Legal PR blog

Legal PR: Avoid trending online for the wrong reasons

Elina Miezite on PI firm Broad Yorkshire’s Alton Towers social media faux pas

Following this week’s incident when several personal injury law firms were criticized for their bad advertising taste on Twitter, we  highlight some key tips to avoid trending on social media for the wrong reasons.

Stay human

Broad Yorkshire Law tweet
Broad Yorkshire Law was criticized for firm’s bad advertising taste on Twitter

Sometimes the best way to learn what to do is to learn what not to do. And all legal PR specialists can learn from Broad Yorkshire Law’s social media blunder this week.

Following a shocking incident at Alton Towers theme park at which four teenagers were seriously injured on one of its rollercoasters, the law firm used the popular hashtags #AltonTowers and #Smiler to advertise their personal injury expertise, triggering a very angry outburst from the online community with one commentator in the Daily Mail branding the firm “repulsive“.

Although an apology was later issued blaming a junior staff member, the damage had already been done, conceivably damaging the wider reputation of the market in the process. Cynics among us may wonder if Broad Yorkshire had an ulterior motive that controversy would guarantee it some publicity. Well done guys.

Anyway, regardless of this somewhat thoughtless incident, there are some key lessons to consider around law firms’ need to remain humane and empathetic when promoting via twitter. Just as during face to face meetings and conversations, knowing when to stay silent and when to speak on Twitter is good for any business.

Engage – not sell

One of the better ways to use Twitter is by deploying it as customer service tool or feedback platform or to provide value to your existing and potential customers.  For a personal injury law firm, this idea could manifest in writing advisory articles or case studies for your firm’s website and if possible for other online publications. Thoughtful content provides followers and browsers with value that may contribute to lead generation.

Know your #hashtags

Hashtag use
An american pizzeria ‘accidentally’ picked up a hashtag #WhyIStayed which was associated with a high profile domestic violence campaign

Just as Google attempts to finish our search terms and sentences, Twitter now suggests potential keywords when we start typing hashtags. As helpful as it may be for getting your message out in a hurry, it can also backfire if the #tag isn’t reviewed properly.

Last September, an American pizzeria picked up a hashtag #WhyIStayed which was actually used for a campaign against domestic violence and Tweeted “#WhyIstayed You had pizza.”

The firm issued an apology for being unaware what the hashtag was used for. However, with only a little research and understanding of what the hashtag really means before tweeting, the firm could have avoided appearing careless and distasteful.

The moral of the story

The inescapable truth is that social networks are an external communication tool. Before their invention, external communication was typically carried out by a relatively few individuals within most organisations. Not only that, this trusted position was typically at a reasonably experienced level. Why was a junior staff member at a law firm allowed to send such a tasteless marketing message out on behalf of the company? Communications protocols must cover the possibility that simple mistakes on social networks can create huge problems without careful management and oversight.

Christina Savage Post by: Christina Savage / Website:
With a strong network of media contacts and in-depth knowledge of professional services, Christina advises a range of businesses and law firms on media and business development initiatives.