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The keys to content marketing

Journalists often live by the mantra, “content is king.” The idea is that the more information you can share with your audience, the more connections you make and trust you build.

The same applies to lawyers. But how does a firm go about creating content and then marketing it to the vast sea of potential clients? Through content marketing.

What is content marketing?

“Content marketing is attracting and retaining clients/customers through creating, distributing, and curating relevant content,” J. Michol Banes, senior marketing associate at Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP and president of the American Marketing Association-Madison, said.

The idea is to offer credible, trustworthy information on a subject, such as family law. Once your audience trusts your message, the hope is that they will turn to you not only for information, but also for services.

Where should I start?

To start developing a strategy, first figure out what you need, Joe Pulizzi, executive director of the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, said.

Figure out what you want to accomplish, or as Pulizzi puts it, “where it hurts.” Do you need more customers? Are people not spending enough time on your website? Are they visiting your site, but not hiring you?

Then, figure out how your content can help resolve that issue.

“Focus on a niche,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘Where can I be the leading expert in my city, my region, even the world?’ And make it quality content.”

What platforms are best?

Content marketing can be used across platforms such as your website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, client email list, etc. The important thing is to tailor the content or message to each channel.

If you’ve created a whitepaper, for example, Banes said, which is a report or guide to helping people understand something, you might want to distribute the whole thing via a client email list. But then on Facebook, you can focus on just a key part of the report, to start a conversation and get people to click through to your site.

content-marketing“On Twitter,” he said, “you would want to either give a snippet of information and link over or give another interesting fact and link over.”

You might even consider linking to other content.

“Great content marketers also build trust by curating content from other reputable sources,” Banes said. “This helps add some depth to the content that is given to your consumers.”

What about blogs?

“The first place you should look,” Pulizzi said, “before you start with Facebook and Twitter, is a consistent blog and a consistently driven email newsletter.”

Start by defining “consistent.”

If you only can commit to one blog post per week and one email per month to start, that’s fine, Pulizzi said, but plan that time.

“It needs to be Wednesday at 10 a.m., every Wednesday at 10 a.m., posting that blog,” he said. “And the first Monday of every month you send out that newsletter. It’s like Must See TV. Build demand for that content, because as soon as you miss a date, they’re gone.”

Where to find ideas

Firm owners use video to introduce themselves

When Fitchburg attorneys Iris Christenson and Johanna Allex decided to update their website, they agreed that a short introductory video would tie all their content together.

“We see it as a key part of our marketing plan,” Christenson, co-owner of The Law Offices of Christenson and Allex LLC, said. “That’s the first thing people see when they go to our website. It’s our calling card.”

Video has been a part of the firm’s content marketing strategy since 2006, when Christenson and Allex first opened the four-attorney firm. Back then, they scattered videos of varying lengths throughout the site. But, Christenson said, “I wasn’t sure people were getting deep enough to watch them; people look at a website so quickly.”

So, in 2011, the partners swapped their explanatory videos for text-based Q-and-As, just one paragraph, maybe even a sentence, answering common questions. And they cut video use to just a single introductory spot highlighted on the website’s main page.

“It’s just a quick exchange between Johanna and I,” Christenson said. “A ‘Hello, glad you’re here. The website has useful information, and we hope we can meet your needs.’”

Allex and Christenson contracted with a local video production company. The cost was equal to about 12 billable hours because they made several versions — ranging from about a minute to three minutes, so they can swap things out in the future – and took about four hours.

“I could fit it in my normal schedule and still get my client work done” Christenson said. The response from clients has been positive, she said.

— Jessica Stephen

Commenting on other’s content is a good way to start, Banes said.

“You can post your summary of a content piece from someone else,” he said, “giving your consumers value through your short summary and the longer content from another source. Plus, you’re adding to your credibility as a thought leader that is not trying to just sell all the time.”

Piggybacking off other posts is a great way to find blog ideas, Pulizzi agreed.

Answering questions common to your practice area is another way to generate ideas, he said.

“What are your customers 50 most common questions? I haven’t met one business owner who can’t spend 10 minutes to come up with 50 questions,” he said. “And, if you can’t do it yourself, ask a partner. Then, you’ve got 50 blog posts, right there.”

What about video?

“There are all sorts of benefits to using video on your website,” Mac Chorlton, vice president of business development at Tweedee Productions LLC, Madison, said.

Research suggests that video increases a customer’s likelihood to buy a product or service. And, since there are so many sites without video, adding video can help your website stand out.

Many law firms use video to introduce attorneys, and explain their backgrounds and areas of expertise.

“Choosing an attorney is a very personal decision,” Chorlton said. “Those videos can help familiarize people with the attorney and identify with them on a personal level.”

Run time is one of the most important considerations with video, he said.

“Length can be a deterrent,” he warned. “Most website visitors will look at the length of a video prior to viewing. If the video is perceived as being too much of a time investment, you may lose them. So, for most website videos, we usually try to keep them to three minutes or less.”

The bottom line

Above all else, Pulizzi said, remember to just be helpful.

“Be consistent. Talk like a human being. Fill a need for your customers,” he said. “Tell a different story, not just the same story but a little better. If you can’t discern your content from your six competitors, you’ve got a problem.”

And don’t confuse marketing with selling, Banes said.

“It really needs to be informational to the audience,” he said. “Otherwise, the consumer will go somewhere else for the information. You have to build trust with integrity and actually provide your consumers with value.”

To maximize your reach, Pulizzi said, “Give away as much information as you can.”

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