BigLaw Blogs In A Post-GDPR Marketing Universe
By Stephan Roussan
“So what do we do now?”
That’s the question that many marketing, business development and communications professionals — still breathless from the recent EU General Data Protection Regulation sprint — are asking themselves. For years, customer-relationship-management-driven email marketing has been the go-to tool for law firms to distribute their highest value thought leadership content. And while BigLaw may have been slow to get moving on compliance, they sure did make up for lost time down the stretch. In the tug-of-war between marketing and risk management, many firms hedged hard on the latter… setting a torch to contact lists, tracking mechanisms and just about anything else that could lead to a potentially unwanted digital interaction between the firm and another party. While GDPR asks that organizations provide contacts with a “right to be forgotten,” much of BigLaw responded with “that’s okay — we’ll just forget you right now!” If your CRM manager is sitting in the corner mumbling something about “implied consent” between curse words, just give her some space.
Unfortunately, there is no drop-in replacement that will regain those eyeballs on your content overnight. But like eating your vegetables or diversifying your portfolio, this is a great opportunity to strengthen your overall marketing program. In a post-GDPR world, microsites, blogs and social media will become more valuable than ever. The firms that deploy them strategically will increase their relative visibility and accelerate the rebuilding of their opt-in distribution lists. They will also be less vulnerable to other growing pitfalls with email marketing, such as blacklisting and aggressive spam filtering.
Microsites and Blogs Defined
First, some basic definitions: a microsite is small standalone website that functions independently from a firm’s main website. A blog is a webpage published in a running journal format, with posts appearing from newest to oldest as you scroll down the page. Stylistically, blog content is produced in a more short-form conversational style than traditional full-length articles. A blog is, by definition, a type of microsite … and if the blog is the only content featured, just call it a blog. If the site contains a wider variety of content types: such as articles, events, biographies, videos, podcasts, third-party information feeds, etc. then refer to it as a microsite. Some microsites also contain highly specialized applike functionality specifically designed to make the content more useful, such as a multi-criteria search tool built around a high-value data set that the firm has collected and curated. Depending on the firm’s goals, microsites and blogs can reflect the firm’s branding, or can be branded as entities unto themselves.
With email distribution down, the nicely synthesized and targeted content that you were delivering to subscriber inboxes is now just a needle in a haystack on your firm’s main website — and lacks the approachable context that made recipients want to consume it. Your main website contains only a handful of pages of interest to any single visitor, among tens of thousands that are of no interest at all.
Microsites are subject-specific, which is the key to their effectiveness. They allow the visitor to take a deep dive on a specific topic without the clutter and distraction. From a branding perspective, microsites also send a clear message: a dedicated, standalone resource devoted to a specific topic demonstrates the firm’s commitment to that subject matter area. In consumer goods, marketers know that a product’s packaging can be as important as the product itself when it comes to getting the sale. The behavioral traits that make this true don’t stop at the digital shoreline, so be mindful of how your information products are packaged.
Deliver great content on a microsite, and you are far more likely to gain back high-value opt-in subscribers than you would from the lonely “subscribe” button on your main website that only bots seem to fill out. Because of the real value you are providing, you can be more aggressive about asking for opt-ins, shares and follows, and may want to consider holding some content or special features back in exchange for consent. If the content is good, you are likely to get it.
But Who’s Going to See Them?
So microsites and blogs address the problems of packaging, relevancy and building trust, but who’s going to see them? Don’t we still have a distribution problem? Yes we do. In fact, email marketing was the primary vehicle for promoting the existence of microsites and blogs.
You can still push eyes to your content if you work from the bottom up, and the good news is that much of what you need already exists within the firm. You just need to dig. Many of same contacts who would did not re-opt in during your GDPR outreach are still connected to your attorneys on LinkedIn or are in their individual email address books as legitimate personal contacts. The attorneys who contribute to a microsite and their practice colleagues ultimately have the strongest stake in the success of the microsite, and should be enlisted to spread the word about its existence, value and postings. Develop a strategy and script that will be easy to implement and sustain. You may not reach the same numbers initially as with your blasts, but those that you get may actually be more receptive to the more personalized outreach. Remember: with targeted content marketing, it’s more about the “who” than the “how many.”
Other Distribution Tips
- Develop the social media personas of your content contributors. As a general rule, people prefer to follow people, not firms. If you do use firm accounts, create subject-specific ones.
- Be disciplined about researching and utilizing hashtags.
- Unearth old-fashioned PR techniques and apply them to the digital space. Pursue guest-post opportunities, shares, retweets and linkbacks from influencers and trusted sources.
- Post to LinkedIn industry groups and listservs that your target audiences frequent.
- The more specialized your microsite’s content is, the cheaper AdWords will be and the less effort will be needed to get key pages to rank. Research these opportunities from the outset, as they may influence which topics you prioritize.
- Make sure your microsite has a robust and properly-formatted RSS feed.
- Use canonical tags when needed to avoid duplicate content penalties from Google that would hamper your efforts.
- We live in the age of consent. Get comfortable asking for it. Develop the approach and language that suits you, but if you’re providing value you have to ask, ask, ask.
Keeping It All Under Control
With microsites and blogs come the inevitable challenges of managing — and securing — a collection of disparate website assets. Different platforms, instances, codebases, content management systems, “look and feel” discrepancies, and generations of technology over time means that a bunch of small sites can accumulate into one big headache, especially when your next firm rebranding comes around.
Yes, it makes extra work — but a robust fleet of microsites can be very manageable if you take a strategic approach and avoid creating scattershot implementations.
Here’s a top 10 of what to look for when researching microsite platforms and providers:
1. Assume that your first microsite or blog won’t be your last, as it won't be. Research platforms that will allow you to easily deploy and manage as many as you need, and provide a range of content types that cover a variety of options.
2. The content management system should be very easy to use, and accommodate the kind of content that law firms publish all the time.
3. The platform should employ proper SEO and mobile-friendly standards.
4. Outbound RSS feeds of your posts are a must-have. But the capability to publish inbound RSS feeds from the firm or third-party sources is also helpful, and can quickly supplement a microsite’s content inventory.
5. Review the platform security policies to make sure they are sufficiently robust and on par with those governing your main website. Small sites for big firms still need big security.
6. Effective thought leadership marketing often requires striking while a topic is hot. If you spot an amazing opportunity in the Wall Street Journal in the morning, you should be able to deploy a branded microsite on that topic in the afternoon. Long lead times mean missed opportunities to be out front.
7. An attractive cost structure will allow you to be more aggressive and allow you to table sites that don’t gain traction. Just move on to the next one and try again.
8. Make sure the platform comes with human expertise and support behind it. A purely self-help solution will make advanced tweaks and customizations difficult to achieve.
9. Some topics have a shelf life or lose steam due to lack of attorney contribution. Make sure you have the mechanisms to retire or roll-up sites as needed without losing any SEO and linkback gains.
10. Review how branded skins are applied, what future design refreshes might cost, and what kind of lead time is needed. If your firm rebrands, you don’t want to have a collection of dated assets lingering out there and not looking the part.
Whether or not your firm overreacted to the existential danger posed by an unsolicited client memo dropping into the wrong inbox is a moot point. The reality is that making a meaningful one-to-one connection with a prospect digitally is going to be more challenging post-GDPR. Many would argue that making things harder for marketers is a good thing for society as a whole. Microsites and blogs are a terrific way to provide value and build reputation with some of your most valuable audiences, and working from the bottom up to promote them will round out your marketing program into one that is healthier, more diversified and in keeping with what GDPR is all about.