A blog post represents our entry into a conversation. Nothing could be more true when it comes to blogging by lawyers and other professionals.
Dave Winer, an American software developer, entrepreneur and writer who is widely known for his contributions to blogging, established over a decade ago that a blog represents the unedited voice of a person.
Law firms and other organizations don’t edit what their professionals are saying when engaging others face-to-face. Nor should they do so with blog posts.
During last week’s Business Development Institute’s Social Media Summit for Law Firms, I asked the members of the panel I was moderating: do your firms vet or edit lawyers’ blog posts before publishing?
A chief marketing officer from an Am Law 100 firm and the director of communications from an Am Law 25 law firm both said they do not. They trusted their lawyers to say and do the right thing. Both, in large part, understood the essence of blogging.
They did not want to demoralize their lawyers by, in effect, saying they do not trust them. Editing and vetting their lawyers’ blog posts while the lawyers’ peers in other firms were blogging without review could get pretty ugly. Doing so could alienate their lawyers, as opposed to endearing the firm to the potential rainmakers.
These marketers understood that there is an ebb and flow to blogging. When the “conversation” is active or there is a timely legal development, lawyers need to be able to blog. A blog post that may take 35 minutes to write ought not be delayed by a day or even an hour because of someone else’s insecurity.
Another marketing representative from an Am Law 25 firm whose lawyers are not blogging yet said she could not see how a law firm could empower unedited social media commentary. Her argument, a legitimate one, was that one partner may unknowingly reference the client or prospective client of another partner in a negative way.
Those with similar desires to vet blog posts ought to heed to what Winer penned in his 2003 blog post, “What Makes a Weblog a Weblog,” while serving as resident fellow at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet Society. Weblog had yet to be abbreviated to blog. Winer’s wisdom in this day of content marketing, ghostwriters, and vetted blog posts is more timely than ever:
On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with. Sometimes you submit right at the copy-edit deadline. Or you write exactly the required number of words so nothing can be cut. But in the end, the words that appear are an amalgam of what your organization thought should be said on the subject you’re addressing.
Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference. It gives the public writer a kind of relaxation not available in other forms. That might mean that in some sense the “quality” of the writing is different, but I would not say lower, assuming the purpose of writing is to inform, not to impress. I would choose a few spelling or grammatical errors over factual errors. Like the child’s game of telephone, stories that are passed from department to department in a professional organization can morph into something that bears no resemblance to the facts, or to the original author’s point of view.
Marketers and general counsel ought not view blogs as a press release or an article. Blogging is a conversation. We listen to what others are saying (writing) and respond in an engaging fashion.
Bloggers don’t “produce content” for blogs, we build social relationships with our readers, with other bloggers, and the mainstream media. We do it in a real and authentic way.
Digital communities, including Usenet, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), CompuServe, and AOL were the precursor to blogs. Their threaded conversations, never vetted, shared information and insight. Genuine relationships and reputations were built as a result.
Look at the widely known bloggers of the late 90s and early 2000s for this unedited conversation. Dave Winer, Shel Israel (@shelisrael), Rebecca Blood (@rebeccablood), or Robert Scoble (@scobleizer). In the law, it was Rick Klau (@rklau), Denise Howell (@dhowell), and Ernie Svenson (@ernieattorney).
These individuals achieved much of what they have by bringing an unedited voice of a person to the internet. They’ve built national and international reputations and relationships with tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people in their fields.
Certainly lawyers ought to check for conflicts when blogging just as they would before meeting people face-to-face regarding legal work. And of course lawyers need to be cognizant of the stature they hold as a professional and the fact they have partners with varying interests.
This is just being smart. Just like you need to be smart when presenting at a conference or mingling over cocktails at a networking event.
Tim Corcoran (@tcorcoran), the law firm marketing, management, and tech consultant, said it well in a Facebook discussion on this point:
If a lawyer writes something that tarnishes the firm’s reputation, remind the writer of the firm’s standards and policies. If it happens again, fire the lawyer. If law firm leaders are perpetually worried that unsupervised lawyer-bloggers may tarnish the firm’s reputation, then these leaders should recognize their own incompetence for hiring the wrong people.
Even a typo here or there (easy to avoid with spellcheck and a little self-proofing) is not going to kill anyone. It’s what makes us humans, something many firms seek to avoid.
I’ll confess I rely on my readers to let me know when I have made a grammatical gaffe. I’ll get a quick tweet, email, or even a comment to set me straight.
There is of course some risk to offending someone somewhere, inside or outside the organization. More than once over the last eleven years someone has said they wish I didn’t blog something, or that I put my foot in my mouth.
But in eleven years of working with law firms, I have yet to hear of problems caused by un-vetted law blog posts.
Blogging, unlike an article, is personal in nature. My followers get to know me and what I am passionate about through blogging.
Though the vast majority of my posts are business-related, I bleed my personal life into blogging. My kids, my wife, my parents — God rest Mom’s soul and Dad, whose Alzheimer’s has robbed his counsel — and sports all make my blog.
All of us may not discuss personal matters in blog posts, but I do. It’s who I am. It’s the person my followers want to get to know. It’s my unedited voice.
Law firms can’t turn a blog post into an article or firm-branded communications anymore than they can turn a conversation in a pub into a Word document. Blogs are a new medium.
A medium that builds relationships and a reputation because of the unedited voice.
Kevin O’Keefe is the CEO and founder of LexBlog, which empowers lawyers to increase their visibility and accelerate business relationships online. With LexBlog’s help, legal professionals use their subject matter expertise to drive powerful business development through blogging and social media. Visit LexBlog.com.
LexBlog also hosts LXBN, the world’s largest network of professional blogs. With more than 8,000 authors, LXBN is the only media source featuring the latest lawyer-generated commentary on news and issues from around the globe. Visit lxbn.com now.