Why do we produce content? Is it to drill home an understanding of the very finest legal details behind a recent legislative change or ruling? Or is it to engage your audience and show them how your knowledge/understanding/approach would benefit them if they found themselves in a certain situation?
I have to say I am firmly in the latter camp, yet I’m still blown away by the sheer volume of overly long, overly technical dissertations I’m alerted to throughout the day, every day. When a topic catches my eye I will take a look but I rarely get past the first paragraph or two, punch drunk from the combination of a dry cod-academic writing style and repeated use of inclusive, impenetrable jargon.
Well I hear you say, that’s because you’re not a lawyer. True. But neither are the majority of your audience (general counsel apart, but then they have enough on their plate without having to wade through pages of puffed-up pontification to get the direction they need).
Yes, OK I am exaggerating for effect but you get the picture.
The internet is awash with an insane volume of content and that is multiplying at a rapid rate every day. If you are going to invest in producing content – which absolutely should be a mainstay of your marketing strategy – it has to stand-out so you can build an audience. My recipe for standing out is to revisit the two criticisms I made in the second paragraph, to make sure what you are writing is neither overly long nor overly technical.
Let’s look at length first.
There still appears to be the misapprehension the longer an article is, the more credible it is. However, the truth is that today people consume information in a totally different way to they did a few years ago. According to research a woman’s attention span is now around 225 words and a man’s around 180 so if you’re producing 3000 words, you’re probably wasting your valuable time.
An editor I produced a series of blogs for summed the question of length up nicely by telling me, when I asked for word count:
that I should keep to one page on a smartphone as that’s how the majority of readers would read it and they don’t scroll far.
This obviously didn’t do my vanity any favours but the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right!
As with most things in marketing and business development, you need to adhere to the mantra of ‘little and often’; make your point and move on. And don’t worry if you’ve only skimmed the surface or there are lots of additional points you could make on the same subject. List out those other points and you’ll have a series of future blogs which will save you the time and effort of having to think up new ideas later.
Editorial comment: although I personally do longer articles, Doug's observation here about “little and often” is certainly a powerful point and worth keeping in mind.
Now let’s look at the topic.
Examining a specific point of law may be interesting for you but it will probably make a tough read for a client who just wants to know what that point really means for them, their family or their business.
Instead of concentrating on simply repackaging the technicalities of your subject matter, try to make it both relevant and practical by putting it into context for your readers. There are two ways of doing this:
1 – Tell a story
People like stories because they paint a picture in their minds and allow them to see how you could help them in sharper focus as the circumstances you’re describing are either circumstances they have found themselves in or circumstances they could find themselves in.
Try and frame the point you want to make as a short case study (and whether that case study is real, anonymised, fabricated or made up from a combination of different experiences is your call).
The model we use for this type of anecdote is CAR – what was the Context, what Action did you take, what Results did the client enjoy as a result of you taking that action.
2 – Use the news
What is going on in the world that you could use to piggy-back upon? It could be a very public dispute, a landmark divorce settlement, a fall out between two sides of merger or acquisition, or even a royal engagement.
If it is going on, people will be searching for it online. So if your content contains the right points of reference you are more likely to get found. Similarly, as people are genuinely interested in the subject you've used, they are more likely to want to have a look at how you’ve tackled it when they see the headline pop up on LinkedIn, on an email or even in a Google search.
And don’t think you have to stick rigidly to what’s reported on the front pages of the broadsheets. We’ve found that jumping on headlines involving celebrities, TV, sport or popular culture are far more likely to catch a reader’s eye. Using our own business as an example the most productive (in terms of conversations, introduction and, most importantly, revenue) articles we wrote over the last year or so centred on the World Darts Championship, (UK TV show) Line of Duty, Northern Soul and David Bowie.
As with keeping to the little and often rule, in this world of rolling media using the news will help you, because once you’re attuned to this source of inspiration it will provide you with a constant stream of ideas which will make it easier to think up and write your next piece.
About Doug McPherson
Doug is a director of Size 10½ Boots, a business development agency that specialises in helping the professional services improve the way they approach marketing and business development. As well as managing a variety of BD projects for a growing number of regional, national and international law firms, Doug is also the author of The Visible Lawyer and Package, Position, Profit: How to build a law firm the 21st Century wants to buy.