RESTON, VA., Re-published Dec. 18, 2012 (TLC News) — The online revolution has redefined marketing for everyone, as websites, search and digital content today play a key role in the promotion of any business or professional practice.
But blogging — writing regularly for an online audience, to optimize traffic to your website and to show others how bright and reliable you are — poses more risks than consultants and promoters of blogs are letting on. “It’s certainly not something to jump into,” says TLC Director Stephen Clark.
LexisNexis, now owned by a New Zealand company that controls Martindale-Hubbell and lawyers.com, emailed a newsletter to the legal community this month extolling the virtues of blogs by lawyers and law firms. It promotes a July webinar by law marketer Larry Bodine, who asserts that lawyers will receive “88% more leads from consumers if you blog … and 67% more leads from businesses if you blog.”
The newsletter points out that blogs on law firm sites help boost search rankings by generating a fresh supply of keyword-laden text. It recommends that you be reliable and regular with your posts, be personal in style, and of course re-broadcast all your blog writings to Twitter and Facebook.
According to Clark, a former newspaper publisher and Wall Street financial writer, launching and sustaining a web log for your business is a fine idea — if you have the time, discipline and have a clear idea of your objectives, both for the blog and your practice.
But most professionals don’t, and they shouldn’t make the kind of commitment required to make it successful. There are serious issues to consider before committing yourself or your practice to blogging. Here are a few:
1) Once you start a blog, you can’t stop, at least without raising questions about why you launched a blog in the first place. Thus the commitment is not minor. Unlike news sites, blogs offer no revenues except perhaps Google Adsense advertising on blog pages, which is either inappropriate or won’t pay enough to justify the advertising, says Clark. “You are entering a new line of business — it’s called publishing,” said Clark.
2) Lawyers and physicians generally have levels of expertise that require years of work — that expertise is valuable, and shouldn’t be paraded out casually online. They should be chary of publishing their insights in blogs, which by definition are accessed by a faceless, nameless audience. Doing so can degrade their status, and risk cheapening themselves and their services, Clark says. Further, getting too chatty just makes you look unprofessional, he adds. “If you are any good at what you do, people want to look up to you,” says Clark. By blogging, “your reputation can be damaged without even knowing what you wrote to damage it.”
Here’s another aspect of “too-much-information risk”: We know of several lawyers whose blog posts have come back to haunt them in litigation. “Once you lay details of your courtroom strategy out for the world to see,” says Clark, “it’s inevitable that the other side will use your public comments against you in court.”
Then there’s the digital peanut gallery. Commentaries and opinions common to blogs are open to scrutiny by readers with all kinds of motives. They often prompt exchanges with anonymous readers that devolve into a waste of time — or worse. “That recalls the old saying, ‘Never wrestle with a pig — you both get all dirty and the pig likes it.'”
3) Average blogs don’t require a lot of time, but very good blogs worthy of high-quality practices require a ton of time. With every post you make an editorial judgment — what to focus on, what style to write with, how much to disclose — and that process takes time. The better you are, the more time it requires. There is no question that writing helps focus your thoughts, and blogging can be valuable to the writer. “I know a lot of bloggers who showed they are authorities in their field — and it helped them get a job,” says Clark. Any professional who wants a practice to grow should be focused first and foremost on performing well for paying clients and patients, Clark says.
4) Other online activities are more important. Whatever client-retention statistics consultants pull out to justify blogging, good clients — reasonable, sophisticated people with resources — hire you not because you write a blog or what you post on it. As the best professionals know they still retain you by referral — and then after vetting you online. That’s why, Clark says, the issues of site quality and reputation protection are much more important that any web log. A site doesn’t need to be complicated or laden with text — in fact, less is always more — but it must reflect a simple message that conveys your values as a professional. The site is an extension of you and your practice. And reputation protection — identifying and challenging third parties that post critical, anonymous reviews of a professional’s services, and monitoring irresponsible sites like Avvo.com — is far more important today than blogging.
5) Blogging as a means to raise your standing with search engines is overrated, primarily because you and your firm’s site will always be found when potential clients conduct an online search using your name or your firm name.
If you search by your practice area — “New York Plastic Surgeon” or “Bay Area Employment Lawyer” — your site is competing with a throng of aggregating sites that spend substantial sums to appear on the first page of Google or Yahoo results. Blogging may improve your position, moving you from say page 5 to page 4, but no amount of blogging will help your site crack the top tier of results, particularly now that Google fills the top of the first page with paid results. And in any case, according to Clark, listing on aggregator sites tends to attract less sophisticated clients.
6) Twitter and Facebook are in their relative infancy, and are evolving quickly. Using them requires the same kind of time commitment that a blog does, and like a blog they pose risks as well. Facebook and Twitter are fine as a mass-distribution tool (indeed, corporations and big retailers moved to Facebook quickly because they could identify and track users) but threading your Blog posts to social media only expands the risks that the blog itself already presents. “Any professional who seeks a high-quality client base should be careful about committing to a regular presence on Facebook, or regularly Tweeting. There is too much potential for misinterpretation or some kind of backlash. At some point you’ll be tempted to ‘give away’ your expertise. Right now I would avoid both,” says Clark.
7) Blogs produced by third parties — common on the sites of financial advisors, an industry that generates lots of low-cost content and market reports — are not that useful for the sites of high-end professional practices. Clark doesn’t recommend them, largely because the professional loses control of the message, and because a third-party blog is even less effective as a search-optimization tool.
8) The bottom line is that there are plenty of ways to demonstrate and project your professional competence, and many are the traditional kind: Speaking before professional groups, teacher and continuing education settings, and writing articles for professional journals. Your online presence can refer to all of those, and help build your credibility and authority in the digital age.
One example of a useful, steadily produced blog is Charles Abut’s njdivorceblog.typepad.com — a stream of professional developments for divorce lawyers in New Jersey. This blog is a dry recap of court and case-law minutiae, and is clearly not intended for a mass audience. But it serves the purpose of helping position Abut, a longtime independent divorce lawyer and mediator, as a resource of the rest of the divorce-law community.