As we all know, especially we senior lawyers (and especially me!), the Internet has become an ever growing part of each and every one of our lives. If we want to continue to practice law, in fact, just effectively communicate, we had best come into the 21st century world of communication. For example, do we still need to ask ourselves what is a blog? I think so because there are many misconceptions regarding blogs, and their importance is more relevant than one may think. But, perhaps as part of the older generation (ugh!), we’ve never really learned what a “blog” is, why they exist, and why we old timers really should care. What follows is a basic explanation for those of us that find this stuff a mystery.
A blog is a discussion or informational site published on the world wide web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). Until about four or five years ago, blogs were usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and usually covered a single subject. More recently “multi-author blogs” (MABs) have developed, with posts written by large numbers of authors and professionally edited. MABs from newspapers, other media outlets, universities, think tanks, ISBA Committees and Section Councils and the like, interest groups and similar institutions account for an increasing quantity of blog traffic. The rise of Twitter and other “microblogging” systems helped evolve single-author blogs into societal newstreams—(ouch!).
At a recent meeting of the marketing committee of the ISBA/Mutual Insurance Company, one of the more respected (and more senior) committee members suggested we use blogs to market our malpractice insurance coverage to more ISBA members. As my fellow senior counselor and friend Ron Guild pointed out at the meeting, a 2011 Social Media Examiner article named the top ten business blogs. That list includes Southwest Air, Proctor and Gamble, and Disney parks. These companies are certainly not similar to the ISBA MIC, but there are several that are. Topping the list are a specialty tea distributor, an organic dairy distributor, and a seller of Western wear for women. Note that all three have a limited appeal to a limited audience, which certainly describes a service useful only to Illinois lawyers in private practice in firms with 1 to 50 employees. A similar article lists 15 companies with popular blogs, with some overlap to the previous list. That list includes Amazon, Accenture, Dell, Lenovo, 37 Signals, Adobe, BBC, Sun Microsystems, FreshBooks, Marriott, Seagate, GM and Quicken.
Many major retailers and manufacturers, service organizations, hotels and restaurant chains use blogs. The ability to publish content online (and largely control what is published) is an asset to almost all businesses from solo lawyers, architects and doctors to the largest corporations in the country.
Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function more as online brand advertising for a particular individual or company. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (art blogs), photographs (photoblogs), videos (video blogs or “vlogs”), music (MP3 blogs), or audio (podcasts). A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, webpages, and other media related to its topic.
To put it in terms we ISBA gray beards can understand, a blog is basically a type of website, or part of a website, that is similar to a forum and allows users to publish or contribute their thoughts in a chronological fashion, all while the website regularly updates the content. Over the last decade, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories.
The main misconception about blogs comes from people that associate blogs with their content. Many people think of blogs as online diaries where people share their opinions, ramblings and personal events. While a blog may fit that definition, it is just one of the many things you can do with a blog. Blogs are used for a plethora of purposes. As mentioned above, companies use blogs to communicate and interact with customers and other interested parties. Newspapers have incorporated blogs into their main website to offer a new channel for their writers. Additionally, individuals create blogs to share their expertise with the world on specific topics. Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries; and others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important feature contributing to the popularity of many blogs.
Those who blog (“bloggers”) now provide nearly-instant commentary on, for example televised events, thus creating a secondary meaning of the word “blogging”: to simultaneously transcribe and comment on speeches and events shown on television. (For example, “I am blogging Obama’s speech” means “I am posting my reactions to the President’s address into my blog as I watch him on television or listen to him on the radio.”) Real-time commentary is sometimes referred to as “liveblogging.”
In the early 2000’s, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion-forming. The Democratic and Republican Parties’ conventions credentialed bloggers, and blogs became a standard part of the publicity arsenal. Some blogs were an important news source, for example, during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and the aftermath. A few blogs, located in New Orleans, including the Interdictor and Gulfsails, were able to maintain power and an internet connection and disseminate information that was not covered by the mainstream media.
As senior lawyers, as the gray beards of our profession, we may or may not become bloggers. We may or may not turn to and utilize blogs, but it behooves us to at least know what a blog is, why such a thing exists, and how perhaps we can avail ourselves of blogs. More things to complicate our lives – darn! ■