Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Law Firm Blogging: Types of Posts

I wrote a post last week on how to get started creating a blog for your law firm / law practice. On the subject of training attorneys on how to write for a blog, I mentioned that, as part of my attorney training curriculum, I identified categories of blog posts to help them get off the dime and start doing some writing of their own. Here they are:

The Humble Brag

Have you been quoted in an article? Use this as the cornerstone of a blog post. Include your quote as an indented highlight. Summarize a long article, and provide real-world examples that highlight the issue being discussed.

Personal Commentary

Tell a personal story, something that happened to you. It will make what an attorney does for their clients real, without offering opinions or legal advice.

Initiative Awareness

Think of these as “Did you hear the one about…” stories. Point out key legal issues, tell readers why they should care about this area of law. Quantify the risks if possible (share real losses).
  • These posts are not case-specific, they promote specific interest areas of the law, and are real world stories (which people love).
  • Here's a good example on Steptoe & Johnson's CyberBlog

Case Update

Give an update on the facts and progression of a current case.

Conference Wrap Up

You attended an industry conference and came away with information valuable to your clients; this type of post can be created whether or not you actually spoke at the event.
  • Summarize hot topics, list out key takeaways
  • Include a graphic of the conference's logo, if possible
  • If you were a speaker, include your slides / video (post on SlideShare and include a link in your blog post)
  • Here is digital native and brilliant attorney Erin Webb's blog post, written after a speaking slot at an industry conference (on my firm's Policyholder Informer Blog).

Aggregation

Has there been a flurry of public interest on a topic related to your area of law? Summarize the best / most interesting writing on the topic, providing links to relevant material.
  • Highlight important points within a long article that tells the story on a more readable (and relevant to your clients) way.
  • Positions you as the go-to resource for topical issues.
  • Great example here from my firm's weekly blog post summarizing activities of State Attorneys General.

Client FAQs

Address commonly asked client questions and provide insight on how your practice would handle it.

Top 10 Lists

These kinds of posts are always popular, and you may find bullets easier to put together than a few paragraphs of copy.
  • The end of the year / beginning of the new year are ideal times for looks back/forward.
  • Here's a Top 10 in Law Blogs from Jim Walker's Cruise Law News Blog.

Top Influencers

Your blog doesn't always have to consist solely of your own original content. Who are the authoritative resources in your industry? Provide your clients with resources you, the insider, find valuable for keeping on top of the issues.
  • Share a post that impresses you or directly affects your clients. Your readers will appreciate the access to a resource that they might not have known about before.
  • Be sure to credit the writer and link back, so your clients know where the content came from
  • Check out Forbes contributing Editor Ben Kerschberg's Eight Great Law and Technology Resources post.

Legal Industry Insight

When you can help prospects understand your business -- give them sound advice on how to choose a firm / lawyer, explain the finer points of a new law -- you’re building trust and understanding. It's a great starting point for a professional relationship.
Obviously these are not the only types of blog posts, but I've found these examples are a great way to make the whole blogging thing real to attorneys.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Law Firm Blogs: Legal Marketers Share Their Lessons Learned

Marketing Technology Forum for Legal, the LinkedIn Group I founded a few years ago, has bi-monthly calls to talk about hot topics that legal marketing technologists are dealing with.


Yesterday,we discussed law firm blogging. It was a great discussion, and Deb Dobson (@debdobson on Twitter) had a lot of insights to share, along with several other participants on the call. Here are our key takeaways:

A partner has come to you, all fired up about starting a blog ("our competitors have one!"). What to do?

Determine the objective(s).

What do they hope to gain? If the answer is simply "new business" then this may not be the vehicle. A blog is more of a long game, and anyone who expects to start capturing new clients with every blog post is mistaken. Blogging can do many things - position your practice as a thought leader in an area of law; increase attorney visibility so that journalists call when needing input on an article; put attorneys on conference organizer's radar so they get more opportunities for public speaking engagements. All these things will hopefully lead to new business, but it is a marathon and not a sprint. Set expectations accordingly.

Gain 100% buy-in from practice leadership.

Without a fully committed practice champion, most practice blogs will quickly wither. Between billable hours requirements and other administrative responsibilities, finding time to write for a blog will slip to the bottom of an attorney's priority list. Make sure the practice leader(s) are vocal about their expectations, and that they follow through on requiring content creation.

Identify day-to-day blog management responsibilities.

Once the blog has been designed and launched, many of us hand the reins for ongoing management for the blog to the practice, where (typically) associates are assigned responsibility for coming up with topics and posting them to the blog platform. If your practice pushes back and wants marketing to manage this role, but your marketing department doesn't have the not-insignificant resources required to do this piece of the program (apologies for the double negative), think hard before agreeing to create a practice blog.

Even in situations where the practice handles the day-to-day blog management, one area that most marketing departments are still involved in is shepherding the blog posts through the conflicts process.

Determine where you will you host the blog.

On your firm website or elsewhere, such as LexBlog? There are different schools of thought on this, neither is "the right answer". Some firms want the traffic that a blog can bring to their website, plus the opportunity to cross-sell the visitors on other website content. Those are good reasons to host a bog on your website. The usual thought behind hosting a firm blog offsite is that you want the appearance of independent thought leadership that a site such as LexBlog provides. If you host your blog offsite (often branding the blog differently from that of your law firm), it can create a more personal feel, like the attorney is speaking directly to you; less like just another page with marketing copy put out by the faceless law firm.

Find your voice.

Find a way to show personality. Maybe this means a blog that looks at otherwise-boring employment law issues through the lens of the TV show The Office, such as That's What She Said, a blog put out by the firm Ford & Harrison. Perhaps an antitrust law blog written from the point of view of a baseball enthusiast, such as attorney Dan Schaefer's Living Competition.

Check out the competitive landscape.

Look at the blog landscape of other firms in your area of law. Try and find subject matter that no other law firm has already taken on. If you are going to go head-to-head with a competitor on the same topic area, be sure you have something additional to say, or a better way of saying it.

Teach attorneys how to write for a blog.

Lawyers have a tough time not writing as though for a brief. One of the biggest hurdles they have is learning how to write as though speaking to a friend at a cocktail party. 
"How would you describe this issue if you were talking to a friend over a beer?"
A good trick I've learned is to encourage an attorney to record his/her (rough, unvarnished) take on a topic. Listen to that recording, and use it as a starting point for drafting out the blog post.

Training attorneys on how to write for a blog is an ongoing effort. It won't happen all at once. A good starting point, I've found, is providing them with a list of types of blog posts. (I will put up a new blog post next week on 9 blog post types for attorneys.) Update: here is what I just wrote on types of law firm posts.

Also, don't forget to leverage resources such as LexBlog recorded webcasts. Founder Kevin O'Keefe is a lawyer, and I often find attorneys respond better when they hear writing advice from one of their own.                            

Other things I find important in law firm blogging:

  • Post as often as you like, but shoot for not less than once a week. And if you set expectations (i.e., you always post on Friday afternoons), meet them! 
  •  Don't start blogging until you have fleshed out your social media profiles. Once an attorney has created a blog post, they need to share it on Twitter, LinkedIn, via email, maybe even Facebook and Google +. If they don't have these platforms in place, they are wasting low hanging fruit, and will not get nearly the bang out of all that effort that they should have.
  • When it comes to law firm blogs, learn from the best. Here are several legal blogs I recommend checking out:


(Note: the Twitter hashtag for this and other Marketing Technology Forum for Legal discussions is #ILTAMTFL.)

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
Meomi
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
Fork
Social Marketers Summit
Sleepstreet
Think Vitamin

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

Ogilvy
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.