Social media is supposed to be all about engagement: putting out ideas then waiting for the internet to respond. I have learned that in the world of legal content creation, the author could be waiting a very long time.

Post a blog comparing the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy III? You will be instantly flamed by dozens of Apple and Android fanboys.

Upload a video to YouTube dishing on the latest Real Housewives of New York, and you will count hundreds of comments with viewers beating their chests in support of Ramonja or Aviva or the screen villainess du jour.

But express a position on whether the absolute priority rule should apply in the Chapter 11 case of an individual, or even whether lien stripping should be allowed in Chapter 7, and you’ll be lucky if a law geek from a distant jurisdiction favors you with even a terse response. In your comments box, look for the link to that geek’s blog on the very same subject because that’s probably the only reason for the post.

Embracing Social Channels

Nevertheless, the marketers insist that lawyers must embrace these social channels, what with Twitter boasting  over 400 million users and LinkedIn nearly half that. These millions, however, pale in comparison to the Jupiter of the social media solar system–Facebook–with users supposedly tipping the 1 billion mark. How, in good conscience, can any law firm fail to address that mass of potential engagement?

I took the plunge into creating my Facebook page back in November 2011. It turned out to be a pretty simple process. I began trying to collect the 30 or so “likes” I needed in order to get Facebook Analytics reports and enjoy some other benefits. No problem: I sent out requests to all my friends (I have about 275) to like my Drescher & Associates page. I enjoyed immediate success from my closest friends and family, then more of my Facebook faithful joined in until I topped out around 50 a few months later.

At that point, I began to focus on YouTube, so my efforts to find likes for my Facebook page began to wane. I came to learn that Coca Cola is the brand with the greatest number of likes–51,838,077 as of late September, 2012. Other popular brands include Disney (38,361,063), Starbucks (32,039,135), and Converse (33,112,380). It was hard to feel excited about my puny 50 likes when comparing my social success to these megabrands. I kept posting to Facebook though. Thanks in large part to Hootsuite, I post most days, often twice. I began to think that with all of this content, I should be reaching more than the 50 close friends (and my teenage daughter–my son refused to like me) who couldn’t resist answering my plea that they “like” me.

In my quest to find more likes, I was inspired by a podcast I have previously mentioned in this space. MasteringSocialBusiness has provided great insight into social media strategies for businesses. One week they ran a podcast on the new Facebook timeline for businesses. Another week they reported on using social media for non-profits. Yet another week they explored techniques for getting more likes on Facebook and more followers on Twitter.

Facebook Contests

At the same time, Facebook contests became the rage. All across Zuckerland, brands were offering prizes, coupons and gift cards to entice users to engage on their page. I decided to run a campaign of my own. During the month of September, I would donate $1 for each of the first 1,000 likes on my Facebook page to my favorite non-profit: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). MVLS is the largest pro bono organization in Maryland, joining volunteer lawyers with needy clients. I assumed these likes would be easy. I told the social media coordinator of MVLS about my campaign and she jumped right in. MVLS has been very excited, and we issued a joint press release. I tweeted constantly about the campaign, blogged about it on my website, sent out twice daily posts on Facebook urging my friends to “like” the page.

I started the campaign on September 10 with 51 likes. By September 16, I had 71. I was beginning to worry that the campaign was stalled when one of my friends posted on my wall “Hey Ron, what’s with all the SPAM?”

I was mortified. Trying to drum up attention for my page and MVLS caused my friends to condemn me as a spammer. This campaign was not getting off to the right start. Demoralized and desperate, I tried something crazy: I took out a Facebook ad.

Facebook Ads Are Really Not Cool

My wife hates them, and in The Social Network they were thought to be the certain death of Facebook’s once hip factor. But they’re cheap: for $10 per day you can get tens of thousands of impressions. And the Facebook users can be sharply targeted by all kinds of demographics. Given the choice, I decided to target my ad to users who listed themselves as interested in “charities/causes” or were “politically liberal.”  It turns out that more than 52 million Facebook users met this description.

The ad was simple: it said, For every “like” we will donate $1 to MVLS to aid needy clients. Please help us help!” and contained the MVLS logo. I posted the ad at 10:44 pm on Sunday, September 16 and went to sleep.

The next morning I had 84 likes. I had gained 13 likes overnight! This was an exciting revelation. I stayed with my plan to send out an email blast through Constant Contact and posted another version of the press release on PRWeb.com. By the end of the promotion I had 531 likes.

But They Work

Thanks to Facebook Analytics I know that 480 page likes resulted from my Facebook ad. Since I started with 51, that means as of September 27 all of my other activities – Press Releases, email campaign, relentless tweets and other social media posts – generated 51 likes. I figure that the ad generated more than one like per hour.

As it turns out, the ad was really the obvious way to go. People who aren’t on Facebook (apparently 5 out of 6 people on the planet still haven’t signed up) won’t join just to like the page, so the best possible market for the campaign was people already using the service. The ability to target the audience is also important. Facebook’s stock may be disappointing, but the company is not in danger of running out of cash anytime soon. Brands are spending millions of dollars using Facebook ads and for good reason: the ads work. If the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll post a Facebook ad again.

Ronald Drescher posts most days to his Facebook page.