Distributed Publishing Opportunity #2: Social Media

This is the latest post in a series on distributed publishing for lawyers and law firms. You can see the intro post here, and last week’s topic, blogging, here.  Now, onto our next distributed publishing opportunity…

Social Media

For more than a century, newspapers, radio and television have dominated public discourse, to the point that we collectively think of them as a colossal wave of content called “the media.” But that’s not accurate. Newspapers, radio and TV don’t create content — they distribute it. The word “media” actually signifies empty vehicles or containers used to carry something of substance.

Reporters create content; radio playwrights create content; sitcom producers create content; newsprint, radio waves and TV signals don’t. The “media” are simply the mechanisms by which this content is profitably sold and efficiently circulated to the end user (at virtually no charge, thanks to advertising).

Law firms need to understand Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter in the same way: they’re media – not content creators.

None of these gargantuan social networks creates one ounce of content (and neither does Google, by the way). They distribute other people’s content to their users, and they’re essentially in the same advertising-driven business model as newspapers and TV. The significant difference between “old” and “new” media is that in the latter case, the content’s consumers are often also the content producers.

In the context of this series on distributed publishing, I emphasize: social media are not a mode of distributed publishing, but better described as an “amplifier”.

Your firm might be quite good at creating content, but your firm, in all likelihood, is not very good at distributing content. Email lists that dominated over the last decade (2000’s), are now frequently considered an unsolicited method of distribution. There’s the issue of getting by spam filtering, and your dedicated subscribers who will often auto-delete or recycle, rather than unsubscribe. Now, it should be said: email lists can still be done very effectively, but in 2012 the short story is: they’re simply no longer your biggest driver of engagement.

Firms need better distribution for their content. Up until about ten years ago, you’d have had to try getting your lawyers’ articles or insights featured in newspapers and magazines. But those media have very narrow doors through which tons of legal content is trying to squeeze, and the entry costs are high. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try, but one of the best ways to get on journalists’ radar remains being a self-publisher, and using the relationship-driven distribution of social media tools.

With Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, successful distribution is determined by a much wider group, but better… because it’s a group that you know! Social media provides a range of extraordinarily powerful and accessible distribution tools that are driven by your relationships with other self-publishers. Want social network distribution success? Simple. Add relationships: in your community, friends, family, business and industry relationships, or the people whose commentary you read and respect. Be a distributor of your own content, but also for the people who mean something to you and your firm’s practice.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy.  Networking to build relationships with those who will engage with you (and your content) is very different than increasing your “friend” count.  Hundreds of millions of people collectively access content through social networks every day, but creating “engagement” — sharing, liking, commenting, RTs and plus-ones — requires both loyal relationships and compelling content. Each lawyer needs a network of reliable distribution supporters; every firm needs a team of marketing lawyers (or staff members) who bring something to the social networking table.

So this is the first thing lawyers need to understand: social media are not content producers, but they are tools for content distribution. Social media helps law firms by distributing their published content. Each firm’s blogs, newsletters, podcasts, videos, whatever, needs to be distributed into these vehicles, maximizing the firm’s collective relationships — both business and personal. And if your firm wants to “kick it up a notch”, get your networking boots on.

When you hear someone say that “lawyers ought to be using social media,” this is what they mean (or what they should mean, anyway).

Here’s a roundup of posts that will help you to maximize the effectiveness of your social media usage:

Next up in this series: microsites.


  1. Erik Mazzone said:

    Steve, a second great article in this series. Well done.

    I agree with what you have written – that social media is an amplifier and distribution channel for content that can be profitably used by law firms. I will add my $0.02 to one piece of your analogy between law firms and media that got skipped over: content creation.

    Your article implies that you think of content creation for the media to be the creative work of individuals (reporters, radio playwrights, etc.) It also glosses over content creation, where you note that “your firm might be quite good at creating content”.

    This suggests that the various and varied written product of a law firm can somehow automagically coalesce itself into a body of work worthy of distribution and amplification. Work which will be of interest and use to the firm’s potential clients or whatever constituencies a firm’s media efforts are aimed at. I think that viewpoint is awfully optimistic.

    Apart from serving as distribution channels, media outlets exercise editorial and curatorial energy to put forth a collection of content that will be of interest and use to its readers. Deciding what to cut, what to run, what to expand, what to contract — all of that editorial effort goes into creating a bucket of something readable or watchable. Distribution happens after.

    There may indeed be law firms out there whose attorneys routinely produce content that is consistently useful and relevant and interesting to the firm’s clients. More likely, though, is that soliciting, curating and editing the content – all the work produced by media companies aside from distributing content and selling ads – is a difficult job and possibly just a monumental time suck.

    It’s hard to get most lawyers to contribute content to the firm’s marketing effort and even harder to get content that is useful. A notable exception is the myriad of excellent and engaging law bloggers who consistently produce worthy content as solo efforts.

    I know you and your excellent work well enough to know that you understand this problem inside and out. I hope you will tackle content creation head-on (including editorial and curatorial efforts) as the subject of another installment in this terrific series.

    @ 12:35 pm
  2. Erik: It’s true. Firms ‘might’ be good at creating content. Some are. Some are definitely not. But yes, this was my method of deflecting all content creation issues, and focusing my comments on the value of the distribution channel.

    I think most of what you’ve said is spot on, issue wise. I also realize that I am optimistic on the quality of lawyer content (admittedly, I have to be). However, there have been numerous situations over the years where I have observed lawyers publishing something incredibly valuable that larger media outlets would have considered unworthy of their time. What lawyers lose on poor choice of subjects, curating, editing, or boring material … they can make up for with faster interpretation, professional insight, and timeliness.

    Not all professional media are created equal. Neither are all lawyers filling this role for a niche subject.

    Let me consider what you’ve said. If it doesn’t fit into the distributed publishing series, then it’s certainly a blog worthy topic for the future.

    @ 1:41 pm
  3. […] Publishing Opportunities.” It’s a four-parter addressing best practices for blogging, social media, microsites and legal FAQ sites. Read these and you’ll be fired up to build a new kind of […]

    @ 7:10 am
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