I swear every time I read a new article about community building in the new virtual world we’re living it, I get different information and read contrasting tactics/ arguments from community managers trying to figure it out. Remember when COVID first hit back in February, and the information coming out changed on the daily? “You can get this virus in the air…” “you can only get this virus in droplets on surfaces”….”this virus is only effecting older populations”…”we’re now seeing children and youth infected with this virus as well…” “it should only last through the summer, the high temperatures will kill the virus…” “this virus isn’t going away any time soon…” You get the point.

Researching community building and successful community-driven companies has unraveled the same issue. “Measure success by engagement and replies to posts/ track website traffic and click-throughs often”…”quantity of replies doesn’t matter, focus on the quality of engagement for true successful community building” …”healthy communities are always growing and deepening their reach”…”healthy communities are tight knit and drive high quality experiences” “size doesn’t matter actually” the list could go on. Here’s a few examples, just from the last few days.

               

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The topic is often subjective to what the community driver/ motivator is looking to get out of the community  (ie. a strong business reputation, networking opportunities, ROI of community) rather than building the framework with the community for the community (thanks Bailey for being the pioneer of this concept). While all those things listed are important and worthwhile to dive into as well, community builders must start at ground level and work their way up, rather than visa versa. I learned this the hard way.

I started this role by focusing on “How do we get more members in the network? How do we get people to interact more frequently with one another? How do we measure success of connections between people? How do we offer value to clients/ members?” rather than “What are we trying to achieve here? What are these clients telling us they need through support tickets and questions each day? Where are we lacking the resources? What are the goals of this community? Why do we think it’s important?” Measuring and implementing tactics before assessing and brainstorming motives is like trying to build a four story building with only nails and a hammer.

Slow down, go back to the drawing board, and pretend you’re back in the 5th grade outlining an essay. Who, what, when, where, why – just start there. Who? Legal Bloggers. What? Building a community of authentic and real connections. Why? Because relationships are the foundation of this industry, and our product is the medium of building these relationships. Because we believe authentic community changes everything. Dive into these goals and what the value of these goals will add to this community this year, 5 years from now, 20 years from now, and as long as online legal blogs are used. Lay a firm foundation before you try to hang the drywall. Hang the drywall before you begin buying decor to fill the home.

I suggest that community managers are placing more emphasis on how to measure and how to achieve rather than why it matters and what value it adds. Don’t get me wrong – this is crucially important as well (I’ve read every one of those articles and bookmarked them for when we begin the execution and implementation phase of this building), but it also muddies the water for leaders trying to understand what the goals of community are, who community is for (who it’s with), and why it matters at all.

There are a million ways to approach community, but there are few ways to measure its health. I’ve joined countless slack channels for community gurus, innovators, and consultants. It seems that quite literally everyone is spending their days trying to measure engagement, track success, and quantify community. I’m sure that works for many companies, especially those who have a standard or competition to compare their results with. But what about in legal tech, where community is highly unchartered yet desperately needed.  In an industry where individualism is valued and a book of business is built on a lawyer to lawyer basis, or at best a firm by firm basis. Lawyers can respect, refer, and build their network with other lawyers their whole career – but do they really know reputations and character of the lawyers out there? Do they trust one another and feel confident collaborating with them when crafting content for clients or curating information for their blog posts? What does community look like in the age of digital publications?

What I’m looking for are a few things. Community within various legal industries. Community within states, locale, or key metropolitan cities. Community within bar associations. Community between clients and lawyers. Community between seasoned lawyers, community between new lawyers, community between law students. All of these smaller, broken down communities will make up one larger community – a community bigger than ourselves.

These communities will have their own goals, their own purpose, and their own functionalities, but will be serving the same cause for the same people. Expanding legal services to all people, for good. Hunter Walk, previous director of product management at Google and now partner of Homebrew VC, articulated it best in his article “‘Coming for the Content, Staying for the Community’ Started With Video Games (Or Maybe Religion?) But Will Define Media This Decade” He writes,

Over the last year I’ve started paying more indie creators directly for their work — heavily biased towards podcasts and newsletters/blogs. The other night I was wondering which ones I’d likely still be subscribing to a year or two from now. The “absolutely yes” category was dominated by creators who had branched beyond their initial piece of content and created some persistent space for the community to aggregate. What they’ve done is use their content to assemble an audience and then create a space for that audience to create content with each other — aka community. In some cases the space is an extension of the content, talking about that week’s newsletter or podcast. But the most interesting ones broaden to envelop the general common interest areas of the group.

Queue a legal directory broken up by the criteria listed above – practice area, state, locale, key cities, bar associations, niche, etc. Lawyers will use their blogs to create content with one another, share resources with one another, refer one another, and build deep, authentic relationships with one another through their online publications. Portals will be built based on shared interest over a topic or state and will form communities around targeted, relevant, timely information for readers on the internet.

The legal blogging industry is void of a strong community with endless possibilities for change – we’re just getting started, dipping our toes into the unknown. LexBlog is ready to dive headfirst.

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