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

In modern times, we should be asking ourselves, “If you write an article [insert other content format] 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 wrote a great post called 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 professionals.

Question one – 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 or creating this?” – it’s about answering the audience’s question “Why should I care about this?”

I’ve read a number of posts and articles 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. Consider for a moment the absolute tsunami of COVID-19 articles, webinars, and blog posts (not to mention HUBS) that came out of the recent pandemic. How many of those do you think were created with their specific audiences in mind….first?

Okay, I’m sure that makes more than a few of you uncomfortable. So if that’s the case, it begs the question:

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 (If you haven’t done this, go back to home base for business development planning). 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/content. 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, videos, podcasts, etc. 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 content producers will create 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, current 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/hear what I’m creating?”

Question two – HOW?

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 assistant 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.

Legal is no different, and in addition to the generational habit of some lawyers using the third person (because they’ve had their assistants set up their profiles), there’s an automatic inclination to use legalese when writing, because that’s your most common lexicon. Other legal professionals 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 content creators, are you doing the same, creatingfor 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 and listening to, 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 or talking about using other types of phrases? How can you change the way that you’re writing or speaking to mimic their style, so that you do a better job of connecting with your ideal audience?

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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.

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was recently chosen for as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February of 2009.