This was a lively panel consisting of the following:
Maia Benson – Director of Search Enging Marketing, Lexis/Nexis
Roland Goss – Jorden Burt law firm. Reinsurance and arbitration blog.
Brian Green – Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP; An insurance/reinsurance law blog.
Rees Morrison - LawDepartmentManagementblog.com blog
David Gottlieb – Baker Sanders, etc. in Newark. No-fault and CPLR blogs
Roy Mura – Insurance coverage and fraud blog
This was essentially a panel on starting and maintaining a blog. It was well-run, spirited, and informative – even for existing bloggers. Moderator Maia Benson kept the five-person panel on-topic, asking key questions, allowing a reasonable amount of discussion, and moving things along to the next point.
Starting from the beginning, the panel discussed their reasons for blogging and why they selected their particular blogging platform. There are a number of different blogging platforms – Blogger, Wordpress, and MoveableType are several popular ones. For a survey article discussing popular blog platforms, check here.
The panelists each agreed that their blogs consumed more time than they initially thought they would. The general consensus among individual bloggers was that their blogs consumed more than an hour a day on average. Two of the blogs were law firm projects, with teams of attorneys assigned to creating content and editing posts.
The next point was what the panelists considered the value of their blogs to be.
Roland Goss pointed out that the question of value was more properly stated as “value to whom?” His view was that blog value in the firm context can sometimes be a hard sell. Blogs have a connotation to some people as being a loose form of communications. While it is difficult to measure client generations as a result of a blog, his point was that institutional clients are looking for their law firms to provide them value. If you are trying to reach that audience, your blog should target their perceived needs. If you do a good job of identifing your audience, you’ll hit the mark.
In the case of the Jorden Burt firm, when Goss was considering developing a blog, he noted that there did not appear to be a one-stop place for information on reinsurance arbitration. So he built one. In the course of running the blog, analytical tools helped him see that readers were gravitating to law review articles on insurance and reinsurance, so he made that more prominent and easy to find. It helps for people to know that you have timely and deep knowledge in your area.
The next question focused on audience; who is your audience? What value are you trying to give?
Rees Morrison, in a bit of a tangent, made a strong argument on several points: make your header clear; keep your posts “short and sweet;” identify your sources; and back-reference your content. While not strictly responsive to the question, they were good points and are worth keeping in mind.
Brian Green pointed out one dilemma that his firm’s blog faced: whether to write about news developments that affected the client’s industry. He noted that the audience was reading those news posts, so the coverage shifted slightly to include the news. (I will note that Brian and I each work for the same firm, but I have no involvement in the operation of the blog.)
David Gottlieb’s audience consists of attorneys he sees in court. He finds that their feedback is helpful. In addition to legal posts, he includes more personal, perhaps somewhat off-topic posts such as family pictures and workplace commentary – one of his more popular posts was a seating chart showing where the “regulars” tended to sit in one of the courtrooms he frequents. This point echoes one raised in Tuesday’s Twitter panel – to develop a relationship with your readers don’t make your posts completely business. Inject some personality into your blog. (This obviously makes more sense with individually-authored blogs than group or firm efforts, though there is no reason why a firm blog could not include the occasional personal note as well.)
Roy Mura said that he believes that he as several categories of readers, ranging from individual clients to “everyone.”
The next question asked what kinds of feedback or anecdotes the panelists were hearing as a result of the their blogs.
David Gottlieb said that almost everyone who practices in his area reads it, including judges, clerks, and other attorneys. He noted, as a result, that this meant that he had some control over what that audience saw. He warned against using the blog as an advertisement. The goal is to provide value.
Roy Mura could count one discrete matter resulting from his blog.
Roland Goss pointed out that blogs aren’t only about getting new clients. He believes that his firm’s blog provides a lot of value as a cross-selling tool, a good way to show existing clients in other areas what else you can do. The blog is also a good way to increase the knowledge base of your attorney writers – a point that applies both to team-written blogs and single-author efforts.
Rees Morrison pointed out that an active blog is a good resource for creating articles. It becomes easy to put together an article on a particular topic by combinging and editing related blog posts.
The topic then turned to metrics – how the bloggers used various tools to learn more about their audience. Rees Morrison jumped up and ran through a nice set of screens that identified some of the tools he uses to help him with his blogs. These include:
SiteMeter – details re: every visit, can drill down to individual visitor
TypePad – gives some stats for its blogs. Also gives you what search led to view.
Feedburner – tells you how many RSS subscribers you have, how many came directly, how many from searches, how many from another site.
Technorati – how many other blogs are referring to you – find out who is writing about you.
Google Analytics – combines some other data, gives you great info.
Bloglines – helps manage subscribers.
Blogpulse – as a percent of ALL blog posts, what did I account for.
Google Groups – more analytical tools.
Roy Mura said that he uses Feedblitz for subscriptions – a vehicle by which readers can subscribe and get an email summary to new posts. Monday night to Tuesday morning is when most people seem to read.
Maia Benson recommended putting a phone number on your blog because it’s tracked. If someone calls you because of the blog, you’ll know it.
One set of concerns – and an area of polite difference – related to whether blogs should accommodate comments.
Brian Green said that his blog does not allow comments because of concerns regarding attorney-client relationships and inadvertent disclosure of confidential information. In the event a dialog takes place, there is a concern that the give-and-take will lead to an inadvertent attorney-client relationship.
Roland Goss’s firm’s blog also does not accept comments, for same reasons. As a firm-authored blog, he pointed out that not having to deal with comments also helps reduce the time associated with managing the blog.
Roy Mura’s blog originally accepted comments without requiring each comment to be moderated. He said that he thought that comments would be an academic exercise, until a completely unacceptable comment was psoted. He now moderates comments, as do David Gottlieb and Rees Morrison.
This panel provided a great overview of issues related to starting and maintaining blogs. It was an extremely worthwhile presentation, and I’m afraid that this post does not do it justice.