I have recently spent some time looking at the blogs on law firm websites. I looked at more than 1,000 blog postings on more than 100 websites. They all had one thing in common: zero visible engagement. Not a single one had had a comment added to it.

I think there are a lot of reasons why people wouldn’t want to comment in a public forum about legal issues that affect them and few reasons why they would, so lack of visible engagement is no surprise at all. Besides, from the firm’s point of view, to start an online conversation with a browser to your site has clear risks and also may lock up valuable fee-earner time. However, the lack of engagement does raise the question: is blogging worthwhile for solicitors?

Indeed, if firms are diverting staff time from earning profits to creating web content, there has to be a good reason for it. Several of the firms I looked at were clearly investing (in opportunity cost terms) many thousands of pounds per partner per year in the production of web content which was neither particularly accessible for the reader (generally, way too much legalese) nor had any evident marketing purpose. Rule 1 of web content marketing, by the way, may be that the purpose of your web content is not to sell, but inform … but the ultimate object is to increase the probability that the browser will pick up the phone to your firm, not to one of the two or three other firms whose websites they have also viewed.

Creating the legal material for blogging can be expensive. One of our clients reckons that even a short piece of content created in house costs them at least £130 to post: one per day would need to obtain nearly £70,000 in new fees a year to break even.

I’d bet my socks that, for at least 80 per cent of all UK law firms, blogging activity decreases the profits of the firm rather than increasing it and, as more and more firms pile into the blogging/social media marketing bun fight, this will be getting worse. We saw the same thing happen with SEO, where returns have fallen rapidly as more and more firms use SEO.

Additionally, the window of opportunity for content to be seen in any social area is quite small: even on LinkedIn an item will typically disappear off my screen within 7 minutes during the day. The message has to be very well designed to be noticed at all.

So, should you abandon blogging and social sharing? No, not at all: get these right and they can work very well. The fact that most firms aren’t doing it profitably does not mean that it can’t be done.

Strategies for success

How should you go about upping your game? Here are three easy strategies that can be really effective.

Be a local hero

A local hero is the “go to” firm in the local area. This can be the hardest to do, but is also normally the most effective.

Did you know (Google tells us) that 86 per cent of searches for legal services have a place name attached? If you are big in your locality, you probably don’t need a national presence but you do need to develop your local profile.

How to do this? Identify local targets and spread the word to and via them and their networks. Share space/content with other organisations in your area: the chamber of trade, local charities, schools, estate agents, even larger clients. If you give commentary etc to them, you can add value to their proposition and put your brand (and wisdom) in front of qualified prospects who are local. Join their groups, comment on them.

Be an industry hero

An industry hero is the expert in an industry. Larger law firms are doing this well in industries such as haulage, medical and hospitality.

If you read the trade press, you will understand the market and its issues, speak their language and make intelligent comments in their industry forums (trade pages and social networking groups), you’ll start to be seen as the industry expert. It isn’t fast, but it really works.

There are still really good industries to get at and even where the national reputation has been cornered, you can still become a regional expert.

Be a work-type hero

This is where the type of work you do is highly specialised. In this, you are probably going after the professional market rather than the public one. This not only makes identifying the people who you want to see your thoughts (and their online discussion forums) easier, it also is amenable to success via SEO in a way a broader-based practice is normally not: the demand here is for expertise rather than accessibility.

You also need to cut costs

If you do not have a natural marketing person amongst your lawyers, consider outsourcing your blogging and social media to one of the many legal marketing companies which now offer this type of service. You can still provide the legal content and the ideas you want to share, but finding the right words (or 140 characters, in the case of Twitter) to make a connection with the viewer, can be a real challenge.

If you are going to continue to do it all yourself, do learn all you can – from social media of course. Most of the best people who advise solicitors on social media are active members of the Social Media for Solicitors group in LinkedIn. At the time of writing, it only has 325 members, but really works for some of the contributors because it is so tightly targeted. And you can find out who are the leaders in the field.

In any case, do not waste fee-earner time on the technical side of content/blog creation, recreating your content for each social media outlet separately. You can automate the networking of your content by using applications like Bloggerapp or Hootsuite to automatically distribute your posts to the social networks as well as your blog.

Joe Reevy is the MD of www.legalrss.co.uk and www.words4business.com and he is also the driving force behind the www.myinfonet.co.uk automated marketing platform.

Email joe@bestpracticeonline.com. Twitter @joereevy.

Image by Mike Licht on Flickr.

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