law blog history

Last week at Above The Law’s Attorney@Blog Conference I was struck by what I saw as failure to understand the essence of blogging.

Sure, one could call a blog merely a publication. Sure, you could focus on ways to draw traffic to your blog. And sure, you could focus on traffic and analytics as measures of success.

But why? That was my point while participating in the last panel of the day. Why would you ignore the history of blogging? History leaves clues for success.

Blogs began as an interactive medium. Bloggers didn’t just produce content to post on their blogs, they built social relations with their readers, with other bloggers, and the mainstream media.

Digital communities, including Usenet, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), CompuServe, and AOL, were the precursor to blogs. Their threaded conversations shared information and insight. Trusting relationships and reputations were built as a result.

As blogs blossomed in the late 1990′s the concept of conversations through digital communities moved to blogs. Far beyond just comments the conversation was “inter-blog.”

Look at the bloggers of the late 90′s and early 2000′s for this “inter-blog” conversation. Dave Winer, Shel Israel, Rebecca Blood, or Robert Scoble. In the law, Rick Klau, Denise Howell, or Ernie Svenson. If you read their blogs you’d have seen a conversation between them and other bloggers.

When I started blogging in 2003 people called blogging a conversation. I didn’t get it. Maybe in the technology and innovation circles where the above bloggers lived, but not blogs like mine and certainly not law blogs.

But in 2005 Scoble blogged that until you referenced something he wrote or his name in one of your blog posts he couldn’t hear you. He was referring to listening to his blog url or his name – he listened via a RSS reader. Once he heard you he could engage you via his blog.

That resonated with me. I got it.

By blogging we were listening. We were engaging others in a real and meaningful way. We were collaborating. We were building trust with each other and with the people (clients, prospective clients, referral sources) “watching” our conversation. We were building reputations with each other and with the people “watching” our conversation. We were building relationships with each other and those watching.

Wow! That’s gold for lawyers seeking professional and business development growth.

When Scoble and Israel authored in 2006 the seminal book on corporate blogging, “Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers,” they focused on the conversation.

They wrote that blogs offered businesses something that had long been lacking — meaningful dialogue. By entering into conversations through blogging businesses could humanize themselves in a way that improves both their image and their bottom line.

The fact that blogs have been bastardized by web developers and marketing/communications’ professionals into something they are not is not serving lawyers well. Articles, content marketing, SEO magnets, alerts, and what have you. They are all a far cry from the origins of blogging.

Lawyers seeking something easy and shallow can go with the flow. Someone will always be there to take your money. Those lawyers seeking the long term benefits of relationships and a reputation as a “go to” lawyer would be well served to study the history of blogging.

I acknowledged at the conference that there can be different purposes for a blog, some that may not even need to recognize the conversational aspect. But they seem to be the exception when it comes to practicing lawyers.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Chris Potter