f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

April 14, 2004

Selling the Perception of Expertise

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 5:58 am

Kevin O’Keefe has replied to my qualms [e.g., here and there] over the “turnkey” weblog services offered by his new company lexBlog Inc.  My concerns, to be more precise, are that services like lexBlog may

  • be overselling the ability of weblogs to generate clients for lawyers;
  • be overstating a weblog’s ability to build the reputation of the editor/owner of the site, when initial and ongoing content will be provided by the service, not the lawyer; and
  • create a false perception, among members of the public and the profession, of the expertise of a weblog’s lawyer-editor (who may simply be “publisher” rather than “editor” of the site)
Kevin’s first comment dealt mostly with the issue of attracting clients. In my response, I stated, inter alia, that I was concerned about a lawyer using services such as LexBlog to buy the content, commentary, and compassionate caring upon which his or her “reputation” will be built.  That prompted Kevin’s second Comment, on the “ghost-writer” issue that I call Absentee Weblogging or “reputation by proxy.”  Here’s his argument:

“Assume we offer content that is helpful to thousands of average Americans and lawyers complement that with their own contributions because they now have an easy to use site and better yet the lawyer begins to interact with ordinary people via the comment feature on their blog. What is bad about that? If a lawyer does not supplement the content and people still receive helpful info they are not getting now, is that bad? If we have violated the rules of the ‘blog police’ that only content written by the lawyer hosting a site because the site is being operated on blog software as opposed to a very expensive data base driven content management site, that most lawyers could never afford, I plead guilty. But I will be proud of my effort to provide lawyers an easy to use tool that helps people. – Kevin”

It’s hard to disagree with Kevin’s info utopia — free, accessible, useful information is good.  However, if a lawyer wants to start a weblog, and plans to personally provide the content, there would be little reason to hire a turnkey service to design and set one up — good-looking, multi-featured weblogs are simply too easy and inexpensive to start (see elawyer’s “necktie” analogy).  Of course, I would have no problem with a lawyer choosing to pay for a start-up service, so long as he or she has been given realistic expectations about its marketing potential.

However, from its description of itself, lexBlog’s focus seems to be providing “content, content, content” for the lawyer who “do[es] not have the time to publish content,” rather than providing services for the hands-on editor.   LexBlog is marketing its premium services as a magic plan “that will utterly solidify your reputation as a trusted expert in your field and locale” — with the new weblogger “launched to the forefront of your area of practice, perceived as a leading authority by the public, colleagues, the media and clients.”
!key 2 Kevin asks “what is bad about this?”  I say
  1. It’s bad for the client or referring lawyer, if they are deceived about the level of expertise (or caring) of the weblog owner.
  2. It’s bad for the lawyer paying for the content services, if he or she believes that spoonfed content will create the personal touch that has been the hallmark of successful weblogs.
  3. And, it’s bad for the weblog community, if the personal voice and integrity that have nurtured the weblog phenomenon are diluted with ersatz personalities, ersatz caring and ersatz expertise.
laptop in bed flip LexBlog is selling the perception of expertise.  By analogy, it’s reasoning suggests that owning an Olympic Medal is just as significant when it was bought from a pawn shop as when earned in competition.  Kevin quotes Rebecca Blood from The Weblog Handbook, saying that weblogs really do build reputations quickly, but he leaves out the all-important basis given by Blood for that reputation: The individual editor demonstrates (and may actually acquire) his or her expertise and integrity through the process of searching the Web daily for information, news, and articles; then sifting through it, and choosing, summarizing, analyzing the material selected.  (see Blood’s quotation in our prior post)
  • Evan Schaeffer says in his Comments to the original posting: “Am I troubled that a law firm might publish a blog that isn’t written by one of its lawyers? In my opinion, there should be a clear indication on the blog that someone other than a firm lawyer has provided the content.”

As ethicalEsq opined in February, “The notion of ghost-written weblogs scares me.  . . . [T]hey signal a new kind of weblogging devoid of the very spark of life that has put magic into this way of communicating and created a community.  Going from weblog as “the unedited voice of an individual” to weblog as the fabricated voice (and image) created for an individual lawyer will turn this fresh community into a stale commodity.  And it won’t work as a marketing tool, because what makes a weblog “good” and attracts repeat visitors is a strong personal voice, content that is interesting and well said, and rapid response time.  [“The Good, The Bad and the Blogly,” by Glenn Harlan Reynolds] Those are three elements very unlikely to come from Blogs-R-Us.

pointerDudeSm Kevin and LexBlog stress that the legal profession is one of the least reputed in American society, and says that “blogs can help” improve the lawyer’s public image.  The well-organized, informative weblog that demonstrates the knowledge and humanity of an individual lawyer or firm may indeed increase public trust.  But, I fail to see how letting lawyers purchase a “reputation as a trusted expert” will do so.

  • lexBlog wants to piggy-back on the goodwill generated by the weblog phenomenon, without assuring its main ingredient — the personally-involved editor.  It reminds me of the time my Mother told me she never puts saffron in her paella.  “You ought to call it something else,” was my reply.  Maybe “lexSite” would be more palatable.

Afterthought (04-14-04): lexBlog and similar marketing services offer to help the weblog owner with search engine optimizationethicalEsq is run by a guy with no patience for manipulating tags, templates and keywords (whatever that means).  Nontheless, we’re pleased to see that we just came in second on Google when searching “lexBlog +lawyers.”  We came in fourth when only searching “lexBlog,” just behind Lex Alexander’s Blog on the Run, and a lexblog on zogblaster (edited by an interesting, 20-something young woman in NYC).  We snuck in ahead of leXblog on skyblog, which is in French, and on April 6th posted a picture of the front and back of a $20 bill and a $50 bill.  Even the clueless can stumble into optimization.

  • Update (04-22-04) I’m pleased to report that Kevin O’Keefe has re-written the lexBlog premium services page, removing a quotation from author Rebecca Blood, which we discussed above (as well as here), noting it was taken out of context (leaving out the importance of hands-on weblogging for achieving expertise and authority status), and which seemed to suggest that Ms. Blood endorsed lexBlog’s services.
  • post retirement follow-up (Feb. 1, 2010): The ever-vigilant Carolyn Elefant, Scott Greenfield, and Mark Bennett are still patrolling against ghost-written blawgs.  I’m glad they’re willing to stand up against this blight on our profession and the blawgisphere, but it sure is sad that this mangy dog wasn’t put down a long time ago.

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