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Corporate boards should blog says investors report – why not law firms?

The IR Web Report, billing itself as the #1 online investor relations resource, published a good read about why corporate board members should publish blogs. The Report concluded “Boards need to be more accessible to shareholders — and the Internet, more especially the blogging approach to Internet communications, is the best way to achieve this.”

Like large corporate boards, lawyers have an awful reputation when it comes to open communication with people – whether they be clients, prospective clients, the public, the media or anyone else. Per a recent ABA report, the public believes the best way for the legal profession to improve their reputation is to start communicating with the public in a more open fashion.

Lawyers and law marketing professionals should be able to draw a lot of analogies between boards of directors and lawyers in reading this report. I have summarized the highlights I took from the report.

The Report found blogs a credible means of director-shareholder communication for a number of reasons:

  • Boards and directors may have private meetings with high powered institutional investors on issues of corporate governance, but they almost never communicate in an informal way with rank and file shareholders and other stakeholders.
  • The blogging technology platform, when properly executed, provides boards and legitimate shareholders with a transparent platform to seriously engage one another on the issues. It can provide boards with a low-cost, highly effective means to establish a credible dialogue and allow directors to obtain feedback from a wider variety of shareholders with differing viewpoints.
  • The concept of director bloggers, though new and dramatically different, is simply a case of taking an existing, proven technology and customizing it slightly for another purpose.

What the Report says about directors sounds an awful lot like the way the public views communicating with lawyers:”Directors are still as inaccessible as they’ve always been. They’re largely cut off from the people they are supposed to represent. Except for the annual meeting and annual reports, shareholders rarely hear from directors.”

Benefits of director blogs per the report

  • Inexpensive, technically simple, but highly honest way for people to interact and dialogue on the Web under a set of accepted rules. Blogging sites include features that can give corporate boards a direct link to the desktops of people who care about the company, regardless of how many shares they own.
  • A board blog is like an electronic Town Hall, something recommended by former SEC chair Richard Breeden in his report on WorldCom and now being implemented by the renamed MCI. Except that with a blog, the board has a perpetual online meeting. It can call together shareholders at any time to seek input or inform them of important developments at the board level. It’s a highly effective way for boards to keep shareholders informed of what they are doing at a negligible annual cost.
  • With traditional websites, providing a regular stream of questions and board answers is burdensome and time consuming.
  • Blogging would bring members of corporate boards closer to their shareholders. It would help boards to explain their positions on key issues, and it would give shareholders an opportunity to communicate directly with the board and other shareholders in an open, but regulated forum.
  • The open communications model of blogging would lead to serious, open dialogue between directors and the shareholders they represent. It would bring credibility back to boards of directors and ultimately lead to better relations between directors, management, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders.

The report concluded that board blogging is not as radical an idea as it might sound:

Blogging has recently been given credibility by some high profile companies. Last week, for instance, General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz launched a blog which is little more than a sales tool, but which promises to be more. He follows the likes of Sun Microsystems’ Johnathan Swartz. And SAP AG has one of the best executive blog programs on the Web. In fact, blogging is less radical than the discussion forums which forward-thinking companies like Shell, with its Tell Shell forum, host on their sites.

Boy, the more I read about blogs in other settings than the legal profession, the more sense blogs make for law firms. Most firms will be slow to react but if told there was a magic wand their law firm could wave to show their target audience the firm was all about open, frank and honest communication with the public I would guess law firm heads would be all for it. Blogs may be this magic wand.

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