A year ago this week, I blogged that legal tech companies and their founders and executives didn’t understand how to use technology and the Internet to market and sell.

Unfortunately, nothing much has changed for legal tech companies marketing at this week’s Legalweek/Legaltech in New York City. Applies equally to most of the PR and marketing agencies they use to engage reporters, bloggers and potential customers attending the show.

Sure, there are exceptions, such as Ed Walters, the CEO of Fastcase, but they are few and far between. Ed can do more from his office in D.C. to market and engage customers, prospective customers, partners and influencers of those three (reporters, bloggers, leading media influencers) at Legalweek than CEO’s and marketers can do while being there.

Twenty years ago,  Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger wrote in the widely read business book, Cluetrain Manifesto, that with the advent of the Internet markets are conversations.

On the Internet, markets are getting more connected and more powerfully vocal every day. These markets want to talk, just as they did for the thousands of years that passed before market became a verb with us as its object.

The Internet is a place. We buy books and tickets on the Web. Not over, through, or beside it. To call it a “platform” belies its hospitality. What happens on the Net is more than commerce, more than content, more than push and pull and clicks and traffic and e-anything. The Net is a real place where people can go to learn, to talk to each other, and to do business together. It is a bazaar where customers look for wares, vendors spread goods for display, and people gather around topics that interest them. It is a conversation. At last and again.

Twenty years, two decades have passed since the advent of conversations and networking through the Internet.  With the marketing technology software that companies and agencies are using today, we’re arguably worse off as a legal industry than we were twenty years ago when it comes to the Internet for marketing.

If you want to hear the sound of real Internet marketing, listen to the conversations coming from inside, outside, over, and above even the hardest-selling overtures from companies that still think marketing means lobbing messages into crowds.

Rather than hiring marketers and PR companies to email leading press, including bloggers, hoping that they’ll stop by your booth/demos or give you coverage, engage these folks in a real and authentic way through the Internet.

Build trust. Without trust, no one can hear your message.

Blogging, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – take your pick – by company leaders, personally, is not an option, it’s necessary to enter the conversation. Social media is not to be pushed aside by a legal tech CEO letting marketing and the social media coordinator do the work.

Seven years after Cluetrain, Searls blogged some salient points about marketing as a conversation.

  • The purpose of conversation is to create and improve understanding, not for one party to “deliver messages” to the other. That would be rude.
  • There is no “audience” in a conversation. If we must label others in conversation, let’s call them partners.
  • People in productive conversation don’t repeat what they’re saying over and over. They learn from each other and move topics forward.
  • Conversations are about talking, not announcing. They’re about listening, not surveying. They’re about paying attention, not getting attention. They’re about talking, not announcing.
  • Conversation is live. It’s constantly moving and changing, flowing where the interests and ideas of the participants take it. Even when conversations take the form of email, what makes them live is current interest on both sides.

Searls added that companies engage in marketing as a conversation in a manner that is:

  • Real. Conversational marketing is carried out by human beings, writing and speaking in their own voices, for themselvesnot just for their employers.
  • Constant. Conversational marketing’s heartbeat is the human one, not some media schedule. Brands need to work incessantly to be understood within the context of the market conversation and to earn and keep the respect of their conversational partners.
  • Genuinely interested. Intellectual engagement can’t be faked at least for long. Current interest is what keeps conversations going, and its the key to sustained brand presence.
  • Personal. No individual outsources their conversation or their education. This is no less true of brands than of people. Because brands today are people. Smart brands reward individual employees for engaging in market converstions.

Other than Jack Newton, CEO of Clio, and Ed Walters, I am not sure that any CEO’s with companies at Legalweek have engaged me personally in a conversation through the Internet.

Between them, these guys are regular users of Twitter and Facebook so what their companies are doing and/or launching at Legalweek is just part of their ongoing conversation with us. Any announcements they share of new products feel like they’re just sharing something we would want to know – we know them and we trust them.

No coincidence that their two companies are two of the fastest growing and most successful in the legal tech industry.

Rather than press releases, announcements and emails to bloggers/reporters you don’t know, take a crack at being genuine. Learn how to converse online. After all, marketing is a conversation.