Blogging for Lawyers: Surprise and Challenge, but Don’t Provoke

A blog post about Twitter for professionals, entitled “Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too)” ,  is a great example of the law of unintended consequences in social media marketing. The commentary on the post’s content and the SEO strategy behind it is far more interesting and insightful than the original (Check out Samantha Collier’s and Adrian Dayton’s thoughtful treatments of the kerfuffle), and the author has been pilloried and likely suffered damage to her reputation in the process.

What the author, forensic accountant Tracy Coenen, did is not new nor particularly controversial. Executed with prudence and skill, “linkbaiting” and taking contrarian and controversial positions on your blog can be extremely effective for driving word-of-mouth traffic and building influence. Top-tier bloggers do it all the time.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here. But we can learn from Coenen’s mistakes.

How to Win Friends and Influence People with Challenging Blog Posts

  • Don’t play dumb: If you promote yourself as one of the most successful online marketers in your field as Coenen does, it’s either disingenuous or dishonest to act surprised and affronted when called out for behaving like it. An obvious linkbaiting headline, provocative content, cross-linking the post on other online properties (it was cross-promoted and continues to be discussed on a LinkedIn group), and responding to commentary about it on other blogs demonstrate an intentional strategy for creating “buzz.”
  • Don’t be prescriptive: Especially if the “data” you’re using is just the anecdotal opinions of you and your friends. Just because something hasn’t worked for you (or, as in Tracy’s case, she’s doing it wrong in the first place), don’t presume your position is definitive for entire classes of people.
  • Leave yourself some outs: When it looks like the tide of opinion has turned decidedly against you, there’s nothing to be gained by doubling down to prove you’re right. People forgive a little hyperbole and polemic license as long as you acknowledge that you might have overstated your case a smidge. Which leads me to my final point…
  • Don’t play the victim — or demonize people who challenge what you wrote: If you’re going to make bold, provocative statements, then your skin should be thick enough (and your rhetoric smooth enough) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous opinion. In her comments on the LinkedIn thread, instead of addressing the merits of their arguments, Coenen attempts to discredit her detractors by labelling them as social media “cool kids” in the thrall of latest fads, or as professional marketers out to dupe unsuspecting lawyers and accountants. What would Dale Carnegie say about that?

Notwithstanding, Coenen’s done professional services marketing a great service (albeit unintentionally) by demonstrating how provocative commentary can generate interesting and insightful discussion, but that it can also backfire on the author if not executed well.

Comments

  1. Great post Jay. I love the heading “How to Win Friends and Influence People with Challenging Blog Posts”. I might just have to steal that from you!! I’ll source you of course. 🙂

    • Jay Pinkert says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Samantha!

      You, Nancy Myrland and Gini Dietrich are great examples of how to take bold positions while constructively engaging both people who agree with your argument, and those who disagree.

      P.S. I hereby grant permission to use that line, with correct attribution 🙂

  2. Tracy Coenen says:

    There was no linkbaiting involved… only my honest assessment of Twitter for lawyers and accountants, and posting of my article to LinkedIn to get a discussion going.

    I’m not sure how you think my reputation is damaged because I told laywers and accountants that for most of them Twitter is not useful for developing business. I certainly don’t view it that way, and don’t believe for a second that any of my clients or potential clients would think that my opinion of Twitter diminishes my credibility.

    • Jay Pinkert says:

      And there you are, as predicted. Welcome!

      Your denials just don’t ring true. Your success in social media is the key testimony against you. My theory of the case is that you knew exactly what you were doing but either didn’t anticipate the responses you got, or did, and are reaping the benefits of the publicity. Further, intent is not relevant here. How others perceive your content and actions is the standard. If it walks like linkbait and squawks like linkbait, it’s linkbait.

      Further, it’s not your opposition to Twitter that has eroded your credibility, it’s the obtuse and at times petty way you presented and merchandized it, and in the way you’re handling the blowback.

      That you are making the blog rounds doing spin control demonstrates my point about probable reputation damage. If my opinion doesn’t matter to your current or potential clients, why bother to comment here? If I’m a troll, don’t feed me.

      BTW, one of my Twitter followers let me know that he’d recently contacted you for help on a case, but is now thinking twice about it. That’s why I could make the assertion about probable reputation damage. It might not translate into lost sales in the near term — and I genuinely hope it doesn’t — but it does place an asterisk on your personal brand; a vulnerability you didn’t have before and an issue that’s distracting you from your business. That was the genesis of my post; one can stimulate discussion without creating controversy, because controversy is rarely good for business.

      The more you comment, the longer the story stays alive and the greater the probability that SEO will start surfacing these exchanges. Do you want to be known as the “Twitter crank,” or as the accomplished and successful forensic accountant you are?

      Let it go.

      And FYI, I’ve gotten one

  3. Tracy Coenen says:

    I don’t even see that there has been a “blowback.” There has been an interesting discussion with differing viewpoints, but that is all it has been to me.

    Yes, I knew that my article would stimulate discussion on the topic, and I’m glad that has happened. It has been an interesting and (mostly) civil discussion, and I stand by the comments I have made about the issue.

    I’ve commented on some blogs and on LinkedIn, not because I think there’s some “damage control” that needs to be done or spin that must be made. I’ve commented to clarify my position, particularly if someone has made an incorrect assumption.

    I’m not sure why engaging in the discussion is seen as a negative by you. If I didn’t participate in the conversation, I’d probably be accused of hiding and not being willing to stand behind my original comments. I lose either way.

    You seem to want this to be some horrible situation, but I just don’t see it that way.

    The discussion has likely helped some people to make a decision about Twitter, has caused some people to take some sort of action in regard to Twitter, and has gotten others interested in looking for different ways to make Twitter useful to them. I see nothing wrong with any of these.

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