Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting in on another of the LMA’s Social Media Shared Interest Group’s webinars, this time with Adrian Lurssen of JD Supra. Adrian talked about some best practices for getting clients to read a law firm’s online content, using a case study to walk us through.
As I’ve noted before, I won’t give away everything from the webinar, since it’s an LMA membership benefit, but there was some great advice that Adrian shared with us.
His case study focused on the discussions surrounding the America Invents Act, for which JD Supra saw 82 firms producing content. Of these firms, only one stood out, Pepper Hamilton. Adrian delved into the "why" of the popularity of their post, as well as defining the goals we should be pursuing as we produce content.
We Want Our Own Praise Singers
Adrian told the story of how Nelson Mandela had his own praise singers – those who would literally sing his praises for him. This is what law firms really want; not to be the ones tooting their own horns and sharing their own material (though sharing content is essential and valuable), but to empower others to do so. This is what content can do online – the content that does this isn’t self-promotional though; it’s that which is useful to people that will succeed. Adrian showed how this worked with the Pepper Hamilton post, on LinkedIn, a Hacker news of the day site, and more.
Goal: Become Part of Others’ Discussions
Adrian used a zen diagram to illustrate what the ultimate goal is in producing content, and that is to be the focus of others’ discussions. Most firms spend their time within the circle of their own networking, and this is the right place to start. But at the connection of social and content, there is a huge opportunity. The question is how to move from being within your own circle to that of being the subject of others’ discussions.
Adrian noted that lawyers already have good content, because they have hard-earned expertise. The question is not whether lawyers can produce good content, it’s how is that content translates to being something that people not only want to read, but also share and discuss. There are three keys – content should be readable, timely and relevant.
Make it Readable
With respect to the America Invents Act, Adrian showed examples of three titles:
- The America Invents Act
- Important Patent Law Changes
- Top Ten Reasons to File Your Patent Applications Before March 16, 2013
The first two tell you what you’ll get if you read these posts – the last tells you why you want to read it. Every title that you write should be with the purpose of earning your audience. Some firms will assume that because of their firm name, or the audiences they’ve developed, that they’ll already have readership. But the best content is written with the idea that you’re earning your audience by telling them why they should click in the first place.
In addition to the importance of the title, the structure of the content is important as well. Many firms will write for an in-house counsel audience – because they’re writing for lawyers, they use legalese. But based on everything Adrian has heard, general counsel are busy people who appreciate when you make things easy for them – just because someone can understand your legalese, doesn’t mean you should force them to.
Another reason that Pepper Hamilton’s piece was so well-received was that they leveraged the power of the list to enhance readability. Even without using a numbered list, breaking up a post with sub-headings allows the reader to scan the content and see if it matters to them. They can then choose to go deeper or not. Readers shouldn’t have to work to find your big takeaways – this isn’t to say that readers aren’t intelligent, but they are busy, so content should cater to that. Allowing for this enables them to easily choose whether to read something and share it, or just move on.
Make it Timely
Adrian next touched on the importance of timeliness – I found this section the most interesting, because I’ve heard from many of my lawyers that they focus more on making sure the content is solid than on making sure that it’s timely. Adrian pointed out that Pepper Hamilton’s piece didn’t just come out early enough, but they included the deadline as part of the title. He noted that he often sees law firms writing about things when it’s too late for clients to do anything about them. To truly get noticed, shared and read, you want to preempt the big news and write about it while there’s still time to act on it.
However, that’s not to say that the role of attorneys is to break news – it isn’t. A lawyer shouldn’t be in the business of breaking news, just in the business of sorting out what that breaking news means to their clients.
Make it Relevant
The final key here is relevancy. Adrian showed a slide and said that if he was only allowed to share one slide with us, this would be the one. It said "Don’t talk about the law. Talk about how changes in the law affect the people you serve."
After a few additional points, Adrian answered some great questions from the audience.
There’s Too Much Content Out there Already. Why Should I Bother?
Adrian was asked how legal marketers should respond to those attorneys who feel that there’s so much content out there that anything they say will only be lost. He encouraged them to keep trying, to advise them that the people who decide not to turn up and be visible will be schooled by the people who do. The best way to help them understand why they should produce content is to show them what some of their colleagues are doing in the same practice area, and the traction that they’re getting. Help them understand how they can produce content that will be shared, and then follow that up by participating in the conversations around that content, such as joining in the LinkedIn groups that are discussing it.
He added that sometimes the freshness of the delivery can also make the difference in how a piece is received. He advised that lawyers who choose one of their clients and imagine that they’re writing just for them (using their language) will often see that their content is useful to someone that they don’t know yet, but should.
Should the Message Change Depending on the Channel?
Another audience member asked whether there was any benefit to using different messages for the same piece of content in the various places that you post, such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Adrian said it would depend on what the results are – he advised that firms use trial and error to test certain wording and see what has the best results. He doesn’t necessarily agree that each platform needs its own language, but that firms should be conscious of who they’re writing for, and what will interest them the most.
Should I focus on SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?
Someone asked whether Adrian believes in SEO, and he said that yes, but the danger is that people will start writing headlines and titles for algorithms and not their audience. People will discover you because of your content, and the goal is to let them get to know you over time. Adrian added that he sees a lot of wasted words in titles, normally for the purpose of branding. He used the example of "Thursday Morning Brief to do with IP Section x:" and noted that everything before the colon is dead air branding. He recommended not wasting words in the title on things that only matter to you. I was really glad that Adrian added that, because not only do I think it lacks relevancy for the reader, but it also creates a barrier to sharing the post. I’ve found that in several cases, I’ll go to tweet a post, but the title is far too long. So rather than doing the work of figuring out how to shorten it, I just skip sharing it – you don’t want people to avoid sharing your content because the title is too long.
Video vs. the Written Word – what’s better?
An audience member wanted to know if the written word was better than video. Adrian said that they work hand in hand, and noted that although short is better with video, in some cases the legal implications cannot always be quickly summed up. Video often works to qualify readers, when they’re used in connection with each other. Adrian said that in his experience, they’ll embed video in a post, and add some language about the video. They’ll then encourage people to click the links below the video in the post for additional information. They’ve found that people who click those text links after watching the video spend more time on the site than any other group.
Video also offers a way to get to know people – we hire people we know, and go out of our way to hire people we like. We tend to like people more than we like ideas, and video offers the opportunity to have a person’s face in front of you. It doesn’t replace text, but it can help.
Why Write Content that We Charge Clients to Hear?
One of the questions I think we’ve all gotten with respect to in-depth legal content is why a lawyer should publish something that they charge their clients to hear. Adrian advised that there needs to be a balance, but that it’s obvious when you’re holding back. The reason behind doing this is two-fold – first, your competitors are already sharing this information. Second, content in the social realm will never replace legal services – legal services are too complicated for that. Sophisticated buyers of a sophisticated service for complicated issues will always want to hire lawyers. That won’t change, but what is changing is who is getting noticed. Producing content won’t talk someone out of hiring you; it will just make their decision to hire you easier.
Adrian noted that there is proprietary information within firms that shouldn’t be shared, but said that lawyers shouldn’t hold back on their expertise when talking about issues that their clients face every day.
Thanks so much to Adrian for a great webinar!