3 Ways Law Firm Marketers Can Use Data to Build Better Content Strategy

JD Supra Perspectives

[The tenth in a series of 12 year-end posts published by LMA's Social & Digital Media SIG:]

From the series editors: Last time we checked, just 30% of law firms had a content strategy in place. And those that had them still struggled to do much with them. Yet a content strategy is where the magic lies in terms of linking your attorneys’ writing to growing their practices. This doesn’t have to be rocket science. Getting vastly more out of your content can really be as simple as this one-two-three approach that Adrian Lurssen and Susan Kostal provide here – whether you have a strategy or are looking to create one. Read on!

It’s almost 2018, do you know what your data is doing?

Sometimes “data” feels like one of those buzzwords in linguistic limbo in the legal marketplace. Excitement around “Data with a capital D” arrived on the scene after the initial embrace of all things social/digital media and content marketing, but before the latest round of hot new disciplines like Automation and Artificial Intelligence and … whatever else is next to come rushing at us before we are able to get a complete handle on yesterday’s thing.

Talk to any law firm marketer or business development professional and they’ll likely acknowledge they’re sitting on a fair amount of data - including data around the content their firm publishes. Accessibility hardly seems the problem. In the digital age, everything can be tracked. So if data availability isn’t the problem, what is it then?

The problem, it seems, is what to do with the data. Where to start?

Here are three answers to that question as you start the new year looking to focus a content strategy that might well be characterized as occasionally random, almost certainly haphazard, and at the very least, driven mostly by blind intuition (versus strategic and tactical insight). None of these require a significant time commitment, just a minor calibration to work you are likely already doing. Data is like finding money in the couch. Not loose change, though. We are talking $20 bills.

1. It need not be big data to be good data

Let’s start with a shout out to … ahem … small data. This is especially worthwhile when considering how “data” can help focus a content strategy in which individual interactions with a practice group or attorney’s publications are high-value opportunities.

If the value of “big” data can be captured in a question like: what patterns do we see in this large record of interaction with our work? -- then the value of small data can be captured in questions like: 

  • Who connected with my attorney on LinkedIn after we published her post on the latest FCPA enforcements?
  • Who tweeted her post on the latest round of SEC rules to do with Bitcoin?
  • Who left a comment on that popular blog post on patent reform?
  • Which blogger linked to our alert on the latest NLRB rules on social media?
  • Who listened to our cleantech podcast on JD Supra? 

In this marketplace, it is not always a volume game, but instead it is about connecting with the right people (or person) at the right time. In the new year, your content strategy will be vastly improved if you add an hour or two a month to your process in which you scour your analytics -- on your website and third-party sites -- looking for key, target readers to identify themselves: c-level executives, general counsel, reporters, and others. The names of these people engaged with your work? Data. Valuable data. Act on it, as it makes sense.

For example: if an industry blogger includes a link to your insurance post on their insurance-focused blog, connect with that person on LinkedIn. Thank them. Turn that one piece of data into a professional connection, an opportunity, by acknowledging it and creating potential for it to happen again.

The takeaway: spend an extra hour or two a month sorting through the small data points that show interaction with your content, and turn the high-value engagements into action items. Follow up! More importantly, these readers have self-identified as interested in your content, and will likely welcome more. If you have high-value readers, it can be worth tailoring content to match their interests. Sometimes the best strategy is to think small.

2. It’s not the data, it’s the findings

(And/or the context.)

That post your partner wrote on new estate planning rules in 2018 got 2,000 views in a mere five days. Is that good?

Answer: too little information. It’s hard to tell. It’s good if this time last year he wrote the same forward-looking post and only got 700 views. It means that in a year he has more than doubled his readership of this looking-ahead post. It’s bad if last year he got 4,500 views and someone else writing a similar post in June got 5,100 views. It means… well, you know what it means.

Context is everything when looking for meaning in data -- and context is informed (should always be informed) by your overall strategy.

In your top ten posts for 2017, at least three are about startup matters (something your IP practice group addressed in their writing about trademarks). Is this good? Yes, if you care about the startup marketplace as a source for new work. Double down on these successful posts. No, if you don’t. Tell your IP team to stop writing about startups. Or, better yet, ask them to consider if that visibility represents another untapped opportunity.

Kathryn Whitaker of McNair Law Firm tells the story of helping an immigration attorney launch a blog by first publishing the attorney’s writing on the firm’s site and distributing via JD Supra. From this initial national audience, Kathryn and her attorney were able to find some interesting data points that significantly shaped their content strategy going forward. For example, they discovered that one of the easiest ways to be read by professionals within a specific sector (healthcare, higher education, etc) around immigration matters was to mention those sectors directly in the title and framing of each post. In other words: don’t just write about H-1B visa issues, write about how H-1B visa issues impact higher education hiring practices. (Sounds obvious, and it is a great thesis. Data proved it to be true: posts that mention a sector directly get more readership by that sector, and are among the most popular in the mix.) This data greatly informs the focus of the immigration blog, which is exactly as it should be.

The takeaway: in the first weeks of 2018, as you look back at the last year’s work and what was most well-read, don’t simply issue internal lists of popular reads. Take the extra time (not much required) to ask what the data might mean in the context of your larger goals. Work with your writers on a paragraph or two of “Findings” that can be extrapolated from this data. For example: in all of your Fintech writing for 2017, cryptocurrency posts did the best. Time to launch a crypto-focused blog? Yes, if that’s where you want to expand market share. The reader data supports the focus.

3. Data can help build internal consensus (and strategy)

People look to big data for big ideas. Built from so many individual data points, it is hard to argue with it. Marketers often have amazing ideas. The gating item is getting firm leadership and partners to do what you want them to do. Your content big data is key to building consensus, driving buy-in, and spurring internal stakeholders to action.

Big data, in the form of benchmark reports, for example, tells you about your industry, topics relevant to readers, and your position relative to those. This information cuts both ways. Say you have a climate change blog, but it ranks 30th among the top legal publishers on the topic. The question becomes, then, do you want to continue publishing in the field? For some firms, the answer will be yes. If so, the data tells you the firm needs to change its approach to climate content to have any impact. This data helps you make hard decisions about content--even cutting some content, even when you have enthusiastic writers.

Likewise, and more importantly, a thoughtful look at the data will show you the holes in the content landscape. Look at the top five publishers in a given topic area. What are they not providing? Therein lies the opportunity.

The takeaway: big data puts everyone inside the firm on same page. This is vital in starting new publishing ventures, ensuring the health of existing ones, and killing off those that are lagging in the marketplace of ideas. It takes the pressure off the marketer, eliminating “I think we should,” and replaces it with incontrovertible knowledge.

The 2017 takeaway: Producing and distributing content takes time, money, and effort. Good content isn’t enough anymore. Law firms need to produce content that excels in the marketplace. It doesn’t need to be a mystery. Working on both a small and large scale, firms can craft content strategies that meet specific business objectives.


[Susan Kostal, principal at Stet, delivers legal marketing and content strategy to individuals and firms. She is contributing editor at Attorney At Work, where she writes the monthly Content Under Pressure  column. See her work at  www.susankostal.com, connect on  LinkedIn, and see rants of all shades on  Twitter.  She is based in San Francisco.

Adrian Lurssen is co-founder and VP of strategic development at JD Supra, a media platform that helps lawyers and law firms increase readership, engagement, and results for their content efforts.]

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