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Intro to Weblogs for Law Firm Marketing

This important new web publishing tool can help legal services marketers reach niche audiences

By Amy Campbell

Legal marketers should take note of a new category of web service application that is creating a surge in independent web publishing and opening up new opportunities for reaching niche audiences. Web logs — or "blogs" for short — are web pages designed as simple, reverse chronological web journals that are easy to set up and maintain by their authors. Online "blog" software eliminates the need for technical knowledge of web programming. This lowering of the barriers of entry has given the tools of production to the masses spawning a boom in personal publishing.

The most popular and successful blogs are run by authors whose pontificating narrows in on a specific topic for which they are particularly passionate or knowledgeable – or both. These sites are timely and rich in depth and hyperlinks to other related resources. As such, some of these self-published web sites are gaining popularity as credible information sources. While web logs have been around for a few years, they have gained new status and awareness in the post-September 11th and war time environment as instant news and opinion vehicles. And now the legal industry is getting into the act.

Blogs and the Legal Industry

A recent American Bar Association online article in the Practice Management section highlights the benefits of “blogging” for research, networking, marketing, referrals and even knowledge management.

A web log's automated journaling and archiving features are perfectly suited for those who wish to track complex, evolving issues such as legislation and regulatory developments, court decisions and more. Goldstein Howe PC, a small Washington, D.C. firm specializing in Supreme Court litigation, has set up a web log called SCOTUSblog to track recent developments. New Hampshire government and regulatory law firm Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell incorporates web log technology within its web site on its FedWatch NH page, using it essentially as a content management tool that allows instant reporting that side-steps the firm’s normal web posting processes, resources and potential for delay.

By their nature, blogs are often casual and flavorful, even when a serious subject matter is at hand. For example, HIPAA Blog, with the tagline "A discussion of medical privacy issues buried in political arcane," carries a sarcastic and personal tone. Other blogs are maintained with meticulous objectivity and consistency, such as BeSpacific, a legal research blog which tracks, "accurate, focused law and technology news."

While many of the best blogs are bastions of independence and independents, legal services marketers should consider the benefits of incorporating blogs into their online marketing strategies under firm brands. Blogs provide opportunities for individual attorneys and large and small firms alike. Web logs can chronical news and information entered by one author, several or many. Such features provide a basic and easy way to manage a forum internally or externally that creates value for a team, a department, a client, or an entire industry niche to share information and encourage and foster markets of conversation.

Blogs' Impact on Traditional Media

With the popular search engine company, Google, announcing its purchase of Blogger.com (one of the biggest blog spawning sites), it seems certain that web logging is here to stay. Another sign that blogs should be taken seriously as an important new communication tool: Dave Winer, a web log pioneer, is now serving a fellowship at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Says Dave, "We're going to bring web logs to Harvard, and then teach the world what we learn." (See my weblog as part of the Harvard experiment.)

In a society where more and more media outlets are controlled by fewer and fewer publishers/broadcasters, web logs are playing an important role as a democratizing technology. As the early 20th-century journalist A.J. Leibling once wrote, "The freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." Blogs, which have put the power of the press into the hands of the people, increasingly are playing the role of digital watchdogs helping to demand media accountability.

In the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review, Mark Glaser writes "Bloggers can instantly spin a story, and dig online for deeper background. And if the Big Media wavers on something controversial, the Small Media online have the chance to make a big splash." And as more web blogs incorporate the added capability to automatically syndicate blog articles to news aggregating web sites (using RSS feeds), the role of blogs in helping spread news and information in cyberspace is just getting started.

It was bloggers who wouldn’t allow Trent Lott’s infamous remarks to go unnoticed, thereby fanning a smoldering issue into an incendiary one. The New York Times credited these online pundits for their role in Lott’s resignation writing that they had claimed their “first scalp.” To better understand how blogs help filter and disseminate news, information and opinion, visit DayPop, a current events search engine that ranks the top 40 blogs and news stories being tracked by the blogging community.

Conclusion

Today’s tech savvy legal services marketers would be wise to consider the possibilities of the web log as another arrow in their e-marketing quiver, next to the likes of e-newsletters, online PR, relevant web content and strategic search engine positioning. To learn more about the web log phenomenon, see the expanded list of web log resources and in-depth article links as a companion to this article below.

This is an expanded version of an article, Blogs Rising, that appeared in Strategies, The Legal Marketing Journal, June 2003. For related ongoing commentary see Amy Campbell's Web Log.


Web log resources

Articles:

New Kids on the Blog
An excellent general interest overview of the blog phenomenon.

Law Blogs Defined
A comprehensive resource for blogging for lawyers from Kevin O'Keefe at LexBlog.

Blogging and the Courts
Covers the growing recognition and importance of blogs in the legal arena.

A Blog in Every Law Firm?
Networking, research, knowledge management — there’s great potential in this nifty kind of Web site.

Personal Knowledge Publishing and Its Uses
An excellent in-depth analysis, history and examination of the weblog phenomenon and applications in knowledge management.

Weblogs’ Role in Bringing Down Trent Lott
USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review’s account of the issue.

Markets Are Conversations
A discussion of how electronic communications foster business relationships.

News That Comes To You
More on syndicating blog and web content for distribution to other via RSS feeds and news aggregation software.

Sample blogs:

Instapundit
One of the most popular blog at the current time.

Ernie the Attorney
This pop law blog maintains a handy expanding directory to other law related blogs.

BeSpacific
An excellent resource on a variety of law and technology topics, with a subsection dedicated exclusively to blogs of interest.

Weblogs At Harvard Law
Access news and a full directory of web blogs taking shape at Harvard hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Blog search tools:

Feedster
Improved! A weblog-only search engine with search tools you can add to your blog.

DayPop
A current events search engine that exclusively searches news sites and top web logs, and ranks top news stories daily by link popularity among news blogs.

Bloggdex
Search and track blogs via this MIT blog project.

Web log development tools:

Blogger

Blog Builder

Moveable Type

Radio Userland

RSS tutorial page

 

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