Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Getting Started on Twitter - A How To for Attorneys

I've been spending more and more time lately working with attorneys on how to use Twitter for business development.


Why should attorneys use Twitter?

  • Stay up on trends in the legal industry and in their clients’ industries
  • Push out alerts and other publications
  • Curate / aggregate information related to their practice area
  • Get noticed as a thought leader
  • Get on journalists' and conference organizers' radar
  • Follow clients in the news (and in the zeitgeist)

2013 Greentarget Survey of In-House Counsel

It is not often an easy "aha moment" kind of thing for most attorneys, partly because lawyers never say something in 140 characters (I think the snark punch line goes something like "...they get paid by the word"). So I encourage new Twitter users to start by using it as simply a listening platform.
Before following any of these steps, however, attorneys need to read their firm's social media policy as well as simply abide by the basic "don't be dumb" rule. As  momma always said, don't publish  anything you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing printed on page one of the NYT. But the first step is to see if your firm is ok with you even being on Twitter.  Some firms are totally down with using it as a way to get on the radar of both GCs and publications, but others still live by the formal rule that everything must be vetted through 3 layers of marketing and risk/compliance departments, which is the death knell for a time sensitive medium like Twitter.

Here is a brief version of my Twitter tutorial for lawyers:
  1. Crawl, walk, run. Stop worrying that you need to have something earth-shattering to say. Just start by establishing a basic profile, and getting comfortable with the medium. Follow your clients and prospective clients. Listen to what is being said, and note how they are saying it. 
  2. Get to know the players. Follow journalists and thought leaders in your area of law. Not sure who they are, or how they are listed on Twitter? Take a look at your competitors' profiles. Who are they following? You won't find everyone in one sitting, but if you keep your eyes open, you will quickly start gathering up a good set of handles to follow.
  3. Identify your space. A few months in, you've been listening and taking note of what this new beast is, and have some ideas on how to use it to your advantage. Now comes the time to decide who you want to be (on Twitter) when you grow up. "An insurance coverage lawyer" is too broad a swipe; why not "an insurance coverage lawyer focused on cyber security coverage"? Or, rather than "an IP lawyer" you might say you are "a patent litigation attorney".  I've seen great success by attorneys who follow a specific area of government (e.g., the FDA). The important thing is to hone in on what you are passionate about.
  4. Start sharing.  Lawyers new to Twitter are often worried they will spill something they shouldn't - so I suggest you start tweeting by simply sharing news items that you find interesting. Unless you have a hankering to start posting ill-conceived selfies, or your name is Weiner, it is pretty tough to get into trouble by posting a link to a business news story or supreme court decision.
  5. Be human. We all know that people hire people, not automatons. Don't be so stiff in your tweets that no one can tell who you are. I love seeing weekend tweets from a high powered litigator who gets excited about his son's little league win. If you support a charitable cause in your community, why not give them a little love by tweeting a link to their donations page? Caveat: don't be too human and share personal data such as phone numbers or email addresses on Twitter (unless you want the world to have access to this content). A lesson celebrity chef Bobby Flay learned the hard way.
  6.  Play well with others. Twitter is about connecting with people and sharing value -- not about using it simply as a megaphone through which to broadcast your brilliance. I'm not saying an attorney should never send out a tweet linking to something they wrote; what I am saying is that simply tweeting "I was quoted in this article" adds no value to any conversation. Tell people why they should care about that quote.
  7. Leverage your channels. Once you have a Twitter account up and running, make people aware of it. Add it to your LinkedIn profile, include it in your email signature, add it to the footer of your slides so audience members can credit you when they tweet takeaways from your presentation.(If you think this isn't a "thing," you haven't been paying attention.)
  8. Go easy on the hashtags. Hashtags help categorize your content (e.g., #iplaw) and should be used sparingly. Don't use #law or # business - these are so generic as to be useless. Find out what hashtags are used in your area of law. In my early days, it didn't occur to me to look up hashtags to ensure they meant what I thought they meant. For example, I thought #AG referred to Attorneys General. Nope - Agriculture. I've seen several attorneys make this mistake, with embarrassing results. Lesson: do your homework.
  9. Don't automate your tweets. If you are so busy that you need to set up a program to automatically send out tweets on your behalf at specific times of the day, then I submit you aren't managing your time well. And automating your tweets means you might be the guy tweeting about his article opposing teacher pay raises at the same time the Sandy Hook shootings were all over Twitter. I'm not making this up, I really saw this. By handling your account yourself you won't run the risk of tweeting inappropriately while the rest of the world is riveted by an unfolding tragedy.
  10. Use humor sparingly. We all know from email that it is incredibly easy to get in trouble when you start using humor in electronic communication. On Twitter, it is even dicier because you have no idea who might see your content. Tread carefully.
  11. Learn from the best. There are plenty of folks out there doing it right, and it is about this time of year that publications start putting out their "Best of" lists. Look for the best in your area of law, and see how they are doing it. Examples: A2L Consulting posted "50 Best Twitter Accounts to Follow for Litigators and Lawyers", and Copyright Litigation Blog posted this list of the Top 40 IP Lawyers on Twitter.
  12. Understand basic etiquette.If you retweet something but need to modify it in order to add your commentary, include "MT" (without the quotes) after your comments. This means "modified tweet". If you reference someone's content, include their Twitter handle. It is easy to find by simply Googling their name and the word Twitter - e.g., "Cyndy McCollough Twitter" will yield the following: 
It is also not a bad idea to scan Twitter's glossary of terms. You may want to #FF someone some day. (I'll let you look that one up.)

I could go on about getting started on Twitter, but at this point I encourage those of you thinking about getting on Twitter to -- at the very least -- sign up and establish a basic presence. I will follow up with a "Twitter for Attorneys - Part II".

Please post any questions in the comments section -- and have fun!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

6 Tips for Website Pre Launch Testing

You've spent months (if not years) building that gorgeous new website. You are thisclose to launching it in all its glory, and you just. can't. wait.

But you should.

As the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) website's technical snags have shown, thorough pre-launch testing is critical to the success of your project. But because you have been mired in the minutiae of the site for so long, it is easy to overlook even the most obvious tests.

I recently launched a Drupal-based website, and thought I'd share some of the testing protocol we followed:

Design Testing

Now, for this one I don't mean the design testing that happens earlier in the process, when you are getting feedback on the usability of your design (Paul Boag has loads of great stuff to say about this). I am talking about the review you undertake after you've done all your usability and design testing and made the necessary adjustments based upon the results. Among other things, it is a final review to ensure conformity with your design decisions.

Look at the main areas of your site to ensure they conform to your brand identity. Do your colors match your brand palette? Are accent colors and iconography used consistently across the site? Do all logos used meet guidelines for placement?  Have you secured the necessary usage rights for your imagery?

Content Testing

Your website should have a style guide. (It does, right?) Something that identifies style sheets for main pages. On our site, for example, we have attorney biographies. The content style guide for these pages includes guidelines for name use ("Use full name once, then refer to attorney by first name thereafter"); introductory paragraphs ("Single declaratory statement that calls out legal focus area"); and a taxonomy for practice naming.

On this topic, I strongly recommend rethinking how you write for the web. It is not just a digital version of your written materials, and if you keep treating web as just an extension of print you are going to lose your audience to someone who recognizes and adjusts to this fact. There are loads of great articles out there on writing for the web. Jakob Nielsen & co have a few here.

Content testing is also about:
  • Content that shouldn't be there. Are your empty tabs rolling up the way they are supposed to? 
  • Formatting: are Latin terms such as cum laude italicized?

You might also divide your content testing into static content vs dynamic content. If you are rolling out a brand new content management system, dynamic content needs an extra-keen eye. Transferring a database of thousands of records will always turn up weird little glitches, so you should set aside time for deeper testing. Run multiple searches on your dynamic content; are the correct records being returned? 

Functionality Testing

The objective of functionality testing is to verify the functionality of interactive elements and
hyperlinks. This area is probably the most time intensive. Every page needs to be reviewed for link testing and functionality testing. Some can be tested once and fixed globally. For example, if your logo doesn't take the user back to the home page, that is a global fix that doesn't need to be tested on every single page. Other testing, such as process testing, will require you test many pages. Process testing includes things like your calls to action. They typically involve a multi-step flow made up of if/then logic.

Other considerations of functionality testing:
  • Should your links open up in a new window?
  • If you use Contact Us forms, does the form get directed to the right person(s)?
  • 404 error pages - what will happen should a user stumble upon a non-existent page?  Here are BusinessInsider's 20 Best 404 Error Pages of all time; why not get creative with yours?

Performance Testing

How quickly your website loads, and how it behaves throughout the visitor's stay on your site, is what performance is all about. Typical performance tests are load tests (how many concurrent users can your website handle?), stress tests, and endurance tests. I'm not going to pretend to be well-versed in what it takes to optimize performance of a website- that's why I hired a fantastic agency to worry about this stuff for me -- and here is an article they wrote about testing CSS performance, and an even geekier write up on load testing is found in this Load Impact Blog post.
What I did worry about was general site performance. How long will it take my pages to load? Here's a handy tool I found:
  • Pingdom tests the load time of the page, and analyzes it to find bottlenecks (no surprise - imagery took up 58% of our home page load time).

 Browser Testing

I'm going to assume you've been tracking your browser visitors using your Google Webmaster Tools, and you know how users are arriving at your site. I also encourage you to be cognizant of what the environment is that your organization uses. Let's say, according to your analytics,  your site visitors overwhelmingly use Safari and Chrome, but your own organization (the folks who will visit the site on launch day and provide you with your first bits of feedback) all use IE7. Well, then I encourage you to be aware of what the site will look like (and how it will perform) on IE7. It matters.

I found browser testing to be the beast of all the testing. You can never - and I mean never - assume that because something works in Chrome (or Firefox, or IE, etc) it will work in Safari (or Firefox, or IE, etc). The  statement of work that you signed with your web design agency should have defined what browsers the site would be designed to work in. Even so, there may be elements of the design that your site will have issues with depending upon the browser. For example, our site was designed to work in IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. And it does. But the parallax on our home page doesn't work in IE8. Should we have designed the site differently because of this? No; but we needed to be aware of what these issues were before we launched the site.

So we tested in all the aforementioned browsers, and fixed the issues we encountered. Areas to note:
  • PDFs may open differently depending on your browser, so be sure and test your PDF content
  • Print this page - we encountered similar issues as with PDF downloads; each browser rendered somewhat differently
  • Image alignment - there were tweaks needed with imagery on different browsers

Device Testing

What devices will your users be on when they attempt to access your website? You can start by looking at your Google Analytics for mobile % (I'd advise you look at trended numbers, because the % when we began the website redesign were much different than when we finished), but that won't tell you everything. Anyway, we all know we are screaming toward mobile, so what you really need to know is: what will my site look like on an iPhone? iPad? Galaxy? Kindle Fire? etc.

QuirkTools ScreenflyQuirkTools has a nifty little (free) tester called Screenfly. Just enter your url and it will show you
what your site looks like on a desktop (through 24" screen); tablet (Kindle, Galaxy, Nexus, iPad mini); mobile (Razr, Blackberry, iPhone, Optimus, Galaxy); custom screen size (you enter px, e.g. 1024x600); even television (480p, 720p, 1080p).

Your launch day should be a festive occasion. If you've done it right, it will be a day of exhausted smiles, shared congrats, and general revelry. BUT...even if you've tested the heck out of your site, trust me when I say you will be finding little issues for days after your launch. This is to be expected, and is totally manageable. Good luck!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making the Most of LinkedIn

Fitting social media into your day doesn't have to be a daunting task.

Since part of my job involves working with attorneys to help them create a strong online presence, I thought it might not be a bad idea to write a outlining a typical day on Linkedin.

 Morning Coffee (10-15 minutes)

Right after I get to my desk, I open my browser and see what's new on my various social accounts. This includes reading my LinkedIn home page and scanning for new posts in my LinkedIn Groups. Sometimes I comment on a thought-provoking article or provide my opinion on a Group poll. I will send notes of congrats to those in my network who have changed jobs / been promoted.

Afternoon Break (5-10 minutes)

Many of us get hit with a bout of food coma at around 3pm. I don't smoke, so a smoke break is out. I do my best to avoid the afternoon Starbucks run (I admit, not always successfully - I'm not made of stone, people). Instead, I check back into Twitter to see what has been going on. I start with the list of my attorneys' accounts, because I like sharing the Twitter love and retweeting a colleague's tweet. Then I read tweets from legal marketing thought leaders and publications I follow. If I find something of interest, I will share their tweet on my LinkedIn account (in the "Share Updates" field on the home page). Note: always include the relevant account handles to indicate where this information was found.

Evening Commute (10-20 minutes)

I take metro home from my DC office, so I have all kinds of free time to revisit my LinkedIn home page and see what my network is talking about. I rarely post anything in the evenings - this is all about reading and catching up on the day's happenings. Honestly, I spend most of my commute time on Twitter, and will "Favorite" a tweet if I think it is something my LinkedIn network will find interesting. The next morning, I review these flagged tweets and post links to the information on my LinkedIn profile.

Rules of Maintenance

  • Connect the dots: make it easy for people to find you on the social web by including your Twitter, blog, (and, if you're a lawyer, your attorney bio) links on your LinkedIn profile. I also have a url to my LinkedIn profile on my Twitter page.
  • Strut your stuff: whenever I speak at an industry event or publish an article (not that often, maybe twice a year) I add these to my Publications section. Presentation materials and how-to docs are always appreciated by your peers. Additionally, this content tells conference organizers that you know you your business, and it may lead to additional speaking opportunities.
  • Play well with others: I know, we are talking about your profile, so shouldn't it be all about you? Well, yes and no. You don't want to come off a gasbag, and besides there is plenty of smart information out there aside from yours. Share the content you find valuable/interesting. This is not only the right thing to do, but it shows that you have a wide net and are open about reading what's out there. It also puts you on the radar of the person who wrote the content (not a bad thing, as they may return the favor some day).

So there you have it. No magic. No time suck. No gaming the system by trying to get 5000+ connections. And no massive content creation effort. Just daily attention to my network. Which, when you think about it, is something we should all be doing anyway.

I'm sure there are other ways people have been successful on LinkedIn, and would love it if you shared your suggestions in the comments section.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Video for Law Firm Websites

I recently attended a panel discussion put on by Law Firm Media Professionals (LFMP) on effective use of video for attorney business development purposes. I gleaned some great tips from the session, and am sharing them here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recent Web Design Trends

I am in the middle of a website redesign, in case we haven't yet met. So I spend a lot of my time researching new technologies, trying to spot design trends, identifying things I think might work on our new site. Here are a couple of cool new things I'm seeing out there. It's not all earth-shatteringly "wowsers" and it isn't necessarily something I will want to / SHOULD want to use on my firm's website. Still, I think it's cool. For one reason or another.(Interesting to note that Nike represents in almost all categories.)

Striking Backgrounds & Imagery

Say goodbye to boring grey/blue...
J Lo's Official Website
Baker Donelson
Nike Skateboarding 

Parallax Effect

Scroll to zoom you through website images, with popups coming at you from all directions. I think it is still too early to tell if this is a design trend that will catch on for professional service firms, but I can see it being very cool for retail, tourism, and social networking apps.

360 Langstrasse Zurich lets you stroll by scrolling (a web documentary about an urban district in Switzerland)
Nike's Better World vertical scroll effects
Thinkforaliving horizontal scroll effects

Animations and 3D Views

Fun depth perception and overlap effects.

Jumpman23 History of Flight
ctrl+N Graphic Design

Responsive Design

Ethan Marcotte's book
I am slap-happy about responsive design. What's not to love about a website that readjusts itself to present a UI that works on the device the user is accessing it from? (Pardon the prepositional atrocities in that last sentence.)

I point to the following sites for anyone new to the concept of responsive design, but am sure there are loads of other great examples:

The Boston Globe
Social Marketers Summit
Think Vitamin

And a site layout that I find...well, not so swell.

While I like the simple "Ogilvy" b&w flash opener, I am stunned by the noise of their home page. My eyes get all crazygonuts, and I can't close the tab fast enough. And, if I am able to focus long enough to click on the bottom banner reading "1203 more items," I am then treated to another page of line after line of plain text. At least this time it is all one color. I don't pretend to understand the thinking behind this treatment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Avoid Having Your Email Blasts End Up in a Spam or Junk Folder

Like most businesses, we have increased the amount of email campaigns we send to clients and prospective clients. We have learned a lot of lessons over the years about how to increase readership and clickthrough rates. 

One of the most important lessons we learned, however, is how to ensure we create email that won't be seen as spam by Outlook mail filters. Let's face it - getting through the door is more than half the battle.  

Here are a few best practices on the subject:
  • Use an email service (such as ExactTarget) that does the up-front work of scrubbing your email address list to ensure you won't be sending to unsubscribed contacts. Law firm marketers may want to check out eLaw Marketing, an ExactTarget reseller, run by Josh Fruchter, an attorney with decades of email marketing experience.
  • Do a reputation audit on a regular basis to see how your emails are viewed by the monitoring services. We do this a few times a year. This is done by our email service provider, but you can try Barracuda Networks for a regulatory compliance audit, or SenderBase for a reputation lookup.
  • Try an email quality check service such as Litmus - they have testing services to enable you to see, ahead of sending, how well your email will fare against various spam filters.
  • Register your domain with the Network Abuse Clearinghouse
  • Watch your wording - there is a list of words that Microsoft Outlook considers particularly spammy, especially when used in your Subject line
Please feel free to share additional suggestions in the comments field, below. 


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preparing for a Website Redesign

Guest blogger: Paul Boag, founder of UK web design agency Headscape

Hello all, Cyndy suggested that it might be useful if I shared a bit about the process we are going through to redesign her firm’s website.
My intention is to share a little about each stage of the process from initial requirement gathering to final build. It is still to be decided exactly how much my agency will be involved. However I will share my thoughts for as long as we are.
I will try and keep my comments as generic as possible so that they can be applied either to a website redesign or indeed any other web project (such as an intranet).
Let’s begin with the first stage we carried out for Cyndy. This was a review of their current online presence.

Stepping back and taking stock

In my experience many organisations rushing to major redesign projects without having a clear idea of where they are going or even what is wrong with their current site. We have found that this inevitably leads to scope creep, internal politics and finger-pointing further down the line. That is why we favour a requirements gathering phase at the beginning of projects.
Broadly speaking this falls into 2 phases: a review of the organisation’s current online presence and a discussion with internal stakeholders to establish aims and objectives.
In this post I would like to focus on the first part: the review of the current online presence.
A typical review falls into 4 stages. These are:
  • An expert review .
  • A heuristic review.
  • Competitor analysis.
  • An analytics review.
Although we carried out all 4 in our work with Cyndy, not all are necessary for every project. For example, it is not possible to do a competitor review when working on an intranet.
That said, let’s look at each of these stages in more detail, starting with the expert review.

An expert review

Typically it falls to me and my 16 years of experience working with the web to write expert reviews. They normally consist of spending a couple of days trawling the website until I know it back to front. As I work through the site I identify various issues. Many are obvious such as poor navigation or overly verbose copy. However, others can be much more subtle such as no clear calls to action or inconsistent labelling.
Once I have reviewed the site in detail I translate my findings into a report. This document does not just identify flaws it also suggests possible solutions. The document is designed to be circulated to internal stakeholders and so contains a large degree of education about web design best practice.
An example of an expert review.
The exact content of the expert review will vary. However, typically it include sections on accessibility, usability, design, content, social media etc. It also tends to focus heavily on business objectives, calls for action and how return on investment is going to be measured.
In many ways the expert review is similar to a heuristic review with the exception that it doesn’t just observe, it also makes suggestions.

A heuristic review

A heuristic review uses a standard set of criteria to measure the success or otherwise of a website. As with the expert review these cover areas such as usability, accessibility, design, content and more.
The website is measured against the criteria on a 1 to 3 rating with 1 being poor and 3 being high.
This review provides a more objective analysis of the website than an expert review because the reviewer is using a consistent set of criteria and rating to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of the website. These numerical results also enable us to provide clear visual representations of the strengths and weaknesses of the site. This enables you to see at a glance which areas require additional work.
An example of a heuristic review where the site suffers from an obvious weakness in one area.
Another advantage of heuristic reviews is that because they use a consistent set of criteria it is easy to compare one website with another. This can be useful when comparing your site to the competition. However heuristic reviews are time-consuming and so a competitor analysis may often be more appropriate.

A competitor analysis

Depending on the number of competitors an organisation has, a competitive analysis can manifest itself in a number of ways. When there is only one or 2 major competitors in may be appropriate to do a heuristic style review. However, if there are numerous competitors a stripped down version of an expert review is probably more useful.
In this scenario a web design consultant spends a few days looking at the competitors’ websites and identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Where the competitors does something well we learn and improve upon it. Where mistakes have been made, these can be avoided in our own development project.
In certain situations it can also be beneficial to carry out usability testing on the competitors websites. These sites act as a prototype for your own development project and help identify usability issues that can be avoided on your own website.
It is important to stress however that looking solely to the competition for inspiration is a mistake. If you do not look outside of your sector for examples of best practice you are at best going to be following the competition. To truly innovate you need to look further afield for inspiration.
As can be seen from the Higher Education websites above, if you only look to your own sector for inspiration all of the sites quickly begin to look very similar.

An analytics review

The final part of the review process is an analytics review. This requires website analytics (such as Google analytics) to be installed on the existing site. In most cases organisations already have analytics installed, although they are notoriously bad at monitoring them.
Analytics reviews can give a great insight into your users and what they want to achieve.
Analytics are incredibly important in any web project. Without them it is impossible to judge whether the web project generates a return on investment. Existing analytics are necessary to provide a baseline against which the redesigned site can be compared. However an analysis of the existing analytics can act as more than a baseline, it also provides a real insight into the behaviour of users.
The exact details of the information available will vary depending on how the analytics are set up. However, using techniques such as advanced segmentation it is possible to tell how various users behave. For example you can ascertain whether users who have viewed staff biographies are more likely to contact your organisation than a user who has only looked at a practice page.
This type of information is obviously invaluable in designing any future website. For example, if you know users are more likely to contact you if they have read an attorney’s bio then the website can be designed to funnel users to these pages.

Is it worth it?

You may be wondering whether all of this research is entirely necessary before beginning to even discuss business objectives, let alone build the website. This is a fair question and the honest answer is that it is not always necessary to complete all of these steps. However, at the very least this kind of research will inform a major redesign project. It also has the potential to save a project hundreds of thousands of dollars by revealing that what was originally envisaged is not actually required. Nothing is more dangerous than going down the line of thought which results in a website which does not meet users needs or fulfill the organisation’s objectives.
Hopefully these thoughts have proved useful and will help when approaching your next project. Next time I will outline how to take this research and combined it with stakeholder interviews to create an RFP which you can take to various suppliers.

Note from Cyndy: I appreciate Paul's generosity in contributing such a lengthy post to the blog. For more from Paul, you can follow him on Twitter, @boagworld.