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Blogging: Greater Returns with Less Effort – A LexBlog Webinar

Despite being a long-time blogger and follower of Kevin O’Keefe on social media, I always learn something new when I attend one of his webinars.  Today, I was able to participate in “Blogging: Greater Returns with Less Effort,” which was excellent and I’d like to share my recap with you. A full recording of the webinar will be available in the coming days on LexBlog’s YouTube channel.

Usual Starting Point

Kevin began at the beginning, so to speak, with the questions that he normally gets at the outset of a firm or attorney beginning their foray into blogging:

  • How frequently should lawyers blog?
  • Should we have a group blog to take the weight off of one person?
  • Should we have an associate write the blog?
  • Should we have a ghostwriter?

Kevin said that for many of these questions, the answers indicate more of a “stick” as opposed to a “carrot” approach. But he thinks that focusing more on the “carrot” can make blogging more rewarding and enjoyable, and thus encourage lawyers to blog.

He did offer some answers to the above questions, based on his experience:

How frequently should lawyers blog? The frequency varies. Kevin said he knows some great blogs who publish posts only once a month, but ideally, a post should be published every couple of weeks or once a week.  Publishing once a week in the fashion that Kevin talked about later in the webinar will result in approximately 45-50 pieces of content a year, which is a lot of content if you’re doing it properly.

Should we have a group blog? Many firms are taking advantage of the idea of group blogs, and it can be natural for a practice group to author a blog together. Kevin emphasized the importance of thinking of the personalities behind the authors, so that the blog doesn’t end up being just updates about the law. He used Winthrop & Weinstine’s Duets Blog as a good example of a group blog.

Should we have an associate or ghostwriter author the blog? This happens all the time. The approach has been that if there’s a lead partner in a particular area, and the firm doesn’t want to lose their reputation if that attorneys is close to retirement, this can be a way to leverage the person’s reputation. Kevin said that he’s becoming more open to the idea of ghostwriting when people need news on particular items – it’s not right for engagement purposes, but can work for publishing. Kevin offered the example of Food Safety News, a leading publication in the world on food safety issues. Lawyers don’t publish each piece of news going up there, but instead have some journalists and reporters to publish information. While it’s a big undertaking, when you look at what the firm gets in return, including their reputation as being unparalleled in the field, the effort is worth it.

Developing a Passion for Blogging

What it comes down to is developing a passion for the area in which you’re blogging. These days, unlike the early days of blogging, it’s more about getting content out there. People have forgotten that it’s about having a passion about an issue, and sharing their thoughts and insight. Kevin thinks (and I agree!) that we still need that – so you’d better have some passion for what you’re doing as a lawyer if you plan to blog about it.

He shared a few examples of bloggers with a passion for their subjects:

  • Fashion Law Blog by Stacey Riordan of Fox Rothschild: This is a traditional firm, that wouldn’t be thought of as cutting edge, but Stacey wanted to do fashion law and sought that out. While she had some connections in LA fashion, using her blog and other social media really opened it up for her, and she just loves it. She’s now one of the youngest female partners in Fox Rothschild’s history, and it’s happened because of her passion. She also has an upcoming speaking engagement in Brazil, thanks to her work on her blog.
  • Equine Law Blog by Allison Rowe of Kelly Hart & Hallman: Allison was doing corporate work and wanted to do equine law. She thought it was silly to even want to do something like that, but she started a blog and loves it. She was honored by the ABA for being one of the top 100 law blogs, and is considered a leading equine lawyer in Texas. Her firm liked the kind of clients she was attracting, and made her an offer that she couldn’t refuse.
  • Cruise Law News by Jim Walker of Walker & O’Neill: Jim was doing defense work, and after his wife congratulated him on his last defense win, he said he had collaterally impeached the plaintiff and destroyed him, and never wanted to do that again.  He decided that he wanted to represent plaintiffs related to cruise injuries and death, and has become one of the most well-known lawyers in the country now in this subject. He’s cited in the media and on other blogs, and he loves it.

At this point, two questions came in from the audience. The first asked what Kevin thought about guest posts. He said that they can work, if you’re strategic. He hasn’t done any yet on his own blog, but is planning to start. He said that it’s not about content though – it’s about asking himself who he wants to build a relationship with. For example, he could ask a reporter at Reuters Law to do a guest post, which might lead to the possibility that more LXBN content appears over there.

Kevin also suggested thinking about doing guest posts with people who could be referral sources. To make it easier for them, you could feed them questions and then create a post around the answers – look for opportunities with referral sources, business community leaders, association leaders and others.

The next question asked about reposting previous blog posts. Kevin said that he’s never done that in his nine years of blogging, but knows that Dan Schwartz of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog has done that. However, rather than just reposting, Dan will say that he’s going to share a few popular posts, and then include them with links in a bulleted list. This way, you’re not putting the entire post in there again, but you’re enticing your readers with the better blog posts that people found helpful or interesting. Another way to do this is by including related posts at the bottom of your individual posts, which can be done by hand or automated. A question later came in about how to automate this, and Kevin and his team recommend continuing to do it by hand, since it’s more effective to identify the correctly related content yourself, than to rely on an algorithm to do it.

Kevin added a few other passionate bloggers, including:

Kevin recommended that the audience look at the other blogs on the LexBlog network to learn from them, and feel free to reach out to the authors.

Identifying, Listening to  and Engaging Your Target Audience

The next topic to discuss was about identifying and listening to your target audience. It’s important to do the things that work, because if you’re not, your blog is just about putting up content, and you won’t know what it’s doing for you.

The reason that it’s so important is the audience – and it’s not just clients and prospective clients. It’s also the leading bloggers, reporters, association leaders, and those who can heavily influence others in your field. Kevin challenged us to listen to the relevant reporters, to connect with them on Twitter and read their columns to see what they are saying.

Listening to your audience is critically important, because it’s much easier to blog when you’re having a conversation with people you want to build a relationship with. When you blog, listening is more important than content – when Kevin listens to his target audience, he has a reader set up that allows him to focus on sources and subjects. Sources are people who write on a certain topics – this could be bloggers, mainstream publications or local publications.

In the past, you would find an article you liked in a paper or magazine, cut it out and photocopy it, and send it along to your contacts with a note about how it impacts them.  Blogging is a lot like this, but all done digitally. Just listen to what people are saying, and then share that with your audience, along with what’s relevant to them. Then, turn around and let the sources know that you’ve shared their content. Kevin said that blogging then starts to become a lot more fun – he’s meeting people and getting to know them. There’s no reason that lawyers can’t get out and engage thought leaders in any subject anywhere in the country, and no reason that they don’t know the local reporters.

Because listening is so important, it’s critical that lawyers get educated on what these tools are. Kevin uses an RSS reader, which allows him to monitor his sources, along with subject areas and keywords.  He can then use the reader to mark something as a favorite, so he can return to it and write a blog post about it. Kevin recommended setting up Google alerts for subjects as well, which can help you to find some of the best content, and can take you out of the blogging silo, where everyone is sharing information.

Twitter can also be used to find relevant items of interest, and has become a better news reader for some people. Using a tool such as Tweetdeck to monitor your Twitter feeds allows you to look at particular columns, either for sources or subjects, and see what’s interesting. Kevin admitted that developing your list on Twitter does take time, but as you put together your own list, it’s always there and it continues to build.

Another thing to think about is how to help attorneys to follow these things, and there are two iPad applications that Kevin recommends for this purpose – FlipBoard and Zite. FlipBoard creates a “magazine” so that you can flip through information – it’s your Google reader right in your iPad, without looking geeky, and can be a very powerful business development tool.

Zite is also a listening tool, which is like Pandora.  You put in subjects, and it helps you to find the best content. Based on what you share, and either give a thumbs up or thumbs down to, it will start to feed you more of what you want to see. You can also add in your Twitter and Google Reader accounts for even more tailoring. CNN bought them last year, and have done a lot to improve them.

FlipBoard and Zite become your ears – if you listen, see some content that you like, and tell people why it’s relevant or what you think about it, and then you link to who wrote it and engage with them, that’s “one hell of a blog,” says Kevin.  Clients and potential clients will love this – you’ll be blogging in a conversational way, and showing them things that they wouldn’t otherwise see.

Repurposing Your Content

Kevin noted that repurposing your content is huge, and there are many examples of lawyers who have done this successfully. He said that lawyers are already writing emails and letters to their clients, to the opposing side, etc. These can be sanitized to remove identifiable information, and then used as a blog post.

Briefs and memos can similarly be repurposed, as well as conference presentations. When you make notes about what to cover, or create a slide deck, take 20 minutes to look through and decide what you want to share with your blog readers. Conference notes from other people’s presentations can also be a good way to repurpose content – take the salient information and write a quick post about it.

In addition, Kevin challenged us to look more at our social engagement. It has been said that if people spent twice as much time commenting on other posts as they are blogging, they would get much more exposure. Additionally, you can then repurpose these comments into a post on your own blog, and reference other peoples’ comments.

Also along the lines of social media engagement is seeking out forum discussions and answers. Some bloggers will just use a question and answer format in their blogs, and this has been done very successfully. It can be a lot easier to start your blog with a question, and often you can tell a story around it, without disclosing who the person is asking the question – this makes it more personable. Kevin suggested keeping a legal pad on the right side of your desk to keep track of questions that could be potential blog posts.

A question came in from the audience about repurposing blog posts into news releases. Kevin said that he’s seen this done, though not very successfully. News releases have to be real news, though it might be something to experiment with. He cautioned that it might not look good to influencers and amplifiers, so it’s important to be careful.

Leveraging the Blog Offline

Kevin’s final point was about how to leverage your blog offline. He said that when you put up content, you need to think about who you can share it with, and to not just expect that people will come to your blog to see the post. Share it with them, and send a note with it. If you’re out at a networking event, and talking to a business person about something that you’ve also written on, tell them and give them the blog address on the back of your business card. Offer to take their card and send them the link. This is how you bring your blog into your life.

To summarize, Kevin said that all of this is about figuring out how to have fun blogging and how to make it easier – if lawyers can start with reading and sharing, and doing that strategically, it will start to work for them, and you won’t be able to stop them.