Henry James, Shareable Content, What Keeps Your Client Up at Night, and Your Law Firm’s Brand Visibility

Recently in San Francisco during the LMA Tech conference, LXBN’s Colin O’Keefe asked me a question about “shareable content” to which I gave a rather unsatisfying answer. You can watch the video above to see for yourself.

This quick video Q&A came moments after a panel in which I (along with Stefanie Marrone of Mayer Brown and Elizabeth Duffy of Acritas) spoke about market intelligence, social media, and law firm branding. Here, below, is what I probably should have said in answer to Colin. Equally a ramble, just a few more details thrown in for good measure.

During the panel I shared this quote from a recent Forbes piece on content marketing and branding (bold mine):

…content marketing enables brands to share their story in long form and in their own words. An incredible sea of change in the way information is shared and distributed online means that for the first time ever, any brand can create its own content affordably and at scale. The story can come in the form of blogs, articles, reviews, ebooks or videos…

It’s a sentiment you hear time and again these days (“use social media to share your story”)¬† and I offered the quote because I actually disagree with it.

Inevitably, any student of fiction (read: storytelling) eventually arrives at the observation made by Henry James (one of America’s greatest writers) that there are two types of good stories: one in which a reader recognizes a character; another in which a reader identifies with a particular character in the story. (My paraphrase.)

When you recognize a character, you see someone who is not you, but who is rendered well enough that you can understand them – you can sympathize with their life. When you identify with a character, you are saying: “This is me. This is my story. Wow, someone who gets me.” Of the latter, I suspect you have read one or two such stories in your lifetime. Powerful stuff.

When you are out to increase visibility for your professional service – for your brand – I think it best not to tell your own story, but to tell the story of the people you are trying to reach.

People don’t care about your story. They won’t try very hard to recognize themselves in it. However, if you write on the matters they do care about — if they identify — well, then you get to tell your story in a way that has deeper impact.

I have thousands of daily examples of law firm content that fits the bill of “being shareable” – but it’s hard to be formulaic about it and say: here’s what all of these pieces of content have in common.

Other than that one element, that abstraction. Most shared content sees the world through the eyes of the intended reader, addressing what matters most to them.

One example. A while ago, a law firm marketer contacted me and said one particular article was generating a lot of buzz – and, for that matter, a lot of qualified leads. Question was: what to do next?

We talked about what to do next, but we also talked about why I thought the piece worked. And I thought it worked because it wasn’t about technology, or IP law, or legal implications of doing business online. At the heart of it, the update was about something much simpler: what should I do if someone steals my idea?

I suspect there are a lot of people who could identify with that.