Understanding the Web’s Next Generation Can Secure Advantages

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: The Daily Journal

Many attorneys and law firms still present themselves only up to the limits of the initial World Wide Web, often referred to as Web 1.0.  These Web 1.0 sites generally offer a “one size fits all” approach.

The next generation of the Internet, called Web 2.0, has arrived, offering opportunities to provide much richer, more targeted content.  Understanding just a few basics about Web 2.0 and social media can give you a competitive advantage.

What’s 2.0 All About?

While Web 1.0 opened up a new world with Web sites and search engines, its biggest limitations are associated with the presentation of mostly static pages and images based on technical standards developed nearly 20 years ago.  Another limitation is that you have to actively track down what you’re looking for by going to a search engine or a specific Web site; information does not readily come to you.  In essence, you are “pulling” information from the Web.

Web 2.0 is not a new technology; you don’t need to buy a new computer, although you may need to update your software, some of which can be downloaded for free. Web 2.0 is all about distributing and sharing knowledge, and collaborating. Web 1.0 gives you the opportunity to create an online presence; Web 2.0 vastly expands the ability to produce and “push” rich content that is more closely targeted to the specific interests of Web users.

An example of this is content distribution through RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds, which “syndicate” your content and distribute that content to interested parties who may never have even visited your website. Subscribers to RSS feeds are automatically notified and updated when your site adds new content.

Why Jump on the Bandwagon?

Surveys consistently show the majority of lawyers and firms are resistant to embracing the latest technologies (with the exception of PDAs such as Blackberry devices).  However, early adopters of new technologies have the advantage of positioning themselves as innovators and leaders, and capture opportunities before the field gets crowded.  Also, most likely your clients are already incorporating aspects of Web 2.0 into their daily work — developing their own content-rich Web sites; and creating their own networks on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.  In addition, because Web 2.0 lets you push information to target markets, it has the potential to reinforce your online presence and showcase your expertise, thereby exponentially increasing your visibility and credibility.

Where Do You Start?

Explore the options – start with selecting a couple of social networking sites to see which ones make the most sense for you to invest time in.  Between updating your LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, AVVO, Facebook and other similar social networking sites, you can spend your entire day online.  LinkedIn is really the social networking site for professionals, so start exploring there. Create your profile and invite colleagues, referral sources and key clients to be part of your network.

If you have already received an invitation to join someone else’s LinkedIn network, but didn’t know what it was, accept the invitation now. While you’re at it, also join some of the LinkedIn discussion groups and become a visible contributor.  Your contributions need not be long; rather, they should address specific issues raised by others, or important new issues that should be on the radar of your clients and referral peers.

Make sure your firm is on solid ground with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 content.  Your Web site should be fresh and kept up-to-date with timely content.  Stale “brochureware,” (i.e., essentially an online version of your firm’s brochure) is the fastest way to drive away visitors, and to be low in search engine rankings.

Cover at least the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) with carefully crafted page titles, descriptions, keywords, and other meta-tags.

If you’re already blogging (or blawging), make sure you’re providing RSS feeds of new content, and that you connect your RSS feed to the key feed aggregators, such as FeedBurner.com (recently acquired by Google).  If you’re considering starting a blog/blawg, make sure that you’re committed for the long term to posting on a regular basis.  Short posts are better than stale posts.

Being linked to by other blogs/blawgs is the real way to get wider visibility, since the links give you increasing credibility and community respect for your knowledge and the value of your postings.

Make the content on your Web site easy to find. Let’s say you posted multiple articles that relate to the subject—digital content. A Web user who performs a basic search for this term on your site may not be able to find all of the relevant articles because not all of them contain the exact phrase “digital content” although they deal with that subject matter. The solution is to add blog-like “tags” and “categories” to each article that people can click on to access other articles related to the topic. You can also tag and categorize your blog posts and material you distribute through other online channels.

Get involved in others’ online conversations. Identify and subscribe to legal blawgs or industry blogs that are of interest to you.  Contribute regularly to the dialogue.

Leverage your content. Web 2.0 may seem like just so much sizzle, but it’s really all about the substance — your content. Lawyers are consistently creating material that can make terrific content expanding the knowledge base on your subject, and expanding your visibility as an expert on that subject. Demonstrate your expertise to your markets by posting your recent presentation or article to your Web site, your blog/blawg, and list it on your LinkedIn and AVVO profiles.

Whether it’s Web 1.0 or Web 2.0, the basic marketing principles continue to apply. Once you’ve explored your options, you need to develop a strategic game plan to ensure ROI from your online presence. Determine where you are going to focus your efforts and online marketing time.   Web marketing is a component of your marketing strategy; it should not be your only marketing strategy.

Web 2.0 is changing the PR world. Optimize your press releases by linking words to lead to your website and the material you want to showcase. Link an attorney’s name in your release to that individual’s bio page on the Web site and the practice area named to your practice area description.

Link your in-person networking to your online network. When you go to a meeting, ask your contacts to join your online network. You can even create your own group to continue your in-person discussions online.

Potential Pitfalls

Webs 2.0 offers tremendous opportunities, but beware of potential pitfalls. Your plan should include clear firm policies to manage your online presence and communication.  Here are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed: Which attorneys are allowed to blog on behalf of the firm? Partners only?  Associates (with or without partner review/approval)?  Who owns the blog — the lawyer or the firm? You can see that you’re getting into new and thorny territory.

Web 2.0 is about sharing and collaborating, so an overt sales pitch is frowned upon. Your “selling” will happen automatically as you demonstrate your expertise through valuable and fresh content, and as you build networks and establish a leadership position in your practice area.

Take the Lead

Grappling with a new technology and approach to marketing is always difficult at first. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. At this point, many law firms and their marketing departments are still scratching their heads as they contemplate the possibilities of Web 2.0. Everyone gets the feeling that something is there, but no one is exactly sure how to make it work. You now know the basics, so why not be the innovator who leads the pack?

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.

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