I just read the following post SCOTUSblog Won Readers, Not Clients: Popular blog didn’t work as marketing tool for law firm but was a hit with readers, founders tell UGA audience.

I have to disagree.

In general, and in most cases, a corporate legal blogger might not be able to point to a particular piece of business and say, “I brought that in from writing this blog post on that date.”

However, if written correctly, the attorney can most likely point to their practice and see a correlation between their increased business and the launching of their blog.

I just don’t think the folks at SCOTUSblog are correctly measuring its value.

A corporate legal blog is NOT a business development (read SALES) tool in and of itself. It is there to provide what Nancy Myrland calls “digital breadcrumbs“:

Blogging, just as all other content scattered across the Internet, is what I always refer to as “digital breadcrumbs.” The words, thoughts and opinions we share in these spaces serve to help others find a path to us when they happen to need us, or at least when their interest in our areas of expertise is heightened.

A blog, done right, is an educational tool that will position the author and firm. Avvo‘s Josh King agrees:

Too many attorneys and firms treat them like outbound marketing vehicles, doing more overt sales pitches than information and thought leadership.

Blogs are about value, and education. They are about telling the story you want the general counsel to read as they are doing their due diligence on the attorney and the firm. They are about having the right results on page one when your name is Googled.

Getting back to the softer ROI that we’re talking about, Virtual Marketing Officer, Jayne Navarre, points out that the SCOTUSblog article contradicts itself:

On the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would uphold the Affordable Care Act in June 2012, more than 1 million people clicked on SCOTUSblog, the site devoted to information and analysis of the high court.

(skip)

The pair participated in panel discussions Monday at the University of Georgia, which was honoring SCOTUSblog as the first blog to win a Peabody Award, administered by UGA’s journalism school. They were joined by two veteran Supreme Court reporters, Pete Williams of NBC and Tony Mauro of the National Law Journal (a Daily Report affiliate), and Georgia Tech digital media professor Janet Murray.

(skip)

[Tom] Goldstein said he and [Amy] Howe, who had both interned with National Public Radio legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, decided one night to start a blog on Supreme Court issues as a way to market their law firm. They figured that looking like experts was an inexpensive way to draw potential clients.

“That was incredibly wrong,” said Goldstein, adding they realized a general counsel won’t hire a lawyer for a bet-the-company matter just because the GC likes the lawyer’s blog. Their Supreme Court practice thrived nonetheless, as Goldstein has argued 28 cases there, with Howe serving as counsel in more than two dozen cases.

(emphasis added)

It’s not just me saying SCOTUSblog is (or should be) working as a business development tool.

According to a recent study by Green Target, In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Study:

Blogs, Executed Well, Influence Hiring of Outside Counsel: Seventy-six percent of respondents say they attribute some level of importance to a lawyer’s blog when deciding which firms to retain. Additionally, the percentage of respondents who say a law firm’s blog can influence hiring decisions went up slightly, from 50 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2012.

Client-Side Counsel Prefer Firm-Branded Blogs: Survey respondents indicated they read blogs written by firms slightly more often than they read blogs penned by journalists. In-house counsel also perceive blogs as credible (84%). This perceived credibility, however, is not fueling an increase in daily blog readers, which we explore further in this report.

Yet the owners of the blog are humbled that the day after the ACA decision, and those 1 million visitors, only 200 people visited the blog.

How narrow-minded in thinking:

  • Your practice is thriving and growing.
  • You are known and recognized by all nine Supreme Court Justices, as well as the national media, and every lawyer and law student in America.
  • Bloomberg Law is your exclusive sponsor, covering the expenses of the blog.
  • You are the go-to source for the top media outlets.
  • You are being honored with the first Peabody Award given for a blog.

Yet you do not consider this a successful business development tool?

You mean to tell me that the content of your blog never impacts how your peers and clients perceive your value and knowledge as an attorney? On this very subject?

That you and your blog being featured on CNN and Fox News as “experts” never influences the purchasers of your legal services?

Reminds me of an old joke about a preacher and the rising flood waters:

The rains haven’t stopped in days and the streets are flooding.

A ranger comes by in a Jeep and yells to the preacher: “Get in the Jeep. The streets are flooding.”

Preacher says: “I am a man of God. A man of faith. My Lord and Savior will protect me.” And he shuts the door.

As the waters rise, a rescue team comes by in a boat and shouts out to the preacher: “We’re here to rescue you. Get in the boat.”

Preacher responds: “I am a man of God. A man of faith. My Lord and Savior will protect me.” And he shuts the window on the second floor of the manse, as the waters continue to rise.

As the preacher is stuck on the roof, an air-rescue team hovers overhead in a helicopter, and while dropping a ladder implores the preacher: “Climb on up and we’ll take you to safety.”

Preacher responds: “I am a man of God. A man of faith. My Lord and Savior will protect me,” and he waves them off.

Preacher drowns.

As he approaches the Pearly Gates the preacher is shocked to realize he is dead. He asks Saint Peter, “I don’t understand. I am a man of God. A man of faith. Why did my Lord and Savior forsake me?”

Saint Peter responds: “We sent you a Jeep, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

If a blog gets you known, liked and trusted. If it provides you a nationwide reputation, and a go-to position in your practice of law. If you are seen as THE trusted adviser, with the legal press and general media bookmarking and refreshing YOUR pages when a new decision is coming down from the courts. And YOU cannot turn that into any new business opportunities, or see that some of the opportunities you have came from that new positioning ((((sigh))) I just don’t know what more we can do.

  • Heather – Lawyers always ask us to prove the ROI on any marketing efforts including PR. I completely agree with your post, that it can be a challenge to connect the dots between a blog and new business. I have plenty of examples how PR has driven new business, but there is no guarantee. Like you stated, a blog is just one more avenue to showcase an expertise as well as an excuse to reach out to a potential or current client who may be dealing with that legal issue, even a reporter who may be writing about the case.

  • Maybe I’m announcing the obvious to this crowd, but if you set yourself up for a ‘home run’ strategy at the exclusion of anything else, you’re almost always bound for disappointment. And it has nothing to do with what’s possible (people can and do get new work from their content efforts), more just to do with expectations. If, as some people do, you write content, put it out there, and expect it to bring in new work with no other efforts on your part, you’re playing a home run strategy. While that’s certainly a possibility, you’re just missing all of the other opportunities content can create for you online: relationships (with referrals, media members, prospects), visibility (aka thought leadership), invitations to guest write columns, speak at conferences, etc — and all of the other examples I don’t really need to tell you are valuable results of publishing your expertise online. Most of those things greatly increase your chances of getting you what a home run gets you; they just require follow-up. IMO the home run approach is misguided and lazy. And a lot less fun (versus building relationships with people who like your work; people who don’t know you but should).

  • a blog can be different things. It can be a pure profile raiser. and that’s fine. hence, strictly an inbound marketing effort. alternatively, it can be written in conjunction with an outbound business effort and with use of a CRM. How? Well, write topics of specific relevance to specific clients and use the post as an anchor for direct mail or to set up a seminar around the topic of the post, using the post in the invitation. There are a variety of other outbound methods one can merge into blogging. I’m not arguing a blog must be something specific – but just highlighting some possibilities.

  • Heather –

    This is an excellent thought piece and I, of course, have already drunk the Kool-aid. Reputation should be important to every lawyer and nothing says knowledge like talking publicly about real issues. Adrian’s point about singular strategies reflects how many lawyers I know approach marketing: “tell me the one thing I need to do to get clients.” OK. The one thing you need to do is recognize that there is no one thing you need to do. You need to do many things, and blogs have the advantage of shining some online light on you. But they can’t be the only thing.

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