Six Ways to Create Engaging Digital Content
COLUMN > Write to Counsel
BY JACLYN C. CELEBREZZE
The right blog post, tweet, or newsletter can bring in new clients, expand the community’s knowledge of a particular issue, or—in rare cases—spark change. Because these digital materials can be powerful tools for legal and social change, many practitioners are drafting them in addition to the motions and briefs of everyday practice. But these documents—unlike static practice documents—are interactive. How, then, should you approach this genre of writing? First, carefully consider your post’s intended purpose and audience, as these factors will dictate your format choice and post length. Then adapt your style for the digital world, as this is where your blogs, tweets, or newsletters will be found, consumed, and shared. Here are six recommendations to make it happen.
1. Purpose and Audience Guide the Way
Digital legal writing can serve a variety of purposes such as marketing, education, or advocacy.11 Jennifer Romig, “Legal Blogging and the Rhetorical Genre of Public Legal Writing,” 12 Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD 29, 30-31 (2015), available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2679398. Further, your audience reach and readers’ expectations fluctuate across digital legal documents. Therefore, before putting pen to paper, or (perhaps more aptly) readying your thumbs, ask yourself about your intended purpose, your target audience, and your readers’ expectations.
Advertise, Educate, or Empower. First, assess your writing goal. What kind of document are you trying to produce? Marketing materials alert potential clients to your firm’s capabilities and your subject-matter expertise and solidify your reputation in the community. Educational materials inform current clients or affected industries of potential changes in the law. And advocacy materials serve as a call to arms on important issues impacting your community and your practice.
May I Have Your Attention Please? After identifying your post’s purpose, think about your goal audience. Digital legal documents tend to reach one of three different groups: current clients, potential clients, or the community-at-large. Newsletters and press releases tend to reach current clients and email or website subscribers, while blogs and tweets reach the public-at-large in addition to these other groups. Perhaps because of these differences in reach, newsletters and press releases tend to be used for marketing and educational purposes, whereas blogs and tweets are used for all three purposes.
Short, Shorter, and Shortest. Once you have determined your format, consider your reader’s expectations. Uniformly, digital documents tend to be much shorter than traditional practice documents. This is not shocking; most digital documents are consumed via phone.22 See Mason Walker, Americans favor mobile devices over desktops and laptops for getting news (Nov. 19, 2019), www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/19/americans-favor-mobile-devices-over-desktops-and-laptops-for-getting-news/. Recommended word count varies, but digital materials generally decrease in length as follows: newsletters, blogs, press releases, tweets.
2. Be Succinct
Writing crisply is essential to creating powerful digital content. Time after time, studies have confirmed what we instinctively know: TL;DR.33 TL:DR, Merriam-Webster.com, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/TL%3BDR (last visited Jan. 30, 2023). Digital readers approach all content with a filter. In fact, “most people simply scan most content most of the time.”44 Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, Smart Brevity 58 (2022). And digital readers only dedicate an average of 26 seconds of time to any digital content.55 Id. at 2.
Therefore, make sure you use that time wisely.
- Avoid long quotes to case law or statutes.
- Paraphrase when possible.
- Be mindful of your format and your reader’s anticipated word count. Readers respect a writer who respects a reader’s time.
- Short sentences create movement. Plus, they’re engaging.
- To cite or not to cite: that is a question.
3. Think Visually
Bullet points, headings, infographics, and lists: each can serve a powerful role in de-densifying your content. Even an image can reduce word count and make your post more reader friendly, so long as it’s relevant.66 Id. at 124. Remember, most digital readers are skimming. By breaking up your text with these options, you invite the skimmer to pause, slow down, and read closely.
Further, remember the interactive nature of these documents. Today’s article-skimmer is tomorrow’s article-forwarder. By adding in lists and headings to serve as guideposts, you’ve given them the gist of your article, thus increasing the likelihood they will forward your post on to your goal audience. Don’t believe me? Most people do not read an article before sharing it.77 Id. at 3.
4. Word Choice Matters
As always, legalese and jargon are not welcome in your posts. Both overly complicate a good explanation. But in the digital legal writing sphere, word choice is impactful for another reason: search engine optimization (SEO). Online, half the battle is connecting the reader to relevant content. As an author, you want to make your content easy to find. SEO makes that happen.
Before drafting your latest blog, be sure to know how your goal audience refers to your topic. For example, an immigration attorney blogging about “permanent resident status” won’t reach the same audience that the immigration attorney blogging about “green cards” will. Once you’ve identified your topic and context, brainstorm terms and phrases, just as you would in preparation for legal research. If you’re stumped, consider using a keyword search tool.88 Nick Brogden, “5 Simple SEO Strategies to Improve Your Rankings,” Entrepreneur (Jan. 14, 2023), www.entrepreneur.com/growing-a-business/5-simple-seo-strategies-to-improve-your-rankings/439444. It will aid you in connecting your knowledge with your intended audience’s phrasing.
Word choice isn’t just relevant to the body and title of your post—it’s a vital component of hashtags as well. Hashtags are how you categorize and publicize the topic of your blogs and tweets. Consequently, hashtag word choice can be the difference between a post going viral and a post falling flat. In digital legal writing, anything worth writing is worth amplifying. Be sure your word choices put your post on your audience’s radar.
5. Insert Great Heading Here
In the words of Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz, the authors of Smart Brevity,
“[y]ou would never cook a gourmet meal and serve it in a dog bowl. That’s basically what you’re doing when you try to get someone to pay attention to a well-crafted thought but lose or confuse them with your teaser.”99 Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, supra note 4, at 70. Regardless of the digital format you choose, your title will serve a vital role in drawing your reader in and keeping them focused on your message. Think of the title as a cross between a point heading and a news lead: substance with a little sizzle.
Sounds great. So, how can you make that happen? Try to limit yourself to 6-10 words.1010 Id. at 68. And try to make them short words—one or two syllables.1111 Id. Remember you are drawing your reader in; trust your post to do the work of expanding and explaining.
Want another easy way to sell your reader on your post or newsletter? Point out that it’s a short ask. Add a subtitle to your post showing word count and estimated read time à la Axios.1212 Id at 124. Calculate your read time based on the average of 256 words per minute.1313 Id.
6. Proceed with Caution
Finally, a word on content. While you may want to share a significant win with potential clients and your legal industry, take a cautious approach when drafting. The ABA has issued a formal opinion advising attorneys on blogging and confidentiality.1414 Rita Aquilio, Confidentiality Obligations for Blogging Lawyers, Practice Points (Oct. 29, 2019), www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/family-law/practice/2019/confidentiality-obligations-for-blogging-lawyers/. Be sure to read Rita Aquilio’s Confidentiality Obligations for Blogging Lawyers.1515 Id. The article walks you through the ABA Formal Opinion and the model rules advising you on informed consent and further drafting considerations.1616 Id. Specifically, the article offers excellent insight on the dangers of using hypotheticals in your posts, as well as potentially identifying information, even if that information is publicly available.1717 Id.
Digital legal writing is a powerful tool to have in your firm’s toolbox. It’s dynamic, interactive, and has tremendous power to expand reach. But to maximize your writing’s impact, your posts must anticipate how digital readers will engage with your text. You must make your point and make it quickly: your reader’s attention span is short and your word count is even shorter. Use these six strategies to ensure your content will cut through the digital noise and be seen—and most importantly—heard.
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1. Jennifer Romig, “Legal Blogging and the Rhetorical Genre of Public Legal Writing,” 12 Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD 29, 30-31 (2015), available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2679398.
2. See Mason Walker, Americans favor mobile devices over desktops and laptops for getting news (Nov. 19, 2019), www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/19/americans-favor-mobile-devices-over-desktops-and-laptops-for-getting-news/.
3. TL:DR, Merriam-Webster.com, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/TL%3BDR (last visited Jan. 30, 2023).
4. Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, Smart Brevity 58 (2022).
5. Id. at 2.
6. Id. at 124.
7. Id. at 3.
8. Nick Brogden, “5 Simple SEO Strategies to Improve Your Rankings,” Entrepreneur (Jan. 14, 2023), www.entrepreneur.com/growing-a-business/5-simple-seo-strategies-to-improve-your-rankings/439444.
9. Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, supra note 4, at 70.
10. Id. at 68.
12. Id. at 124.
14. Rita Aquilio, Confidentiality Obligations for Blogging Lawyers, Practice Points (Oct. 29, 2019), www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/family-law/practice/2019/confidentiality-obligations-for-blogging-lawyers/.