Survey Says: Lawyers, Your Social and Digital Content Needs To ImproveĀ 

by Nancy Myrland

Greentarget Zeughauser Survey Says Lawyers Your Social and Digital Content Needs To ImproveCongratulations to Greentarget and Zeughauser Group for the release of The 2018 State of Digital and Marketing Content Survey, a refresh on their survey that serves to inform lawyers and legal marketers about the behaviors of in-house legal departments when it comes to their consumption of social, digital, and content marketing.

I like and respect this survey and always reference it when asked to present on these topics.

This survey goes the extra mile by matching strategy to the numbers. Numbers are important, but it’s what we do with them that makes the difference. Much like creating a marketing or business development plan that then collects dust in virtual or actual vaults and is not acted upon, creating a survey that contains numbers but no strategy is not as effective as it could be.

Like in-house counsel, all of you are busy. I have attempted to summarize what Greentarget discovered in this year’s survey.

TL;DR: In Case You're Too Busy To Read The Entire Post

There is a lot to consume. I have studied the entire survey and suggest you download and spend time with it, too, as you will find it interesting and valuable.

Note: Throughout this post, you will notice sections titled "How To Execute." Those are where I have summarized Greentarget’s suggestions about how to execute based on the survey results.

Note: Also, where I can find the same survey results from prior years, I have included those in parenthesis next to this year’s numbers. Some of the questions and categories have changed, so I was not able to compare all numbers.

Who Answered This Survey?

First, let’s acknowledge that not all of your clients are in-house counsel. To get the most accurate snapshot for your target audience’s use of content, social, & digital, it is important to blend this data with data that represents those target audiences.

When presenting, I typically add numbers from CEO surveys, as well as other surveys that speak to lawyers overall. I’m happy that Greentarget is adding a C-suite section to this year’s survey, which will be released in July.

This survey of in-house counsel was answered by the following:

  • 85 corporate counsel, with 51% from companies with 2017 revenue of $10 billion or more
  • 72% work for companies with 5,000 or more employees.
  • 17% work for companies with 1,000-5,000 employees.
  • 6% work for companies with 500-1,000 employees.
  • 4% work for companies with 100-500 employees.
  • 1% work for companies with 0-100 employees.
  • 34% are from companies in the Northeastern United States.
  • 23% from the West
  • 18% from the Midwest
  • 17% from the South
  • 6% indicated their headquarters are not in the U.S.

The Purpose Is To Provide Clarity

Greentarget tells us that:

“…in an era when content is fire and digital publishing technology is gasoline, we delve into what makes effective content stand out from the noise: the formats, attributes, preferences and other variables that in-house counsel find most valuable in the content they consume.”  

“…in an era when content is fire and digital publishing technology is gasoline, we delve into what makes effective content stand out from the noise” — @Greentarget

Greentarget’s goal is to provide the clarity that is needed to create the digital and content strategy that serves the audiences you care about. Greentarget’s suggestions in this research can help provide that clarity in your strategy.

A few top findings and observations from the survey:

  • One of the first concerns cited is that in-house counsel say the quality of content created by law firms hasn’t improved much, if at all, in recent years. More on that in a bit.
  • Time-constrained in-house counsel are still consuming and finding immense value from many forms of content, including firm-generated content, while placing greater trust and confidence in traditional media as sources of news and information.

Content Characteristics That Broke Through

Much like any of us, in-house counsel hunger for information that will help them do their jobs. The following is how they categorized content characteristics that attract them most frequently:

  1. Utility/Usefulness: 77% of in-house counsel say that utility, above all other attributes, attracts them to the content they consume most frequently.
  2. Timeliness: 68%
  3. Source: 56%
  4. Headline/Subject Line: 51%
  5. Length (short): 31%
  6. Author: 20%
  7. Graphics: 7%
  8. Visual appeal: 7%
  9. Length (long): 5%
  10. A Strong point of view: 4%, although, as Greentarget points out, this characteristic is an important element in utility (#1) and often a key driver of strong headlines and subject lines (#4)
  11. Popularity (likes, shares, social proof): 1%

How To Execute:

  • Create compelling headlines and subject lines.

The survey suggests speaking directly to the audience and telling them how, which promises utility.

The example they gave us is:

“How exporters will be impacted by the US withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal”

[Who = Exporters | How (which impacts utility) = Understanding the business impact of withdrawal | Point of view = suggesting the content will interpret the withdrawal]

  • Be brief, quick and efficient.

31% indicated they like short length, vs. 5% who value long content.

Greentarget Founding Partner and CEO John Corey suggests that content creators owe it to audiences to quickly and efficiently tell them what happened, why they should care, and what they should do about it.

  • Create and distribute content while the topic is hot.

Speaking to the strength of agile marketing, the survey reminds us that a good piece of content today is better than a fantastic piece three days from now. The ability to execute timely content speaks directly to content creators’ and marketers’ efficiency and, often, to their content strategy. 

“A good piece of content today is better than a fantastic piece three days from now.” — @Greentarget

What Types of Content Should You Produce?

Even though we don’t know what quality of visual content in-house counsel have been exposed to in order to vote the way they did, they reacted favorably in this order to these formats in the survey:

  1. Articles: 77%
  2. Alerts: 70% (87% in 2017, 77% in 2015, 63% in 2014)
  3. Newsletters: 59% (67% in 2017, 76% in 2015, 77% in 2014)
  4. In-person (presentations, conferences, etc): 63%
  5. Research Reports
  6. Interactive Charts
  7. Infographics
  8. Website Content
  9. Podcasts: 27%
  10. Video: 19%

How To Execute:

What is important for each type of content?

  • The survey suggests:
    • Articles should be educational, timely, and relevant.
    • Alerts should be timely, relevant and brief. When writing about breaking news, as well as all forms of content except for research reports, brevity is valued. If it is breaking, be brief and fast. Alerts have a shorter shelf life and should be published as often and as quickly as possible.
    • When producing newsletters, John Matthew Upton, Greentarget’s Director of Digital Strategy & Analytics, recommends using bulleted lists, or short blurbs with links to longer-form content. He said that data suggests it is better to err on the side of “more curated” versus “more inclusive” when trying to decide how many stories to reference.
    • In-person events, such as presentations and conferences, are opportunities to provide news, messages, and insights before, during and after the events.
    • Research reports should be educational and deep. Use research to drive weighty, meaty conversations around important issues.
    • Podcasts are showing signs of strength. Consider producing them for your most important practice and industry areas as this format speaks to the busy lifestyles and need for consumption of information in an efficient and personal manner that exists today. I agree with Greentarget that quality production value and engaging content are critical for podcasts to be effective. If you want to dip your toes into the medium, I have found producing an Alexa Flash Briefing to be a good way to start.

What Sources of Content Are Most Valued?

Greentarget’s results this year found that in-house counsel continue to use and value traditional media above other content sources.

Daily Usage: Here are the numbers:

  1. Traditional Media (e.g. The Wall Street Journal): 54%
  2. Email Notifications: 40%
  3. Social Media: 30%
  4. Industry Association Publications & Websites (e.g. ACC Docket): 23%
  5. Trade Publications (e.g. Corporate Counsel): 18%
  6. Outside Counsel/Vendor Websites: 17%
  7. Industry Thought Leaders’ Websites/Blogs: 7%
  8. Lawyer Listing Services (e.g. Chambers, Super-Lawyers): 2%

Value vs. Usage/Frequency:

Greentarget found interesting dichotomies between usage and perceived value in a few of these sources.

  • Traditional media usage and value remain consistent in that in-house counsel consume it on a daily basis and indicate it is valuable. In other words, value matches perception.
  • Industry association content is highly valued but less than a quarter consume it daily.
  • Trade publications and industry thought leaders’ websites and blogs are also ranked higher in value when compared to frequency consumed.
  • Social media is visited daily by about a third of respondents, but only 11% say they find it “very valuable” as a source for legal, business and industry news and information. [Note: I wouldn’t necessarily take this as a negative statement about social media, but rather as an opportunity to find more effective ways to use it.]

How To Execute:

  • If in-house counsel value traditional media so highly, Greentarget reminds us that earned media remains important to showing up in that space.
  • Firms can do a better job of curating content from many sources via social media. Although “curating” and “many sources” appear to be redundant or overlapping terms, I list both because many firms tend to only share their own content, thus missing an opportunity to be viewed as the source of the most valuable knowledge by curating and sharing content from others in their space.
  • Even when analytics don’t show frequent usage, continue to produce high-value content because creating the perception of value goes a long way toward building that valued position in GC minds, which is important to building and reinforcing your brand.

Social Media

How are they using social media?

Engagement appeared to take a bit of a hit in 2018, but don’t let this cause you to think it is a bad strategy as listening can mean discovery of you and your content.

Listen & Engage:

  • 2018: 23%
  • 2017: 27%
  • 2015: 22%
  • 2014: 29%
  • 2013: 26%
  • 2012: 32%

Listen Only:

  • 2018: 77%
  • 2017: 73%
  • 2015: 78%
  • 2014: 71%
  • 2013: 74%
  • 2012: 68%

What Influences In-House Counsel When Hiring Outside Lawyers & Law Firms

In terms of being “very” or “somewhat important” in helping to research outside lawyers and law firms for potential hire, here is how these sources stacked up:

(Note: I’ve added a few 2017 and 2015 numbers for comparison. This year, every category except for recommendations took a significant hit in terms of its influence in vetting and researching outside counsel. Recommendations only noticed a 2% reduction, where others were more drastic.)

  1. Recommendations from sources you trust: 94% (96% in 2017, 98% in 2015)
  2. Bios on the firm’s website: 69% (90% in 2017, 89% in 2015)
  3. Articles and speeches lawyers have authored: 57% (91% in 2017, 83% in 2015)
  4. Blogs published by lawyers on topics relevant to your business: 58% (77% in 2017, 66% in 2015)
  5. LinkedIn profile: 52% (71% in 2017, 74% in 2015)
  6. Peer-driven ranking and directories (Chamber, US News-Best Lawyers, etc.): 41% (67% in 2017, 59% in 2015)
  7. Connections/endorsements on LinkedIn: 37% (58% in 2017, 52% in 2015)
  8. Sharing of a lawyer’s content on social platforms, such as blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook: 28% (53% in 2017, 51% in 2015)
  9. Quotes by lawyers in relevant media outlets: 18% (44% in 2017, 34% in 2015)
  10. Twitter feeds from lawyers: 10% (16% in 2017, 13% in 2015)
  11. Wikipedia: 9% (29% in 2017, 32% in 2015)

Additional Findings & Suggestions From the Survey About General Counsel Use of Content, Social and Digital Media


Although in-house counsel haven’t changed their perception of the quality of law firm content in the past year (52% said good to excellent in 2018 and 2017, vs. 43% in 2015), similar percentages in both surveys (3% in 2018, 7% in 2017, 4% in 2015)  rated law firm content as less than satisfactory.

Suggestion: Greentarget suggests that, because these numbers have not improved significantly over the past four years, law firms have an opportunity to stand out by doing a better job with their content.

Suggestion: Brandon Copple, former journalist, and Director of Content & Editorial Strategy for Greentarget, recommends that, as with the basic rule of business journalism, law firms should not write about companies, but about the people connected to those companies. He asks, “Would you rather read about a big, faceless organization, or about an actual person?” This goes for what you write about your firm as well as what you write about other firms and companies.  

“Would you rather read about a big, faceless organization, or about an actual person?” — @Greentarget

Social Media:

46% of respondents indicated they use social media once a week. The same percentage said they never use it. (For comparison, the survey results in prior years were not shown as a category (social media) but broken out by social network. Looking at “past 24 hours” and “past week” in those surveys, LinkedIn was the highest in each, with percentages of 73% in 2017, 68% in 2015, and 62% in 2014.)

Suggestion: Find out what platforms your clients and prospects are using. Use client interviews and platform research to find out what social networks they use.

LinkedIn and blogs continue to be used more than Facebook and Twitter.

Suggestion: Continue to focus on these platforms. Don’t forget that media, influencers, and potential recruits might use networks that in-house counsel indicate they do not.


(Consistent with that is found outside of legal) Greentarget reminds us that email is valued by in-house counsel and provides the purest transaction available as there is no algorithm or intermediary standing between the publisher and reader.

Suggestion: Create subject lines and headlines that resonate with the recipient. Greentarget suggests that putting energy into this medium and its value easily justifies the investment.


Greentarget suggests that omission of storytelling in legal content is the norm and that this reduces that content’s chance for success.

Suggestion: Write about people more than you write about policies, industries, or businesses. Greentarget suggests we should write content by first thinking about who is impacted, not what.


Busy people need to be told why they should read what you are publishing.

Suggestion: Don’t just create titles that tell readers what the news is. Create titles that tell your readers why it matters to them. Use short, active words. Test different headlines to see what resonates with your target audiences. Use analytics and data to make sure your headlines and other content are working. Start your headline or titles by addressing a person, such as this title suggested in the survey, which originates from JD Supra: “Insurers of Directors and Officers of Delaware Corporations Must Take Heed of The Superior Court’s Recent Murdock Decision,” rather than “Superior Court Releases Murdock Decision” or “Companies Must Take Heed….” Brendon Copple recommends giving your readers something to care about by giving them something useful in the headline, as well as throughout the copy.

Help With Content Creation

If you haven’t downloaded this before today, or if you have and can’t find it (I know because I do this all the time), here is a free resource I have prepared for lawyers that will help you significantly improve your content in order to reach the right people on the right topics at the right time. By the time you finish, you will have enough content ideas for the next 3 months.

Content Creation for Lawyers - Free Worksheet From Nancy Myrland

Again, I encourage you to download the Greentarget Zeughauser survey for all the details and charts for this survey, as well as to study other bodies of research to uncover trends and tendencies from clients and prospects who are not in-house counsel. Armed with well-rounded, informed research, we can all improve our content marketing efforts.


Written by:

Nancy Myrland

Myrland Marketing & Social Media on:

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We may update this cookie policy and our Privacy Policy from time-to-time, particularly as technology changes. You can always check this page for the latest version. We may also notify you of changes to our privacy policy by email.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about how we use cookies and other tracking technologies, please contact us at:

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