Journalism departments in law firms social media Earlier this year I wrote about the power large law firms have to leverage their brand to create media outlets online so as to bypass traditional media. The point being that with large law firms paying big dollars for syndication of content, advertising, PR, and communications, it’s only a matter of time until we see law firms creating their own online media outlets. Last week digital marketing executive and author, Mitch Joel, asked ‘Will A Brands Next Big Move Be A Journalism Department?’ Joel’s point is that while advertising and traditional marketing have their place, it’s all about relevant content that resonates with your target audience that’s everything in today’s social media world. Traditional marketing content rarely connects with your audience, per Joel. Why?

Because it’s really just marketing material that is thinly veiled as content, and it’s quickly becoming the kind of one-sided content that turns people off. What makes great content spread is how unique and inspiring the message is, not in how it slants into a direction that ultimately positions your company as the only one to buy from.

Rather than look at your firm’s lawyers as creators of content (articles, alerts, email newsletters, blogs offering little more than legal summaries), Joel might suggest looking to citizen journalists for your law firm. Citizen Journalists who could be your lawyers (blogging) or journalism professionals.

Maybe citizen journalists are the best marketers that a brand could ever ask for, and maybe, Geoff Livingston (presenting at Webcom Montreal) is right that the problem with content marketing is the “marketing” part. Instead of plopping Social Media into your communications or marketing department, why not start a journalism department (or start off in a more humble way by hiring a journalist part-time to write content that your organization will publish)?

What could these citizen journalists do for your law firm per Joel?

  • They could write articles about the industry you serve without slanting the piece to favor your brand (this would give you credibility and build trust).
  • They could become valuable by commenting and adding more content in the many other primary spaces for Social Media that people in your industry follow.
  • They could interview the industry leaders for you.
  • They could add a layer of credibility to the content you’re publishing, because you’re very clear in your disclosures that this journalist’s role is not to write favorable content about the company, but to write great content about the industry you serve.

I’m not talking of having a journalist working for your firm as a writer kicking out the stuff in-house counsel, the press, and other practicing lawyers have grown all to sick of. That would be missing the point per Joel.

The idea here is to start creating content that is both valuable and needed. The idea here is to see if a tactic like this could lead to an entire department of journalists that are publishing the most relevant and interesting stories about the industry you serve. It’s about becoming the de facto recognized authority for your industry. It’s about adding so much value that your clients (and potential clients) need you in their lives because the insights and information that you’re providing are so valuable. The challenge (of course) will be in doing this in an honest and credible way. Marketers don’t have a strong history of being able to pull this sort of stuff off, because we just can’t help ourselves but to push our own wares in the moment of truth (which is sad). The only way this will work is if the brand truly does let the journalist be an actual journalist (instead of a corporate shill).

No question we’re already seeing this trend among savvy lawyers and law firms. We’ve come to know the best law blogs as those publishing relevant and interesting insight and commentary for the industry served by the blogging lawyer.

The result being that the blogging lawyer has become a de facto recognized authority in their field. An authority status that has lead to seven figure annual revenue from business developed by the lawyer through relationships gained through blogging.

Multiple times a week I am meeting professionals with a journalism background who have begun working in law firms. Law firm Chief Marketing Officers and Marketing Directors are realizing it’s not the legal content of old that’s going to resonate with their target audience today. They know that journalists may be better equipped to take their law firms into the social media age.

My company, LexBlog, has launched numerous custom social media solutions, including recently launched, China Debate, which covers the latest in Chinese business, policy, and politics, for clients looking to publish relevant and interesting stories about the industry segments they serve.

We have more coming, including one for a large state bar association, and one for an international network of legal professionals. All of the custom social media solutions developed and produced by LexBlog involve a journalism component.

I’m in agreement with Joel that ‘Brand Journalism,’ as he describes the concept is a huge and interesting opportunity. Especially for law firms.

  • Great post, Kevin. You’re absolutely right that some of the best legal blogs are the ones that write articles on issues that are important to people. My favorite personal injury law blogs, for example, are the ones that blog about city safety or safe streets, rather than simply writing about car accident victims, etc.
    Also, it’s an interesting thought that the legal profession, which the media keeps reporting is in troubled times, could be helped by an emphasis on journalism, another industry that’s generally not doing so hot.

  • I’m glad that my post both resonated with you and inspired you to push the idea further and into your industry’s realm. The key component that many people seem to be missing is that the journalist isn’t just another writer and I’m glad you caught on to that!

  • Journalism and the law can be a good fit as professions Ben.
    Mitch, your post was very inspirational to me. I’ve been giving the concept of brands having journalism departments for quite awhile. Your framing the issue, including your point that’s not hiring journalists to be another writer, was better than I could have put it. I think the concept as you’ve characterized it as a lot of merit in the legal vertical.

  • We live in a capitalist country and everyone wants to sell sell sell. It is a brilliant idea and it sounds so simple. However, it is hard to implement. The very reason I like reading your blog is because it does not try to sell anything but not selling anything is harder than it sounds.
    I have a business which I will not mention and believe it or not that is the hardest part for my writers. I am constantly telling my writers I do not want them to sell. I want them to write purely informational pieces and they have a hard time doing that. It seems everyone wants to put a slant on their writing. It is a nice thought though.

  • Thanks for the comment Chris. I agree it may be hard to implement from a practical sense, but yt’s only hard to implement because law firms will not be able to see beyond the ‘content’ is only for forcing our intellect on people through content we produce.
    Nothing wrong with sharing your intellect, but getting business at law firms is all about relationships.
    Relationships can be opened by reporting on matters of interest to clients and those who influence as well as reporting on people and organizations you’re looking to build relationships with. That happens with a journalism department/reporter philosophy.

  • Kevin
    I have been saying for a long time now that those firms that get it (social media) will not only resource a department to coordinate the efforts of each segment that supports social media but also they need to work out an intelligent way to leverage their knowledge management. By and large lawyers are not the best writers and I believe that the next phase, as you and Mitch have highlighted, is to outsource or bring inside a team of the best writers in the world (or that money can buy). I can see it know what a Dan Brown or John Grisham might just do for a firm. But on a more mundane level they need to write for their buyer persona and not from an ego position. It is not about repeating case law either but trying to understand the client’s problems or opportunities and positing a story line that will hook their reader to want to subscribe to a RSS feed or blog or the Twitter feed. Big Law in the UK now is still in the early adopter phase and let us hope that the smart ones start seeing the wonderful opportunities that exist for them in the publishing space.