Associate Blogs & Law Firm Interests
Ron Friedmann has a good post up on the push-pull between lawyers blogging under a firm owned web property -vs- publishing on their own and hoping the blog will follow them in a lateral career move. To be a bit more specific, the type of 'turf war' Ron's touching on would be most likely in the case of an Associate (or non-equity Partner) leaving the firm with a personal professional blog.
Personally, I would chalk this up to the differences between firm branding -vs- practice marketing -vs- personal marketing. In an ideal world, one's law firm web marketing efforts would be firing on all fronts. The trouble of course is time scarcity. With only so much non-billable time available, Lawyers may find it difficult to devote themselves to multiple blogging projects -- which brings up the concept of competing interests. Lawyers as individuals would like to invest their time in extending their personal brand, with all the portable benefits that come along with it; and law firms want to put their resources into assets with long term value.
So where do these lines in the sand get drawn? At this point in time, here's my take:
- Personal blogs are just that, personal. As much as your marketing leadership may wish to control the entire firm brand, this is a losing battleground on today's corporate web. Law firms should get their blogging policies in place, ensure proper disclaimers, draw a solid line between employer and employee, and jump ship. No logos, no support, and permission required for monitoring purposes. This isn't intended to be harsh, because I believe personal blogging (just like personal marketing plans) should be encouraged, valued and leveraged -- just not supported.
- Law firms must put their resources into firm sanctioned web publications. When it comes to individual blogging, bloggers should only be Partners. Group blogs should also be part of the mix to support Associate blogging, but again, these efforts should be Partner lead if firm resources are being applied. When an Associate becomes Partner, sanction the individual blog and make sure it matches the look and feel of the firm's brand.
- Don't forget the middle ground: There are many web promotion opportunities that could support both individual and law firm objectives. Imagine cherry picking the best posts from of an Associate's blog, and re-publishing on a group based blog. Or, consider the strategic linking opportunities between the two blogs: a substantive post on the group blog could be highlighted in a short post on an Associate's personal blog. Regularly duplicating content is a definite no-no with the search engines, but the occasional cross-posted content between two blogs can also work to support both audiences.
The bigger question of course, is who owns the brand? Regardless of the DNS registration and website ownership, blogs are all about the brand. If a blog is intimately tied to an individual then the brand can potentially transfer with that individual; and conversely, if the blog is built upon a group of people or concept, the authors don't mean as much. There's a little 'grey area' between these, so let me give a couple examples:
Individual Brand: Danny Sullivan has been the search engine guru for 12+ years while connected to Search Engine Watch. Danny leaves SEW and starts Search Engine Land - SEL is instant authority website and the SEW brand diminishes. Not entirely that simple, but point taken: Danny's departure and success didn't require he take the URL with him.
Group Brand: Web Worker Daily - Love the blog and the writers. The topics & content are what I'm after, and unless one of the writers distinguishes themselves to me as a reader, I'm subscribed for the long haul. If one writer leaves, I'm not going anywhere.
From a law firm's perspective, the use of group blogs or concept blogs is always going to be the safer tactic, especially where Associates are involved. Firms are still going to see Associates, their blogs, and their brands walk out the door. That's a fact of life. They also have the potential to recruit laterals on that same potential benefit. For me, the question then becomes one of resource allocation. The use of individuals as the blog brand can create an exceptionally strong connection with readers, but their creation doesn't come without substantial time investment. At the end of the day, allocation of the firm's web development, profile building and SEO resources need to support the individuals that own the company.
Update: Kevin O'Keefe is all over this topic too. Not too far off what I've said.