photo-1457369804613-52c61a468e7dThe saying goes “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

If you’re writing or producing content, it should be “If you write an article [blog post, tweet, produce a video, etc.] and no one reads it, does it matter?”

The short answer is no.

For me, content is very much tied up with content audiences – if you’re taking the time to write or create something to add value and promote your message, then it should matter to and reach your audiences, right?

How can you make that happen?

Rob Garner over at the Content Marketing Institute looks at 12 Audience Considerations for Your Real-Time Content, all of which are excellent reminders about refocusing our content efforts to be audience-centric (if they’re not already). I’d like to focus on two today that are particularly relevant for lawyers and legal marketers. For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume we’re talking about written content, but this can and does apply to all types of content production.

Tip One: Answer “Why”

This is incredibly important, and should inform all of your decision-making when it come to producing your content – but it’s more than just “Why am I writing this?” – it’s about answering the readers’ question “Why should I care about this?”

I’ve read a number of posts and articles lately that were written because the author had something to say that was all about them or because they believed it’s what their audience *should* care about. But the posts weren’t really written with the audience in mind.

How can you tell what matters to your audience?

First, we’ll presume that you know who they are – you’ve set your goals, and identified who it is that you want to reach in order to meet those goals. Once you know who those people are, you have a “persona” for your ideal audience member in mind, and that’s who you’ll think of when crafting each piece of writing. There are a couple of ways you can tell what matters to them:

  • Look at the data for existing posts/articles. We’ve talked before about the difficulties in identifying successful engagement with content, but you will generally have a good idea of which of your articles are being received well, shared a lot, getting comments and other engagement. That’s a good barometer for what’s popular, as long as the people sharing and engaging with that content are the ones you want to reach.
  • They’ll tell you. Many successful legal bloggers will write based on their own experiences, sharing their answers to often-asked client questions. They’re not giving away confidentialities, but they’re talking about things that they’re often asked. Whether your audience is reporters, potential clients, or other lawyers, look at what they’re asking you and other peers/colleagues and start using the answers to those questions as topics.
  • Ask them. Don’t be afraid to ask them. You’ve identified the ideal “persona” for your audience, and there is likely one or two people that you know personally that already fit into that mold. Talk to that person and ask them to offer you feedback on the things they’re interested in reading about, what’s most relevant to them.

These audience “hacks” should start getting you into the habit of asking yourself “Is this interesting to the people that I want to reach?” which is another way of saying “Why do they want to read what I’m writing?”

Tip Two: The “How” is Important

Garner calls this “embracing the natural language of your audience,” and this is huge for the legal industry.  But what immediately comes to mind for me is not legalese, which is important to discuss in this context, but the use of the third person.

Whenever I see someone who has their profile written in the third person for a social media site, I automatically assume their secretary wrote it. And I have very little interest in connecting with them – because I’m doubtful that I’m connecting with THEM. Content is as much about connecting with your audience as it is about delivering something of value. One of the ways that we connect is in the way that we write, the language that we use.

It may sound strange, because in some cases, it seems we’re all speaking the same language – for example, this post is written in English, and if you’re an English speaker, you likely understand it. But when I start throwing in words like “content marketing,” “ROI,” “brand conversation,” “social footprint,” “SEO,” etc. some of that may seem entirely foreign to you. Depending on the type of work that we do, we all have our own lexicon for describing our professional lives. That’s why videos like these are so funny for business professionals.

Legal is no different, and in addition to the generational habit of some lawyers using the third person (because they’ve had their secretaries set up their profiles), there’s an automatic inclination to use legalese when writing, because that’s your most common lexicon. Legal marketers are not immune from this either – I’m very aware that my use of the words “audience” and “content marketing” early on in this post is much more “marketing speak” than it is “lawyer speak.”

I generally try to avoid using phrases like that if at all possible, or to translate them into words that are more familiar to lawyers when I’m writing. As writers, are you doing the same, writing for your own audiences in the types of language that they use? Or are you writing in what’s more comfortable and familiar to YOU?

How can you find out?

Since you know who your audience persona is, read what it is they’re writing and reading, to see what’s most popular and how they deal with the topics that they address – what phrases do they use? Do they describe the same concepts that you’re writing about using other types of phrases? How can you change the way that you’re writing to mimic their style, so that you do a better job of connecting with your ideal audience?

***

As you’re creating your content, addressing your target audience should be the number one goal behind the decisions you make about why and how you write (or speak). Doing so will engage the people that you want to reach, and keep them coming back to read the valuable material that you’re delivering.