The State of Digital Marketing: Information overload

Green Target 2014 Survey of Digital Content Marketing in Law Firms

“Make sure your firm’s blogs are relevant, compelling and timely because in-house counsel are reading them.”

That’s the word from GreenTarget’s newly released 2014 survey of in-house counsel and law firm marketers.

Who can argue with survey data. But are you convinced that in-house counsel is reading your blog? We* track rankings and view hundreds, no thousands, of pages of blog analytical data. The slice of the pie for the average law blog is thin, very thin. And that’s okay if you keep expectations in check.

Do you know if in-house counsel is reading YOUR blog? The Virtual Marketing Officer suggests that before buying into the wholesale load of survey data as if it were your own to act upon, take a closer look at how your blog is performing. When is the last time you audited your analytics and made meaningful connections and adjustments?

(*We being, my company.)

“Blog readership appears to be plateauing.”

You can blame it on market saturation and information overload, as the GreenTarget survey suggests…

Blog use by In-house counsel dipped slightly this year. The number of respondents who had read a blog in the previous week fell from 46 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2014. That drop may be because blogs have become ubiquitous among top law firms, making it difficult for In-house counsel to determine which to read and trust in a saturated marketplace. Because this is the first time we’ve seen a dip in blog readership, we will continue to study this data to determine whether it indicates a trend or an anomaly.

…or you could take a step back with me. I contend that it’s neither. It’s not about market saturation or information overload. Yes, we agree, redundant content is rampant—after you’ve read one, you’ve read them all; and that includes the most quality posts written by professional journalists. But generally, law firm content can be trusted, especially if you have a name brand. That doesn’t guaruntee people will read it, but trust is not the issue. The real reason blog content isn’t being consumed is because it’s not compelling.

Writing social media content does not come naturally for most lawyers. Although some are really great at it and their traffic confirms it, most lawyers write heavy, technical, boring, post after post of text, doing what any lawyer can do—summarize a brief, a case, a decision. This is not compelling. If you can’t put a little bit of yourself into a post—describe the case, emote, or present a thoughtful perspective or argument, at least once in a while—you are not blogging. Your blog is just an article archive sitting alone in cyberspace.

While you can hope that through some miracle Google will index it and a corporate lawyer will serendipitously click through to the fifth page of results and find it, you will also have to extend your belief that they will have the fortitude to read through it and assess that you know exactly as much as 12 other lawyers know about the topic, but still they will pick up the phone to call YOU.

That’s not reality.

We believe interest in blog content is leveling off or dropping because much of it is not worthy. Yes, I said that out loud. And, I’ll say this too: Either fix it or move on. Stop feeding the cow. It’s dead.

Information overload and the Attention-Time conundrum. It’s not rocket science—but it’s close. 

“Direct, succinct, lively writing that favors plain English over industry jargon.”

That’s the final analysis from GreenTarget in their email blast announcing the survey this morning. (Twitter conversation #contentsurvey)

Indeed, scientific research into the root cause of the attention-time conundrum—caused in part by the ever-increasing amount of information served on the web—points to less can be more. Dr. Paul King of Texas Christian University likens the act of listening and absorbing information to lifting weights: The more we are asked to take in, the heavier and heavier the load gets. Eventually, we can’t hold the weight anymore, and we drop it all – or forget it all.

Dr. King tested this theory on graduate students, observing that those who went to class three days a week for 50 minutes recalled more information than those who went to class one day a week for three hours.

  • Practical Pointer: The  next time you are writing a post, ask yourself if you are subjecting your audience to the task of lifting 1000 pounds of technical jargon. If the answer is yes, reboot. Cut the jargon, cut the acronyms, cut the excruciatingly long sentences filled with parentheses and explanations. Get to the point and make it interesting.

Any lawyer can report on a case. It takes a lawyer who is also a good writer to describe it. Simple as it may seem, that’s all blog readers really want. Describe to me why this topic is important or why it should matter to me. Readers don’t need or want the details unless they are sexy or scandalous—reference the popularity of Above the Law blog. But if you insist on telling the who, when, why, where and what, leave it for later. In the first 50 to 100 words I want to know why you think I should pay attention. Describe that.

After you read the rest of this post you may decide that you’d like to learn how to write an essay style blog post. Just follow the link at the end of this post. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anybody. But if you do see a spike in your blog’s performance, drop us a line. We love hearing success stories.

It’s easy to publish digital media, harder to write it.

The Virtual Marketing Officer has been beating this drum for years: We’re swamped with information and we know it. We’ve learned how, within 15 seconds of landing on a blog post, to discern whether or not the read will be worth it. If it looks like too much work or there is no value proposition, nothing to hook our hat on in the first paragraph, we move on.

In house counsel may be reading blogs, but they are becoming more selective. How can you help them select yours to read? There’s no magic bullet but there are some things you can do.

  1. Reduce the jargon, redundant information, and lack of imagination.
  2. Describe instead of report.
  3. The law is full of drama; tell me a story.

It’s easy to publish digital media, but few law bloggers do it well. And, marketers are somewhat to blame—that’s my assessment not theirs. In the rush to get a blog out the door, marketers rarely take time to thoughtfully plan ahead, or worse, make sure that authors know the difference between writing a brief and writing a blog post. Are they qualified writers or will you give them training and support? We think it makes a difference.

Here are some other questions you should be asking, the answers of which will make the greatest impact.

  • What is the REAL business case for this blog? Not the cliches that get filled into the template planning form.
  • What bucket are we filling and who will really care? This is not an answer that comes easily.
  • Do we have a unique plan to reach each audience? (Hint, each channel referrer needs a marketing and content plan. It needs to be reviewed and revised at least every six months at audit time.)
  • Do authors have a social media platform, and if not, are they committed to building one?
  • What are our expectations? Are they set appropriately and relative to the resources being committed; time and money.
  • What does success look like?
  • What does failure look like?
  • What will we do if we fail?
  • Do we cut our losses or keep feeding a dead cow?

What Can We Learn From the Past?

(1) Lawyers often overestimate their ability to write—a totally different beast when it comes to writing a readable post and (2) they frequently forget to create sharable content—the two things that drive the greatest exposure and move the needle, whatever that needle may be, which is found in “the plan.” Yet, this is not unexpected and possibly not their fault, unless they’ve been instructed and choose to ignore it.

Consider that until the digital publishing craze of the past five to ten years, most lawyers would write an article or two each year, sometimes more, for the firm or practice group newsletter—that counts as marketing right? Check that off the list for another year. But they’d write dozens of briefs, contracts, memos, letters, and other lawyerly content; rarely anything close to an essay, which is essentially what a blog post is.

During the 1990s there was a push by some to write in “plain English.” Still, try as they might, the formal nature of most legal writing is set in stone and today we now have a ton of mediocre to horrible blog content that nobody can read because it’s too dense and unappealing.

I know this because I do a lot of blog audits. I run Google Analytic reports and monitor Alexa rankings, and more, for dozens of types of blogs on all sorts of topics. With only a few exceptions, law firm blogs perform relatively poorly and it is primarily because lawyers do not know how to write blog posts.

I’m not talking about law blogs that aggregate content written by others or those that are controversial, snarky or creative; they’re doing quite fine. I’m referencing the rank and file law firm practice/niche topic blog. Undoubtedly there are exceptions that I am not aware of, but I suspect that they are far and few between. Unfortunately, many lawyer bloggers can’t admit there is something they don’t do well and they won’t accept this fact or can’t: Their writing is boring. And it’s a fairly easy fix.

It’s Common Sense. Don’t Bore Your Audience.

When a visitor lands on a blog post or website page and sees a FULL PAGE OF TEXT their brain triggers say WORK—this looks like work.

If the first paragraph is full of acronyms, case cites, dates, or multiple explanations in parenthesis—anything technical—readers know there will be heavy lifting…WORK. When the weight looks or feels too heavy we drop it or forget it all.

dog park key westThat, dear friends, is the definition of information overload. And you are creating it. It’s not that users won’t consume a lot of content; it is the kind of content that is at fault here. Dry, boring, overly technical writing does not attract readers—it’s too heavy. If you can’t keep readers on the page, you lose the chance to demonstrate that you know the topic well and can describe it in a manner that is easy to consume.

That’s the relationship part.

Speak to your audience as if you were sitting across the table from them or chatting at the dog park. If they need more details, you suggest that they call you at the office. You will happily take them into the weeds with you.

It doesn’t matter how short or long the post is. It’s how the information is presented that will keep them on the page.

Take the challenge. Learn how to write an essay. It’s fun, easy and your readers will thank you. Here’s the link…How To Write An Essay Style Blog Post.

Call us if you need help. 

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