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Building a Better Blog: Navigating Online Social Networking

Monday, August 13, 2012

By Amy Galie and Tricia M. Lilley, Fox Rothschild LLP

Then and Now

Networking was once synonymous with phrases like “wine and dine” or “meet and greet,” but it has recently evolved to include tweeting, blogging, linking and friending. Even within the notoriously slow-adapter legal industry, social media has made significant in-roads. In particular, blogs are proving particularly popular. In fact, the speed of the growth has been remarkable.

The American Bar Association reports that law-related blogs emerged around 2002 with a meager 100 or so on record. Just three years later, more than 500 blogs – from firms large and small – were filling up the blogosphere.1

By this year, the ALM Legal Intelligence Report reported that more than 60 percent of firms surveyed had at least one blog, and more than half said they plan to increase their social media budgets.2

But who’s reading?

According to the 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey – conducted by InsideCounsel magazine in conjunction with Greentarget Strategic Communications and the Zeughauser Group consulting firm – 76 percent of in-house counsel say they “attribute some level of importance to a lawyer’s blog when deciding which firms to retain.”3 In fact, the survey reports, “in-house respondents also overwhelmingly view blog content as credible, at a rate of 84 percent . . . .”

Seems blogging is here to stay. And it might even be good for business. So what’s the best route to establishing credibility in a crowded market and how can you maximize the return on your investment?

Key Considerations

Virtual marketing isn’t all that different from in-person marketing: You get out of it what you put into it. And you’re most effective when you define your objectives early in your efforts. Most attorneys looking to blog find that they want to establish themselves as either subject matter “experts,” enhance their reputations within a defined community, build a network or supplement their current business development initiatives. Establishing your goal from the outset with blogging will go a long way to creating an outlet that readers will come to rely on and trust and prove successful to your career/practice.

A very preliminary question to ask is whether you think your practice lends itself to blogging. Should you blog for blogging’s sake? “The question isn’t what can firms do with a social media strategy; It’s where do we see strategic areas for growth and how can we use social media for that growth,” says Adrian Dayton, a columnist for the National Law Journal and founder/CEO of Adrian Dayton & Associates, a consultancy advising law firms on digital media.

One of the benefits of blogging is positive exposure – to a broad cross-section of clients, prospective clients, referral sources, influencers and decision-makers. But remember, it’s supplemental to face-to-face interaction and should not replace it. (Blogging is also a great outlet for making connections for those who fear the crowd and cringe at the thought of a networking event.)

According to Kevin O’Keefe, CEO and publisher of LexBlog (a national provider and developer of social media strategy), “One of your biggest goals should be to establish your blog as a client development tool.”

Content is King

As with any type of marketing communication, content is the driving force when it comes to blogging. To develop your focus, drill down to the specifics of what you want to cover and what knowledge and capabilities you want to showcase. For instance, will you:


  • Cover state-specific legal issues?

  • Monitor a precedent-setting court?

  • Analyze industry/legislative trends?


One thing’s for sure, it should be on a topic you already know and understand.

What will your blog offer readers? Analysis? Updates? A resource center? The answer should be yes, yes and yes. You should aim to offer readers and followers your thoughts on cases, trends and legal updates, as well as provide links to outside resources to supplement your findings.

From there, you can gauge your ability to provide high-quality content and keep it fresh, determine how you will differentiate yourself from your competition and develop a plan for creating your own “voice” to connect with your readers.

Got it? Taking a look at a few industry trends might be helpful:

LexBlog reports that “Am Law 200 firm-branded blogs are supporting cross-selling and collaboration across multiple practice areas and offices. For midsize firms, blogs are helping attorneys and practices distinguish themselves in a competitive marketplace. And small and solo firms are using blogs to magnify their influence and presence in far greater proportion to their sizes and budgets.”

So whether you are a small partnership or an AM100 firm, you can find a home in the blogosphere – you just need to understand where you fit.

Devil is in the Details

While blogging may be different for everyone, one thing remains at the forefront: social networking should become an active part of your daily routine, in which you are consistently initiating and engaging in online discussions. If you can accomplish this, online social networking will serve as a powerful tool for expanding and cultivating your exposure to readers, contacts, potential clients, journalists and more.

But making it part of your routine is only the first step; understanding how to write for the web, engaging readers and making (what is often a mundane subject) interesting is where things get tricky. The ever popular dissertation has no place in online writing. Short, succinct and attention grabbing posts and titles are key to a successful blog.

Is a new law going into effect? Has there been an update on a case? A recent report released? Figure out what’s the most important information you need to get across, making sure your analysis is woven in to make it meaningful for your audience. Don’t merely echo the information you present, add personal insight(s) and the reader will take notice of your depth of knowledge and perceptiveness.

Writing for a blog takes practice. There is a lot of gray area: Where do you draw the line on length? Too long and you seem verbose, too short and you miss getting your point across. And what about those popular keywords and SEO (search engine optimization) everyone talks about? This is where knowing your audience will come into play.

Your audience should be a primary driver of your content, so it’s essential you develop and understand its needs. Dayton notes that a common problem is “attorneys writing like lawyers and not knowing their audience.”

In developing your audience, you should identify influencers and thought leaders both in the industry and the blogosphere. To accomplish this you can find hot topics and industry trends with Google Reader by subscribing to select RSS feeds in your field. Subscribing is only half the battle.

“Listening is the number one most important thing,” O’Keefe says, explaining engaging and joining the conversation is pivotal to your success.

Another key route to expanding exposure and broadening readership is to incorporate others into your blog. An easy way to do this is to quote a media source. Linking your blog posts to media sources and crediting the journalists by name will get you on the reporters’ radar screens and boost your following, ideally.

Dayton cautions that blogs aren’t an island. Bloggers should ensure they integrate all of their social media presences so that they are cross-pollinating. Twitter and LinkedIn can serve as aggregators of your content. Your posts can also act as a catalyst for conversations on these and other platforms.

We get it – It’s hard enough to find time to blog let alone distribute it elsewhere. But tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck allow you to organize, schedule and consolidate your social media presence. But be warned, these shouldn’t become a crutch. You still need to actively participate in the conversation as developments arise.

Proof is in the Pudding

At this point the student has become the master and you are well underway with your blog. The process doesn’t end there; next you must ask yourself, “How am I measuring success?”


  • Are you viewed as an “expert” in your area?

  • Have you identified, followed and engaged with influencers?

  • Are you growing your network?

  • Are you getting high quality clients?


Measuring your return on investment is complicated, and there is no real science behind it. As O’Keefe puts it: “What is the price of being relevant?” Certainly, blogging can broaden exposure and raise profile. In fact, ALM reports that more than 40 percent of US firms using social media say that those activities have helped to increase the number of calls their firms receive from journalists in traditional and new media.4 Likewise, roughly the same number said their presence in the blogosphere and on social media networks had also increased the number of speaking invitations their lawyers receive.5

While media relations and relevancy are definitely valuable, most lawyers are likely looking to derive actual dollars from blogging. According to ALM, 49 percent of law firms are seeing that connection and say that blogging and social networking initiatives have helped produce new business leads. And 41 percent reporting that social media had helped them to actually land new work.6

“Those firms that have multiple blogs older than a year are seeing success,” Dayton says.

So the ROI is there but the challenge is in measuring it. To get started on tracking, begin to note: Have you engaged others? Have they engaged you (e.g., re-posting, re-tweeting etc.)? Has the media tapped you for quotes? Did a client retain you as a direct result from your blog? Has your network expanded? Are you understanding and using the tools available to you?

Look to your statistics as well. One outlet is the web analytics program Google Analytics, which provides an expansive amount of information, including figures on the number of hits per month, visits, page views and more. It also can give you the foundation for analyzing your audience, traffic drivers and your most viewed content.

Predictions

The 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey reported that the “percentage of daily readers of blogs for professional reasons dropped from 27 percent in 2010 to 17 percent this year” but that, “Weekly and monthly readers increased from 20 percent to 26 percent and from 13 percent to 17 percent year over year, respectively.”

What does this mean? According to the survey, “ As the new becomes the familiar and they have more sources of content from which to choose – both inside and outside the legal market – in-house counsel are becoming much more discerning about the information they consume.”

And as more and more people turn to the web for legal advice, the competition will continue to increase. According to a survey by the Research Intelligence Group, “3 out of 4 consumers seeking an attorney over the last year used online resources at some point in the process.”7 This is particularly good news for smaller firms with fewer marketing resources and dollars.

“[The] great thing about content online is it’s a great leveler,” says Dayton. “It’s based on the quality of what you say.”

Reiterating Dayton’s findings, many firms are already seeing the benefit to blogging. So are we likely to see an uptick in spending on social media in general as firms understand the power of online networking? That’s a safe bet.

Blogging will continue to grow and the need for concrete policies, personnel, strategy and training will be necessary to maintain a blog that is relevant. Simply blogging for the sake of blogging is not enough. It’s the innovative tactics and approaches you take that will set you apart. But we are still in our blogging infancy, so it’s trial and error from here on out.

As O’Keefe put it, “The Internet is here to stay. It’s how we use it as a communication and engagement tool [that will evolve].”

Tricia M. Lilley is the chief marketing officer for 550-lawyer, 16-office Fox Rothschild LLP. Trish has more than 20 years of experience in the legal industry in various roles– from legal journalist to attorney recruiter. She is a founder of the Metro Philadelphia chapter of the Legal Marketing Association.

Amy Galie is a senior business development specialist for 550-lawyer, 16-office Fox Rothschild LLP. Amy’s background is in communications and public relations, and she is a member of the Legal Marketing Association.

Disclaimer

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