By Kevin O'Keefe

Rise of business blogging : law firms must read this

Steve Rubel, publisher of Micropersuasion and a principal with the PR firm of CooperKatz & Company shared with us in the blog community the following article he wrote for the February issue of The Advertiser, the official publication of the Association of National Advertisers.

The message in Steve’s article is so right on for law firms, I took Steve up on his offer allowing me to publish the whole article for you guys. Take it away Steve.

Despite its long history of innovation and track record for producing one product marketing success after another, by the turn of the century Microsoft had developed a negative reputation. In 1998 the Department of Justice initiated a protracted public relations and legal war that branded the company and its top brass as bullying monopolists. By the time the case was settled in late 2001, the Microsoft brand was beaten and battered.

Three years after the case was settled, however, Microsoft has completed a sweeping organizational and image overhaul. It now is perceived as friendlier, more open and trustworthy. What’s also notable is that this transformation – led by CEO Steve Ballmer took place while the company continued to face an increasing barrage of daily attacks from hackers, spyware, and viruses.

Look beneath the surface, however, and you will find that Microsoft?s softening image was actually molded from the bottom up, by ordinary employees like Joshua Allen. In 2001 Allen, a program manager, signed on as the company’s first unofficial corporate employee weblogger. His personal site, called Better Living Through Software, chronicles life inside the Redmond, Washington software giant – warts and all.

Today, Microsoft has more than 1200 corporate bloggers – more than 10 times the number it had just last year. They have the company’s blessing to write about whatever they want, provided they adhere to some basic guidelines. As a result, virtually overnight the bloggers have become one of the company’s greatest marketing assets, generating incredible online and offline word of mouth. In fact, Microsoft has even began to embrace them as a company. The software giant now links to all its bloggers right on its corporate web site and even launched a special sanctioned blog-like community for developers and partners called Channel 9.

Most Microsoft bloggers write passionately and candidly about the company’s technology, hiring practices, marketing, culture, and more. They even discuss company and product strengths and weaknesses in vivid detail.

Some of Microsoft?s more prolific bloggers, such as Robert Scoble, attract thousands of readers daily, including competitors, customers, partners press, and analysts. Scoble?s blog has even turned him into a minor celebrity. He is often cited by many as the most authentic voice inside Microsoft. The technical evangelist has been invited to speak extensively at dozens of industry confabs and has been even profiled extensively in Newsweek, Time, Fortune and BusinessWeek.

Most importantly, however, Microsoft?s corporate blogging army has in a short time opened a transparent window onto the most financially successful company that ever existed. They have accomplished the impossible by putting a human face on a gigantic monolithic company ? a giant with a bad rap. At the same time, they strengthened the company’s position as a thought leader and generated incalculable online word-of-mouth. Blogging can do the same for you – no matter your target audience or your goal. The key is to listen, learn, and then get started.

Unlike corporate web sites blogs directly reflect the individual personalities who pen them. That?s what made them such a success for Microsoft. Blogs – short for the words ‘web’ and ‘log’ – consist of short or long-form ‘posts’ on a specific topic that are organized in chronological order. Most weblogs are written by one or more individuals, either as a hobby or in an official capacity with the blessing of their organization.

Weblog postings generally consist of short-form op-eds that link to and comment on industry issues, news and content found on other web sites and blogs. The result is that on any given day in the ‘blogosphere’ you can easily find thousands of conversations, discussing everything from technology to politics, sports, music and even knitting.

What makes blogs unique is that they are easily discovered and social in nature. Weblogs facilitate transparent dialogue by incorporating tools that encourage readers to give feedback through comments and emails. In addition, since many blogs link to each other, they are often found engaging in an exchange across the Internet, just like two friends conversing on a street corner.

According to PubSub, a service that tracks weblogs, there are approximately eight million weblogs in the blogosphere. The number is doubling every few months as businesses increasingly discover weblogs? potential for driving marketing ROI. Several CEOs have even taken up blogging. These include Mark Cuban of HDnet and Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems.

Weblogs have exploded in part because they are extremely easy and cost-effective to launch. They also can generate significant ROI. Several tools, such as Google’s Blogger service, are completely free. While others, such as TypePad, add more robust tools and cost less than $200 per year. What the services all share in common, however, is that they require virtually no technical expertise to set up and maintain. If you know how to use a browser and Hotmail, you can easily create blog. No HTML knowledge is necessary.

Blogging really first began to take off in 2002. However, in the last two years, it has moved more mainstream, even given rise to emerging companies like Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc. that are launching blog media networks for mainstream audiences.

In 2004, many bloggers began to also compete in earnest with journalists for scoops – particularly in the political scene. In a landmark moment for blogging, last summer The Democratic National Committee opened up its national convention to a handful of influential political bloggers – many of whom have had no journalistic training. Over the summer it was the conservative bloggers who uncovered certain inaccuracies in Dan Rather’s report on Bush’s military service that later led CBS to admit it erred. Some have even speculated that the flap, called ‘Rathergat’ may have even lead to the anchor’s recent decision to retire.

In 2004 businesses and marketers also began to fully embrace blogging as a marketing tool. The New York Times Magazine even noted last December that “Blogs are known for their brutal honesty, independence of spirit and genuine emotional conviction. None of these attributes play much of a role in corporate advertising, of course, but they are values that corporate advertisers strive to imitate — and, where possible, co-opt.”

Dozens of organizations including Stonyfield Farms, Yahoo, Maytag, and even Nike launched weblogs. Each of these blogs had different goals. In some cases- such as with the ANA’s own blogs – the sites are written by corporate executives in an effort to advance industry issues. Others, such as GM’s blog, are building word of mouth among auto enthusiasts. Intuit?s blog showcases real-world customers using their products. Although each of these blogs is serving distinctly different audiences, they all share some things in common. They are authentic. They are written by real individuals who have a passion for their causes. They solicited feedback from readers. And they are conversational, engaging readers and even other bloggers in a dialogue.

By now you might be enthusiastic about getting started. But before you jump into the blogosphere, here are some initial steps to take.

  • Step One – Listen: The best way to become acquainted with the power of blogs is to read them and see what they?re talking about. Using tools like Google, PubSub and Feedster, you can find easily blogs that are already discussing your company/brand and its industry. Also be sure to check out sites like BusinessBlogConsulting.com and Adrants.com, which include examples of blogs done right and wrong.
  • Step Two – Reach Out: Once you have identified influential blogs, reach out to them by carefully posting comments on their sites. Let them know you?re listening. Some may invite you to sponsor their blog, which also can often offer a high ROI. Blogs can help your company build awareness among influencers who will talk about you to others. Marqui, a telecommunications company, recently began experimenting paying bloggers $800 per week if they mentioned their product. While the results aren’t known, blog advertising is certainly going to become a lot more prevalent in the years ahead.
  • Step Three – Launch Your Own Blogs: Finally, once you feel you have a firm grasp on the medium, roll your own weblogs. This can range from everything from a CEO blog to a product team site and more. Figure out first who you’re trying to reach, who will have the most time and what people in your organization are willing to be the most transparent.

While some might dismiss blogs as a fad, I can assure you they’re not going away. And right now they are one of the most cost effective tools you can use to reach influencers who will recommend you to others.

Thanks Steve. As usual, we are not worthy.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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