective, it has become apparent that the existing rules are general enough to work just fine.

To treat offline and online marketing as separate things is to ignore the reality of the world today. If the people you want to sign your retainer agreement cross the line between offline and online as easily as pulling a phone out of their pockets, then you should too.

Featured image: “Offline Online Keys Showing Internet Communication Status” from Shutterstock.