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To Blog Right, You Need to Imagine Your Audience

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Of all of the commandments of blogging, know and write for your audience ranks at the top of the list.  But for those who blog to silent crowds who never email or send comments, the primary source of information about our readers comes through statistical data generated by our stat counters on the popularity of certain posts or referral sources or search term origination. So like dutiful marketers, we use our blogs to deliver the goods, writing posts that respond to the Google searches that bring readers to our site or reprising the topics that are a hit as defined by the numbers.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, if you merely want to use your blog to market to clients or build SEO – to  flawg (fake blog) as some have called it.  But if you want to take your blog to another level, to establish the kind of intimacy that some wrongly contend has been supplanted by immediacy or to educate the public, as we lawyers are encouraged to do, or to inspire, you need to imagine your audience.

What I mean by imagine your audience is to visualize the individual readers, from those who stumble across your site online to those who dutifully read your updates daily. Where are they reading your blog – in a Starbucks? Their office? At a basement computer after the kids are in bed? Are they dressed in stiff work clothes or wearing pajamas? Are they using an news reader to catch up on posts – or do they actually visit the site to get the information?  Do they print out your posts in a public library because they don’t have a printer at home, or scroll through them casually on their smartphone while riding the subway to a suburban mansion? By imagining these details, you can refine the form of your post to match your audience’s circumstances – for example, enlarging the font or brightening the page if you suspect folks are reading in dimly lit areas, or including an easy print or PDF option if your audience prefers hard copy.

Here at MyShingle, I’ve been imagining my audience every day for over nine years. I imagine the stressed out biglaw associate exhausted from another grueling day of document review who surreptitiously reads my site after her colleagues have left and plots her own escape. I imagine the law student clad in sweats, cramming for an exam in the darkened bowels of the law library who’s procrastinating from studying by scanning my site and dreaming of hanging a shingle and becoming the best criminal defense lawyer in the state. I imagine the mom who left a law firm a decade ago to raise kids and who wants to re-enter the profession, the young dad who’s sick of never seeing his kids while they’re awake during the week, the middle aged government lawyer sleepwalking his way through claims files, wondering whether he’s wasted his career, the lonely solo who’s struggling to make ends meets and the cutting edge solo hungry for every piece of cutting edge marketing and technology information that’s out there. Sometimes, I even imagine the close minded, elitist lawyers who find my site after it’s been linked in a more conventional trade press, and sniping about how solo and small firm lawyers are just a bunch of bottom feeders who couldn’t find a real jobs. I imagine all of these readers and more, and I write not so much for them (certainly, not for that last category!), as to them.

More than any other incentive, imagining my audience inspires me to keep churning out copy, week after week, year after year. Because the post that I write about how not to handle a mistake might motivate a solo who “borrowed” a few hundred dollars from a trust account to pay rent to turn himself into the bar and make amends rather than continuing on and losing his license. The post that I write about starting a firm before it’s too late may convince a talented lawyer intent on running from the law to start her own firm instead, and who goes on to defend, and spare a wrongly accused client from a life sentence.

In your own case, your post might make an abused wife realize that she can leave her abusive husband without losing custody of her kids, or that the destitute family tormented by debt collectors can seek relief. Your post criticizing a judge’s ruling on an important legal issue might find a sympathetic ear on the appellate court and change the law for the better. All it takes is one post to change someone’s mind or someone’s destiny and in doing so, you can change the world. Imagine that.

  • shg

    An excellent post, Carolyn. Every once in a while, I get a note from a judge telling me that they appreciated a point I made, and that it influenced their decision.  The other evening, at a cocktail party, I was told that an old friend who had moved away years ago was sending links to my posts to the person who remained, and was chatting with me at the party.

    Unless someone tells us, we have real clue who is reading our posts or what, if anything, they get from them.  To the extent we hope to have a positive impact on others, even though we may have no way to test whether our efforts are producing any results, we can only imagine the readers we hope to reach and do our best to meet their needs.producing

  • Carolyn: Here’s a third approach: Write for yourself. That’s what I do.

    I blog primarily because it serves as a great way to keep myself on top of my subject and prepare material for the next edition of my book. If there are like-minded folk out there, so much the better.

    If I were blogging just for the marketing value, or just to commune with my readers, I would have crapped out long ago.


  • another interesting post, and great advice. Here’s what I do when I do any writing, whether it’s legal or educational.
    1. I don’t even get out the paper until I figure out my primary objective. I craft that as carefully as I do my audience, or target population.
    2. I do as Carolyn says: what does my target population look like? I’m going to write a lot differently for a group of nuclear engineers than I would for lawyers who are frustrated with their practice.
    3. What’s my audience’s prime need and problem?
    4. then I write to solve all three.

    That’s what keeps me writing. When a law student gets an interview based on tips aI wrote in, I keep writing. When a nuclear operator in Canada calls to say I gave him fuel for a policy dispute at work, I keep writing. 

    SO I guess I’d better get back to writing, before I start sounding like Tom Joad.

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