So, how exactly does LexBlog work? How do we sort through 200 posts aggregated from 23,000 bloggers through our platform each day? On June 26th, Associate Editor, Melissa Lin answered these questions and more for curious viewers.
We want to make sure everyone has a chance to learn more about how LexBlog makes editorial decisions, so we created a recorded video and transcription of Melissa’s presentation. The QA portion is also transcribed below. We hope it answers some questions for you!
If you have any additional questions for Melissa, her email and social media are linked at the bottom of the transcript.
Thank you for joining us for this webinar today on how LexBlog makes editorial decisions. We hosted one of these earlier this month for those who are interested in how LexBlog works, and it sounds like there’s still a lot of interested people who are curious about LexBlog, are intrigued by our publishing standards, and want to learn more about how they can be competitive in this community that we’ve built.
We aggregate more than 200 posts daily, 6,000 posts monthly, have 23,000 contributors and growing, and have more than 650 firms in our network, so we see a lot of content, and we take the dissemination of the quality content that we have very seriously.
My name is Melissa Lin and I’m the Associate Editor at LexBlog. I am born and raised in Seattle and my educational background is in journalism. As associate editor, I manage all of the editorial content and social media for LexBlog.com.
My role at LexBlog involves:
- Curating the content from our legal blogging community.
- Updating the front page of LexBlog.com daily.
- Recruiting new blogs, bloggers, and firms to join our network.
- Adding free members to our network.
- Providing guidance to legal bloggers or people who are interested in starting to blog on legal issues about how to make their content more editorially sound or how to get started with a blog.
- Managing all of our social media accounts, including our Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
- Engaging readers and members of our network through our social media accounts.
- Helping to manage LexBlog’s various syndication portals and publications.
We’re doing this webinar today because transparency is key for any company, but especially as a legal publishing company, we want everyone in our community to understand how our editorial values work and how we make decisions about who we include and don’t include, and how we share information.
One of our goals is to build the largest legal blogging communities online and to empower legal bloggers everywhere to put their best, most authentic content into the legal blogsphere. I want everyone here and everyone in our community to be empowered to contribute to their community, whether that be a specific practice group or a specific firm, and to realize that their contribution and insight, no matter how small, impacts the whole field and the values of the legal blogging world.
During this webinar, I’m going to talk about:
- Give a brief overview of how LexBlog works.
- Go over some terms that might be helpful.
- Go a little more in depth about my role and the editorial decisions I make.
- Discuss how we decide blogs that fit the editorial values of LexBlog and what happens once a blog is syndicated into LexBlog.
- Discuss how we decide what is considered front-page-worthy news.
- Explain how we utilize social media.
- Offer some best blogging practices to improve your engagement online.
One of the focuses that we have for this webinar in particular is the bloggers that are on our platform and how to be a little bit more competitive in this space, and rise above what you are already doing and some others that are writing about the same content.
LexBlog at a Glance
LexBlog is a managed-WordPress solution that serves legal professionals. We build blog sites, microsites, syndication portals, and aggregate the content of legal bloggers. Through these services, we now have 23,000 legal bloggers in our network, which is amazing because the last time we did this webinar there was 22,000. In that short period of time, less than a month, more people have joined us.
I manage free blog syndication and LexBlog.com. To understand blog syndication and LexBlog.com, there are a few terms that I’d like you to understand.
Syndication is a method of republishing content on other sites. Any digital content can be syndicated, but the content that we’re interested in is blogs.
RSS stands for “really simple syndication” and is a type of web feed that can be found through a URL that allows the syndication to happen. You use a feed reader like Feedly that reads RSS feeds to help you keep track of the many different websites you might be reading in a single place.
RSS Feeds are how we aggregate free member blogs versus the blogs that are on our platform–which (platform blogs) have a little bit more advanced type of syndication called JSON feeds that I’m not really going to get into. Free members, again, are people who have a blog not on the LexBlog platform. We syndicate their blogs and their RSS feeds. These members get benefits such as having another avenue of readership through LexBlog, social media highlighting from us when they’re doing good work, and their work also gets sent out on the newsletters that corresponds to the topic of the blog.
Influencers are something that is really important to our company and especially to our CEO, Kevin O’Keefe. Bloggers who are known for their blog in a practice area are considered influencers. They engage with people in the community online and are leading the discussion on issues in their area. We have a lot of influencers on LexBlog.com. There’s a lot of people that we consider as sort of role models for blogging, and I’m always happy to send or let you know who those people are if you’re ever looking for an example of how to carve out your professional presence online and if you need a role model to emulate.
Content gets indexed, and that means it gets picked up by search engines. All the content aggregated on LexBlog does not get indexed so it won’t compete with the original source, which is a very important value for us. We do not want to compete with anyone’s work. We’re trying to make their work more visible.
What Makes a Good Blog?
What makes a good blog, for both free member blogs and platform blogs? They don’t just summarize and pass along information, they add value. Readers are going to your blog because they want to hear your perspective. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be going to it.
Blog posts written as clear attempts at self promotion or showing little taste are unlikely to be included on LexBlog. There’s definitely some blogs out there that have a little bit of self promotion interspersed between their blog posts, but something that has just pure marketing for a firm will not be included.
Content that is easily scannable and visually attractive, whether that’s done through imagery or formatting, is more appealing than content that is not.
The act of bringing in outside ideas and listening to the voices around you is a really crucial part of effective blogging. Posts that demonstrate this ability while also adding value and offer unique commentary are much more likely to be included on LexBlog.
Like any other publication, we want to make sure that these posts are relevant. They have prominence and impact, meaning they address national news issues or issues affecting a large community or other relevant communities. These blogs will see a heightened level of visibility on LexBlog. Prominence and impact is not going to make the difference between a post or blog appearing on LexBlog or not, but blogs or posts that do show prominence and impact will be more likely to appear on the front page.
There are a number of reasons why we reject blogs, meaning that we don’t include them on LexBlog for syndication. Some of them may include:
- They’re not a law blog.
- Their writing is vague.
- They constantly repost others’ work or are redundant.
- They plagiarize, which is really unacceptable in any publication.
- They’re an aggregator. Since we’re an aggregator, we won’t include other aggregators.
- Self promotion is not something that we necessarily want, but it’s not a make or break. We see posts that end in a few pitches to get in touch with the firm saying, “thanks for reading my posts, please get in touch with me and my firm.” That is absolutely fine, but when that section becomes several paragraphs or is longer than the actual body of the post, that’s kind of a problem for us. Readers online don’t appreciate that as they see it as very advertorial, and we want to appeal to the readers and the community.
When we reject blogs, I also do a gut check. I would ask: Would I personally be interested in reading this blog? Would other bloggers on LexBlog find value in reading this blog? If a random reader stumbled upon this blog on our site, would I be proud to say that this is the kind of content that LexBlog supports? And if the answer to that is no, then that is a rejection from us.
When we reject blogs, we’ll send bloggers and firms notes for improvement. We genuinely do encourage people to apply again or explain some of the rationale for the way they do things, and we have included them once they’ve shown that they’ve made changes to go more in line with our editorial policies.
Carving out your identity online
Blogging is all about engaging with your community and carving out your professional identity online. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your author profile pages filled out both on LexBlog.com, on the actual blog, or on the firm page. We pull in the author profile pages that platform members create on their end.
This information is important because when I’m reading through stories daily and I’m choosing what to share, it’s much easier for me to find the source because these social media icons are visible and information about the author is clear. As a publisher, if we can’t find a person’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn profiles within five seconds, we’re not tagging you. If we think your post is amazing, we might still share your post because great content is great content no matter what. But that means you won’t know that you’ve gotten these kudos from whatever organization it is, not just us.
It is an odd feeling to share a link, share someone’s voice, and not be able to tag them and let them know that you shared them. It prevents you from engaging in a conversation with the people who do enjoy your work, and prevents you from appearing more authentic online.
Platform members can create these profiles themselves, but for free members, I will also create these profiles for them. They just need to send me the most important info about who the person is, the law they practice, the name of the firm or organization, and why they have an authority on the subject matter. One to two paragraphs is best and definitely also share the social media icons.
Front Page Criteria
I will choose stories for the front page and social media promotion based on these things:
- Unexpectedness. If an event is out of the ordinary, it’s going to have a greater effect than something that is in everyday occurrence.
- We all enjoy reading about opposition or we all just are intrigued by it. Opposition has a really dramatic effect a lot of the time, and stories with conflict are really newsworthy.
- A story that is already in the news is more accessible to the public and makes really complicated topics less ambiguous. We also like to include stories that have opportunity for followup coverage.
- Clear data and terms is important. Terms are needed to backup all information and stories for relevance.
- [Next is] reliability. I’m not going to feature a story that just says “organization was sued.” That doesn’t tell me a lot. I need to know the name of the organization, for how much, and for what reason. You’d be surprised at the number of posts that come in that are incredibly vague in that way. The only ones that are going to be featured are the posts that have specifics.
- And now, timeliness. The story relates to the topic that has happened within the last few days, has the potential to be an ongoing story, or adds new insight to a still-relevant issue. Something could be several months old, has been viewed several months ago, or has been in the news for a long time. But a post can still be considered if it really adds that extra element that makes it stand out above the previous stories.
- News that has national, international impact or sets a new precedent for a community, city, or states, or has far reaching implications that could affect many for a long time, would also be included.
- I only choose stories that have four authors or less. There are some bodies of work that have clear in-depth investigative reporting. There might be more authors who work on that post, but generally speaking, readers aren’t going to find it believable if a blog post is authored by five or more people. Therefore, I will not feature posts that have that many authors.
- Engagement of influencers, references and quotes of the commentary of readers and influencers, is really great for the front page and social media. People aren’t going to your posts to just read dry news. They like to hear commentary and voice and that doesn’t mean interjecting your opinion, but that just means being authentic with the way that you structure your work and not just following a cookie-cutter sheet.
- We like posts that show the full original article most of the time, but for posts that only show excerpts of the stories that originally appeared on other places or other legal aggregators, we won’t include that for the front page or social media.
- I have a particular interest in social justice issues. I will heavily feature issues of mental illness in the law, law school and education, energy and environmental topics, stories that highlight or impact marginalized communities, settlements involving major corporations or institutions or things that show major corruption or systemic issues, innovation in law, and also stories about the topic of legal blogging and legal publishing.
Once I choose a story for the front page, sometimes I have to edit headlines. The part that should be in the headline is the major story. That’s one way to make your story stand out, not just for us, but anywhere online, is to make the headline quite specific.
Templation and Sharing
Once we choose stories for the front page, I manually choose the templation. I choose which story is considered the most important for that day and put it on the left of the page. Secondary stories are in the middle, and then everything else is on the right side.
Once I’ve decided that these stories are feature worthy (on average 20 or more stories will be considered feature worthy everyday, although not all show up in this area), they will all be pushed out via our front-page newsletter, which you can subscribe to if you go to our subscribe page on LexBlog.
These will also always be shared on social media multiple times throughout the week. We have tweets going out every single hour of every day. Even if a story doesn’t make it to the front page, I’m going to be sharing likely around 50 to 60 stories on social media from that batch of 200. If something may not be front-page-feature worthy, it could still go on social media.
We have a lot of firms on LexBlog.com, 650 or more. There’s a way to write and make your article standout against the others, because sometimes I’ll see 10 articles from 10 different firms all written on the same topic.
How can I choose which one is going to be the best? How can I choose which one is the one that gets to the front page, or the one that gets to social media?
To do that, you have to make sure that the article has these things:
- Details, the specific, the key terms, the names.
- Imagery also helps. Imagery adds another layer of storytelling. It gives more context to your story.
- Being clear about the sources, linking to additional sources, linking to additional commentary.
- A “so what” is so simple, but it’s something that a lot of people forget and it can be anywhere in the piece. It can be in the lead, or it can be in the conclusion. Just saying, “this news has implications because…” and go from there.
- Of course, the most important thing is passion and genuine insight on the subject.
That’s enough for me to decide that something is front-page-feature worthy. Authentic voice is better than a simple dry report, although these reports or very formatted outlines about news absolutely have value in their own right. They are very valuable from a research perspective or any number of perspectives, but those aren’t the ones that I’m going to be including on the front page.
Social Media Sharing
We use a platform called Buffer to schedule the sharing of posts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. When sharing on social media, I will try to share an interesting quote, try to explain the “so what” of the article, instead of just copying and pasting the headline. I’ll also paraphrase or summarize the article.
I will always tag the firm’s or the specific blog’s social media handle, and the authors if they have social media handles. Make sure you have your social media handles accessible, otherwise you will not know if we have featured you in tweets. This is not just for us, but if you’re on social media at all, you really should be thinking about this when you’re crafting your messages online: Readers should get an explanation of what is important about the article.
Some last advice I want to offer to you today:
- Have your about section and profile pages filled out. People should know what your blog is for and what your writing is for. Is it for lawyers? Is it for contractors? Is it for contractors in a specific state or metro area? Why are you writing about this? Do you have a specific personal goal in mind? Is this topic that you’re writing about important to you, and why?
- It’s okay to be personal online. People are craving authenticity and they appreciate any sort of additional passion that you’re expressing towards your topic. Readers should know the kind of content they should expect to read on the blog, whether that’s more opinionated pieces, more blurbs, more reflections, and also why the bloggers are a good source of information. Whatever degree, whatever school you went to, or area you practice in or any other accolades that you might have.
- I encourage you to share your work. We share your work because we think it’s amazing. I honestly have the best time ever coming into work and reading all these stories every day. It’s such a privilege to read all of this compelling work and to be able to share it, and you should feel empowered to share your work as well.
- Include imagery, because you want to make sure that your post includes imagery so that it translates well to social media. The best specifications for that, generally speaking, most platforms do well with images with 1200 by 630 pixels.
Question and Answer Session
Question: Does original reporting elevate a post over aggregated post?
Answer: Original content is always going to be better than posts that are just used for marketing or SEO purposes. Readers can tell when something’s an authentic voice and someone who cares versus content that has been written for another purpose beyond informing a reader.
Question: You mention you sometimes change headlines of blog posts. Is this for SEO? Does that change the SEO for the blog post?
Answer: I want to respect bloggers’ work unless I think that I can really help them get more readers to view their work. I just edit the headline because I know that is the aspect that readers will be reading and give their attention. I do think that maybe I should explore the effects of editing the slug more. However, LexBlog does not index blogger’s posts. If you search for the headline, you’ll find that LexBlog does not appear in the search results. We do not compete with our own bloggers. This makes our readership the most organic for an aggregation site while not taking away from our bloggers.
Question: Do you need blog authors to publish a blog?
Answer: Clear authors are always going to be better than unclear authors. Of course, there is a strategy behind this. If a firm is putting out firm news that only relates to the firm, then of course it shouldn’t be from an attorney. If these are authors, who are actually writing their own stories, I would absolutely encourage them to be clear about the authorship. In any professional community, it’s all about relationships.
When you develop your presence online, you develop an identity that is not necessarily distinct from your firm, but you do have an identity in your own right. You’re not going to be harming your firm’s work by having individual authors. You’re going to be elevating it, because people are going to associate the well-written post with the blog and the blog with the firm. Associating good work with a firm can stick forever. So yes, being clear about who’s writing is really important and I encourage you to do so.
Question: Do blog posts from the Law School Blog Network appear on LexBlog.com too?
Answer: They do. You can see the Law School Blog Network’s profile and syndicated posts on LexBlog.com. We also have quite a few law schools, professors, and law academics that post as well outside the Law School Blog Network.
Question: Do you ever syndicate non-law firms, such as companies with a product?
Answer: Yes, we have law marketing companies, law tech companies, and so on. Though, they must be writing on law or law- related subjects in order to be promoted to where readers can see them. This mean self-promotional posts or posts that are too much like a sales pitch will often not get very many readers.