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Community versus content

legal community versus content
October 26, 2014

When I think of community, I think of people. When I think of content I think of stuff.

The Internet, to me, is all about community. The Internet is not about content marketing.

AOL, America’s first entry onto the net, was all community. One community after another formed around message boards on thousands of different topics.

I founded out of my Wisconsin law office in 1997. Our goal was to provide a legal community where strangers could help strangers, lay people and lawyers alike.

Lay people came armed with questions that they asked on message boards, listservs, and in chats. Lawyers came to answer those questions. It was a community in every sense of the word.

We envisioned what a town hall would be like where people and lawyers would gather – except virtually. We followed the models laid out by AOL, David (@DavidGFool) and Tom Gardner (@TomGardnerFool) at Motley Fool, and John Hagel (@jhagel) of McKinsey who co-authored “Net Gain: Expanding Marketings Through Virtual Communities.”

The benefit to consumers and small business people was obvious. General legal information, not advice, to help guide them.

The benefit to lawyers was the ability to enhance their reputation as a trusted and reliable authority in their niche and build relationships with people — the linchpins of business development. The lawyers also enjoyed helping people and the community feel of people, lawyers and lay people alike, coming together in a virtual legal community.

No one used the word content in these communities – AOL or When was incorporated into LexisNexis’, which was merely a directory then, it was all about having a community.

No one discussed distribution, reach, or views. The focus was helping others in the the community, not helping yourself.

Today all I hear is content marketing. Get your content found on Google. Blog to distribute your content via email and RSS. Pay for services to distribute your content. Use social media and social networks to distribute your content. Measure success by “views” and “visitors” of your content. Follow those visitors with software as they interact with your content until they’re ready to be sold something by you.

“Content” has value. So do “words.” We used both in the virtual communities of AOL and But it was done for something more meaningful than to say we produced content, distributed it, and got people to click on it. Without our “words” there would have be be no exchange — no community.

LexBlog was founded to empower lawyers to network online. In communities that already existed and in communities the blogging lawyers would create.

Blogging, rather than producing content, is about networking – listening to an existing conversation and then entering the conversation.

LXBN, a LexBlog property, curates the best blog posts from over 8,000 lawyers on the LexBlog Network. The goal of LXBN, as I see it, has not been to further distribute content, though it can have that effect, it has been to create a network — a community hub.

LexBlog members, through the network, get seen by other members and the public at large. They’ll build relationships with those people and grow their word of mouth reputation — both inside LXBN and their own networks — their own communities.

Sure, content is used – it’s a vehicle, not the end goal — it’s the community we’re after.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Brian Glanz