While there is little question that social signals influence search, specifically how social media signals will impact traditional seo factors is still largely in flux.
Recently on Slaw, Law firm web strategy professional Steve Matthews, provided his predictions for social media and seo in 2011:
Social Media Signals Merge with traditional SEO factors: Google undertook some radical changes in 2010, including Google Instant and the merging of Google Places listings within the organic search results. Both changes were incredibly significant in my view, and only a sampling of what Google has prepared for us in 2011. Danny Sullivan’s recap on the increased weight being given to social media endorsements is the starting point for my 2011 SEO prediction. As Sullivan notes, neither Google or Bing are using “ReTweets” or “Likes” as a major factor in their organic search rankings, yet. By the end of 2011, I expect one of the two major search engines (my guess: Bing) will turn SEO on its head significantly by increasing the ranking impact of social media endorsements within their ranking algorithm.
What does this mean? First, if you haven't done so already, I recommended adding the Big Steve Feed, to your reader app. Next, you need to begin thinking about your law firm web marketing in terms of both social, as well as, local signals.
While traditional seo shall still remain an important component to successful law firm Internet marketing, it's essential that legal professionals don't omit social and local strategy from their web presence strategy.
Back in October, when Google made its Place Search update, everyone started to freak out. Lawyers that hadn't considered local signals in their seo campaigns found themselves losing out to firms that may have had weaker traditional seo profiles, but had focused on local seo.
I think it is likely that we see a similar (albeit less severe) trend with social signals. Ignore them at your own peril. However, keep in mind that trying to "tweet" or "like" yourself to the top of google results pages is an effort in futility and may even do harm to your professional reputation and relationships.
Instead of chasing followers and friends, focus on building credibility within small social networks and social circles. "Socialize" with those that share similar interests or that you know personally offline. Don't hyper-focus on the time you spend, number of tweets you post, or articles that you like. While being mindful of your social media metrics is good advice, you're better-off engaging in real participation and just seeing where it takes you. You just might be surprised to learn that social media isn't just for the kids.