Unless you’re a web Luddite, you’ve probably heard something about blogging. However, like having a website or using other forms of Internet business development, “having” a blog and effectively using your blog to grow your professional reputation are two very different things. The following are just a few actionable ways to use a legal blog to increase your professional reputation online.
If you are new to blogging, the first step is to choose where to blog. Answering this question can require some considerable thought and is not the subject of this post. However, in a nutshell, it is my recommendation to use a hosted installation of WordPress which you can download from wordpress.org (not wordpress.com).
Once you have decided where to blog, the next questions to consider are how to effectively blog for online reputation building and networking. This process begins with deciding on subject matter and identifying sources.
While there are many factors that may ultimately influence your decision about the subject matter of your blog, I recommend that you choose a fairly specific topic that is relevant to your legal practice and about which you can write expertly and voluminously. Avoid choosing a topic that is overly general or about which you have little say.
Once you have selected a specific subject, the next step is to identify sources. Developing a repository of authoritative sources for your blog is absolutely critical to your success and frequently overlooked by legal professionals that wish to grow their reputation through blogging.
Effective sourcing can require a bit of research. When consulting on legal blogging, I generally recommend taking a top-down approach. Start with very general, mainstream, and authoritative sources of information on your subject. These may include major news publications, professional organizations, and various other online and offline publications that write on your topic.
Maintain a running list of these sources. For online sources, you should consider setting up a feed reader, like Google Reader, to organize and manage the various feeds from these sources. In fact, many feed readers provide you the ability to search for new feeds by keywords. This can be a very effective way to find new online sources.
Once you have exhausted these top-level sources, begin to work your way down to more specific, local, and hyper-focused sources. These sources typically include other blogs that deal with your topic, local news publications, and local legal or topical journals. These sources may be the most important in terms of growing your online reputation in the short-term.
Once you have your subject and a strong list of sources, the next step is to do some reading. Parse through article and post titles that interest you. This is another area where a feed reader can come in very handy. Once you have found an article or post (or even better, a group of related articles and posts) about which you have something to say, it’s time to begin structuring your blog post.
Begin by thinking a bit about the purpose of your post and how it relates to the information and/or opinions reflected in your source articles. Perhaps you wish to further expound on an issue presented by another author. Perhaps you completely disagree with a source author. No matter what the purpose, it’s important that you actually have a purpose and carry that message consistently throughout your post. This will lead to much more effective posting.
Blog posts can take a multitude of forms, styles, and voices. Don’t feel locked into following a particular format or pattern. However, for the purpose of this article, I recommend the following simple structure:
- Outline the issue.
- Cite your sources.
- Make your point.
- Draw a conclusion.
- Add a byline.
This simple structure should provide you with a good start to an effective post. Again, this is by no means intended to reflect the best structure for a blog post, but merely one that I have seen work.
Once you are happy with the substance of your post (and have included links to your source articles), the next step is to publicize your writing.
Publicizing your posts is much more art than science and you will only become more effective at your publicity efforts through practice. Publicizing your posts can take many forms online. However, here are some basics that can help you get your content in front of those who are ready, willing, and able to link to and further publicize your writing.
Adding valuable comments to your source articles and posts has several benefits. It draws the attention of the author and other readers. Many bloggers receive email or other forms of notification when new comments are added to their blog posts or articles. Drawing the attention through your comment may gain you a new authoritative reader, and more importantly, linker or “publicizer”. Here’s an example of how it works:
You write a post about the practical impact of recent ruling by your state’s Court of Appeals. Perhaps you cite a news story on the subject, a blog post by a law professor, and perhaps the point of view from a colleague’s blog. You include quotes and links from your various sources and make your point. You then comment on the source articles giving a small taste of your point in the comment and indicating that you have written further at your blog (including your blog’s name or perhaps even a link, if permitted).
Perhaps the news reporter responds to your comment on their site, calls you for your opinion for an upcoming related article, or even amends their article to include a citation and link to your post. Perhaps another reader of the news site views your comment and clicks through to your post and subsequently writes a post on their blog discussing your post (and links to it). Perhaps another reader tweets about the news article and your post, garnering publicity from their followers. And so on, and so on.
This is how blogging and blog commenting work together.
Publicizing your content through social media and social networking sites can be another great way to gain exposure. Using the same example above, let’s say that you see a discussion of the Court’s opinion on twitter. You may consider replying to the tweeters in the conversation using “@theirusername” or by including a “#hashtag” that the discussion is using to aggregate tweets on the subject. You may also want to post your article in a LinkedIn Group that is topically related to the issue and pose a discussion question.
This is how social media and social networking can work to publicize your blog content.
At this point, you may recognize how these techniques can increase your visibility. However, you still may be wondering what all this has to do with search engines. The answer is, everything.
Search engines, like Google, take into account a multitude (perhaps hundreds) of different online signals by which to generate search results for any give search phrase. These signals take many forms. From the words you use in your blog posts, to the nature and number of links to your web pages, to the nature and number of references to your content on social media sites, all of these taken together play a role in how and when your content is delivered in search engine results.
In our simple example above, I suggested several ways in which your blog post might receive a link, a citation, reference, or tweet. This natural editorial style of reference is the very foundation of the Internet and the method of online reputation building preferred and endorsed by the search engines themselves.