Content marketing is a tool in your arsenal for building effective business relationships.

But like any tool, it’s not going to be useful to you if you don’t use it efficiently. In the past, you could get away with producing *something* and getting the attention of a client or potential client, because you were the only one writing or talking about it. But today, content is so ubiquitous, that if you’re not standing out, you risk being relegates to background noise. 

For the legal industry, content is not new. Lawyers have been writing articles since long before the internet was popular, and many then graduated to identifying the latest trends, legislation, case results, etc. and sharing that and its impacts with their clients through client alerts or personal emails. That’s all content, and if you’re doing that, you’re already a content writer.

The method of delivery is new in recent years, with lawyers and law firms embracing blogging, and now, other types of content, like videocasting, podcasting, and more, on a larger scale. The content is the same, but the means for getting that content out to the consuming audience is new. As I alluded to earlier, in the early days of blogging, when the lawyers doing it were few and far between, it was much easier to get traffic, comments, likes and subscribers – it was the shiny new thing, and people were hungry to get any and all content they could get their hands on.

We were also operating as big fish in small ponds – with fewer people engaging (in the beginning) in blogging and other forms of content marketing (social media), it wasn’t hard to get in front of people. But now that there’s so much content out there, and all using similar mediums, it’s harder to be noticed. You have to be better to be noticed. [As a side note, that’s why video or podcasts are a great way to embrace content at the moment, because not many law firms are using them. Even more to the point, not many law firms are using it WELL, so if you can do a slick, smart job of video, you’re miles ahead.]

The problem now isn’t with the “how” of what we’re producing – blogging still works, social media still works – it’s the who. It’s us. We have to do a better job of producing content, because, as my friend Adrian Lurssen, a content expert in the legal industry, always points out, it’s about being the signal within the noise.

So what are two ways we can improve our content so that we stand out, and can use it more effectively for building business relationships?

Problem One: Content writers think that a boring industry necessitates a boring blog

In a post written by content marketing expert, Neil Patel, he says that too often “Content writers think that a boring industry necessitates a boring blog.” As soon as I saw this problem identified by Patel, I knew this was meant for lawyers.

Time and time again, lawyers will suggest that because we are in a serious industry, it necessitates a serious [read: boring] blog. And while I’m not asking you to start injecting unnecessary humor into your posts, I AM suggesting that you ditch the legalese and humanize them a little bit. Add your personality.

Patel suggests that a blog may be boring if the author believes that industry to be boring. But what I see more often than not is that a lawyer author who is passionate about their area of the law, who can talk to me with palpable excitement about the latest news in energy law or tax law, for example, still may have some trouble translating that excitement into the written word. It’s not that the author is finding the content boring; it’s that their treatment of the content isn’t matching with their passion for the subject.

So how can you combat this? I have two recommendations:

  • Audio record yourself: Take a voice memo on your smart phone about the latest news or update in your area of the law. Don’t think about it from the perspective of what it will end up being – just speak from the heart. What’s the latest news in the industry? What challenges are coming up this year? What question did you just answer for a client that you get regularly (and could answer, or translate, to a public format)? What makes you most excited about practicing in this area? Once you’ve done that, step away from it for a day or two, and then come back to it and transcribe it, re-working it into a written format that can be used for blogging or an article, but still embraces the enthusiasm you have for the subject matter. If you find that your enthusiasm isn’t translating to the written word, consider diving into doing a podcast instead of articles/blogs – well-done podcasts are highly sought out by in-house counsel at the moment (in the top five of content consumed, according to a recent Greentarget survey!), so it’s a great opportunity.
  • Read industry content: When you practice in a specific area, don’t limit yourself to reading the legal publications for those clients – find out what business publications they read as well, and read those too. That will help you to get a sense of the language that they use and prefer for the treatment of the subject at hand. For example, after Prince’s passing, I keep seeing Trusts & Estates lawyers who have written about his lack of a will – they wrote that he died intestate, and though they put “without a will” in parenthesis following “intestate,” they’ve already thrown the legalese right in there. Ask yourself, when writing about a subject, is it necessary to use the legal term? Or can you use the discussion term instead? What will resonate better with your audience?

Patel offers some solutions for this problem too:

  • Go deep. Deep content is rarely boring.” – If you’re afraid of writing too much on a particular subject, break your content into multiple posts or a series. Long content is actually quite popular these days as well, surprisingly, in this age of short attention spans.
  • Unleash the data. The right people always love a good dose of data.” – Along with data, don’t forget the visuals. It’s always recommended to break up a lot of text and data with visuals.
  • Know your users. Understanding your audience gives you a powerful edge.” – I can’t emphasize this enough. The better you know your audience, the better your content will be received. And remember, your “audience” is whomever you’ve identified that you want to reach with your content based on your goals. This may be clients and potential clients, it may be thought leaders in your industry, it may be journalists, or it may be conference organizers, etc. Start with your goals, identify who you want to reach based on those goals, and then get to know those people, what they want, and where they are.

Problem Two: Content writers go through the motions rather than trying to provide a truly helpful resource

Yikes. Does this sound familiar?

These days, there’s a lot of pressure to produce content – write a blog, tweet something, write an article, shoot a video, add more words into the ether. Sometimes, it can be tempting to write something for the sake of writing, rather than to be genuinely useful, and then we’re running the risk of adding to the noise, instead of being a resource.

Patel says:

Content marketing has become another marketing function – just something you have to do. But content marketing is different from most business activities because it requires creative, inspired, and enthusiastic output of content. That content has to connect with people.”

For law firms, this is just as true – while I *hope* that your content is not marketing’s job, unless your marketing department is producing their own blog, it is indeed the case that producing content requires “creative, inspired, and enthusiastic output.” Most importantly, that it “has to connect with people.” (By the way, that’s where knowing your audience comes in handy)

Patel’s remedies for this issue are almost entirely best implemented by the marketing department at your firm, but there is one that you can use directly if you want to jump start your inspiration (I’ll indicate which is which):

  • Marketing departments: “Rewarding your content writers based on agreed-upon performance benchmarks for their content.” – For this to work, you have to have the buy-in of management. In some firms, you can tie compensation into content production and success (some firms do do this), and in other firms, you may have to get more creative about how you reward good content. Competition works well – showcase strong content leaders in the firm’s internal newsletters, create a competition for whoever produces the most/best content, etc.
  • Marketing departments: “Using content writers who really get it – who know the industry, the biggest problems, and how to solve them.” – Find your champions. Not everyone at the firm has to blog or write or appear on video – it’s not right for everybody. Find those who really “get it” and put your energy behind them.
  • Creating collaborations between those who are hired to write content and those who deal with the industry’s biggest and thorniest problems.” – Marketing departments can support this efforts, or as an individual lawyer, you can facilitate this yourself – AND it can be a useful networking tool. Let’s say that you want to write on a particular topic, and your goal is also to get in front of a particular potential client. Why not propose collaborating on the post with that client? If you’re looking to increase your reputation as a thought leader in a particular industry, find other thought leaders to profile or share a by-line with.  Go a step further than simply quoting others’ work in your posts and following up with them afterwards, and proactively reach out to them about collaborating on a piece. It will give you a fresh perspective on the subject material, encourage you to raise your game, and offers you a networking opportunity all at the same time. You can do this with other types of content too – starting a podcast? Bring on clients and potential clients as guests. The same goes for video series. You don’t have to get into thorny issues of client confidentiality, but talk about some of the business issues of the day that your clients (and others in the industry!) care about, to create compelling content that others will be interested in AND your client will want to share when you publish.

Another suggestion I would recommend is switching things up:

  • If you’re a blogger and you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, try another medium. Maybe videocasting may work for you, or try podcasting. Step away from your preferred technology for a few weeks, and see if changing the way you deliver your content helps to challenge you and freshen up your message.
  • Do some reading. It can be easy to get bogged down in the weeds of our own writing and end up writing for the sake of it. Get back to the joy of writing by reading what others are working on. It can be within your area of practice for some inspiration, or totally outside of legal (perhaps to freshen up your writing style).
  • Along those lines, take a break from writing. You don’t want it to be too long of a break, because out of sight is out of mind when it comes to content. But if you’re writing for the sake of it, and not producing anything of true value, there’s no harm in taking yourself off your writing rotation for 2-3 weeks and regrouping. Is the schedule of writing working for you? Could you come up with some standard types of columns to author that give you some guidelines without being restrictive? If you’re already doing that, could you change what these are to freshen up what you’re writing? What can you do to fall back in love with your subject matter again?

How can you use better content marketing to improve your business relationships?