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Why ghost blogging for law firms is misguided

January 11, 2012

Dave Fleet, Vice President, Digital at Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR Firm shared his take on ghost blogging a couple years in his post, ‘Why ghost blogging is wrong.’

With the discussion following my post yesterday on the legal ethics of ghostwritten blogs for lawyers, I thought it worthwhile to get a discussion going about ghostwritten blogs in general.

I’m with Fleet that a ghostwritten blog is not the way to go for your law firm. Going with ghostwriting shows a lack of understanding of what blogging is all about and is not going to bring you the business development success you’re after.

In response to a business professional who hates writing, doesn’t believe blogging is part of the relationship building process, and is too busy to start blogging, Fleet called ‘Bunk.’

Fleet correctly believes that relationship building is a key part of blogging. When did it become a good idea to outsource your networking and relationship building?

Here’s why Fleet believes undisclosed ghost blogging is wrong and a very bad idea.

  • People reading a blog expect the person listed as the author to be the one writing the post. This expectation is critical, and is a key difference between new and old media (where, for many people, this kind of practice long ago eroded the credibility of many tactics);
  • The danger of damage to your credibility and reputation if you get found out easily outweighs the benefits you get from hiding the true author;
  • The CEO doesn’t need to be the face of a company online. If your company has grown and the CEO needs to focus elsewhere, someone else could write, or you could set up a group blog;
  • There are plenty of other social media (and other online) tools out there. If authentic, transparent blogging doesn’t work for you, use a different tool; and
  • Social media is built on trust. By misleading people as to the author, you lose the trust when that deception is revealed, especially if you’re an “expert” in this area. It’s a long standing business adage that people do business with those they like and trust.

If you’re too busy or blogging is not for you, here’s a few options from Fleet to which I have added some comments.

  • Multi-author: Have multiple people in your organization write – under their own names. This way you can reduce the workload. We regularly see this on the LexBlog Network. Most of our network blogs have 3 or more lawyers authoring them, often of the same practice group.
  • Different blogger: Do you have to be the face of your company online, or is this an ego issue? If you don’t have to be that face, perhaps someone else could write it under their own name. Give credit where credit is due. If it’s an associate writing, pit their name up as an author. The same for legal assistants, marketing professionals, and business development folks. Show the strength of your team and the quality of people you employ at your firm. It also does wonders for morale.
  • Disclosure: Include a note on each blog page that someone else writes the post, e.g. ”I don’t write these posts, but I do read them and I stand behind them.” I think it’s sub-optimal as some authenticity is lost, but it’s feasible. Our network bloggers regularly have bylines disclosing multiple authors or guest authors.
  • Use different media: Do you really have to have a blog? How about using video, or micro-blogging, or any other social or “traditional” digital tactics? Blogs are just one tool.If you’re thinking of having your blog ghost-written, reconsider. The risks outweigh the benefits. A blog is the hub of social media for most lawyers as its the only social media by which a lawyer can demonstrate their expertise, passion, and care. But if you can’t blog get some help to learn how to make social networks such as LinkedIn sing for you.

I understand that there are talented academics, consultants, writers and reporters out there who can make valuable contributions to a law firm’s blog and social media. I understand excellent public relation’s firms have connections with those folks and can develop sound strategy for leveraging them. That’s great. Just disclose.

Look at the outstanding efforts of a few publications on our LexBlog Network. One is CHINA Debate, providing insight and commentary on policy and business in China. The editor is Malcolm Riddell, president of RiddellTseng, a boutique investment bank and advisory firm, advising leading international companies on investment and joint ventures in China.

Riddell, a former state department and CIA official who runs the site on his own, has pulled in multiple bloggers. They include Harvard professors, partners at leading law firms, ambassadors, and former U.S. senators. Not only are those authors of course disclosed, doing so nurtures relationships for Riddell and raises the profile of the blog.

The second is the DuetsBlog, covering collaborations in creativity in the law. The regular authors include 10 lawyers and a marketing professional from the Minneapolis based law firm, Winthrop & Weinstine.

Duets is in every sense of the word a group effort. Their bloggers cover different topics based on their interests. The blog regularly includes guest authors, strategically selected by the lawyers based on who they’d like to build a relationship with. Laura Gutierrez, Winthrop’s Communications Coordinator, rather than pitching stories, brings the perspective of a non lawyer to business stories, a welcome addition from a business client’s point of view.

The third, and most prolific, is Food Safety News, presented by the Seattle based law firm, Marler Clark, the nation’s leading law firm with a practice dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness.

Food Safety News is a daily Web-based newspaper dedicated to reporting on issues surrounding food safety and is the most widely read publication, on or offline, by the food industry, government officials, and reporters covering the industry.

Food Safety News uses full time reporters and editors, including Pulitzer Prize winners, to bring the latest in food safety news and commentary. Obviously each of those reporters, editors, and guest columnists is disclosed.

Lest you think Marler Clark has lost their mind, Food Safety News and the related blogging efforts of Attorney Bill Marler, are doing more for the firm’s business development than if the firm were spending millions of dollars in web and television advertising as other law firms do. And Marler Clark’s Internet presence is not only a heck of lot more tasteful, but Marler is bringing about positive change in food safety.

If you’re thinking ghostwriting for your blog, think again.

If some agency or web development company is pitching ghost blogging to your law firm, ask them what they know about blogging. Did they build their company and its reputation through blogging and social media? Do they have bloggers working for the company who are growing their network, building relationships, becoming known as a subject matter expert, and not only bringing in clients and customers, but high quality clients and customers through blogging? If not you may want to talk to someone who has done these things.

There are of course opportunities to use talented academics, writers, consultants, and reporters in your law firm’s blogging. Make hay out of it. That doesn’t happen by having them be ghosts.

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