So, I’ve been toying around with SearchMe today. It’s a cool visual search engine (click on the screenshot to the right to see it). Still in beta form, but it’s open registration to try it out. I think it’s pretty cool. The whole premise is that you see the pages that come back in a search. They’re categorized and easy to scroll through. You can choose to see text results as well.
My search for “law school blog” yielded some interesting results. It also brought me back to a question I’ve had for a while but haven’t yet asked here: Can someone please point me to a good law school blog written by a member of the school’s administration or that is otherwise quasi-official? Our school has two that I know of (Admissions and Financial Aid).
(Incidentally, kudos to Catholic Law on the site redesign. I’m sure you’ve been working on it for a while. Well done!)
The trouble is there aren’t many. Those that exist seem to be, like Catholic’s or this one, updated sparingly and with information that is not totally useful or just downright uninteresting.
In this regard, law schools are missing a golden opportunity that law students, professors, and practitioners are capitalizing on (see e.g. The Blawg 100 – I count 13 blogs from the “Ivory Tower,” none written by administrators). Are you telling me there are no law school Deans with something interesting to say? Our Dean, for one, is an interesting, intelligent, warm and engaging person who cares very deeply for her students, her community (she grew around the corner from our school), and her law school (she’s a CUA grad). She could easily develop a very solid blog about any number of things.
So, why aren’t these folks writing blogs? Setting aside the affirmative defense of time, I can see no real excuse for the complete lack of blogs from law school deans and administrators.
At their core, blogs make your school – or any organization using one – more accessible, more findable, and more transparent. Rather than creating a monster you can’t control, blogs facilitate discussion and provide access to people who might not otherwise have a voice. This is why more and more law firms – big and small – are employing them. Here’s the deal though. A blog isn’t a license to write 10,000 analyses of emerging legal issues. A blog can be many things, but not that. More than anything, a blog gives you a genuine voice beyond the official boilerplate students have difficulty getting past. In addition a blog can provide a number of other advantages:
- First, a frequently updated blog is search engine gold. The intrasite and external linking that comes with a good blog translates into better search results without an over-priced SEO consultant (most of them are).
- Second, and flowing from the first, the prospective law student who searches for “law schools in DC” gets a variety of links, many of which pertain to stats about your school (i.e. your US News ranking listed on some tool’s website). Your blog will compete for attention in relevant searches with this web garbage. That puts a human face on your school and allows you to influence how people discover information on your school through web search.
- Third, also flowing from the previous, it helps people see how smart you are. Not in the pejorative sense, but in the way that people come to understand how valuable you are to the law school community, how you view the legal education experience, and what motivates you (i.e. hopes for students, prestige for law school, justice…). By seeing how smart you are, they can see how smart they would be to choose your school.
- Fourth, a blog provides a channel of communication to students and the community through which you can distribute press releases, respond to negative news, highlight good stories, showcase faculty, cool alumni profiles, interview staff, share announcements, video posts, podcasts, and humanize the “big, bad” administration (which I’m sure many law student sneer at each time they realize a staple course won’t fit into their schedule).
- Fifth, it’s not a channel, it’s the unifying channel. Think about the core audiences you’re trying to reach for various reasons: potential students, donors, alumni, potential faculty, media, law firms, government agencies, the community, and industry/thought leaders. That’s a diverse list that cuts across an equally diverse set of demographic boundaries. My guess is that there is a different marketing strategy for each audience. A blog can serve to bring a number of messaging and marketing functions under a central umbrella so that each strategy for specific audiences can play off the life taken on by the blog. Plus, more and more people are eschewing traditional forms of communication – traditional media, mail, phone (at least the phone that you can access through the phone book), etc. My guess is that your fundraisers have realized this.
However, a blog is not a cure-all. There are limits and some pitfalls to avoid:
- Minutiae. While at times you just need to get the facts about the FAFSA out there, but make your blogging voice about more than the little details of law school administration.
- Write well. Work with a student editor (Hint: I work in PR, do blog development for clients, and I’m a law student) who understands what constitutes good blogging. He or she doesn’t need edit your stuff but they can and doesn’t need to be a student. Just establish a relationship with someone who can advise on content and suggest good ideas.
- The Big Picture. By virtue of your interaction with other schools and your management position you may have interesting thoughts on the role of law school in a legal career and, by extension, the role of law in society generally.
- Don’t Bury It. Please don’t bury it on your site. To be worth your investment of time and talent, it should be prominently linked to (if not showcased) on your school’s homepage.
- Be Genuine. If you’re not willing to develop an authentic voice beyond your role as President or Registrar or Provost or whatever don’t bother with a blog. Developing an authentic voice doesn’t mean contriving something that isn’t you or that is just a corporate persona. It simply means finding your writing sweet spot that captures your thought and feelings without boring everyone to tears.
- Mind the time. Don’t get me wrong here. Blogs take time. It will require that you set aside some time to write it – perhaps like a weekly column or something. But over time, you will develop a series of themes and writing interests that will define your blog’s brand and place within the “blogosphere.”
That in mind here’s a way to conceptualize the ends to which your blog can work:
- First, the blog is a means of sharing regular, pithy, interesting writing about your school and your views about legal issues.
- Second, the blog is a means of helping people see beyond rankings and other web noise to the heart of your school.
- Third, the blog is an important distribution mechanism for the stories you try so hard to get attention for in e-mails, newsletters, PR, and expensive printed marketing pieces.
- Fourth, the blog is a means to position yourself as an expert in something.
- Fifth, the blog is a means to draw students into a meaningful dialogue – both as writers, contributors, and commenters – about the law school experience.