Content marketing can be a tricky business to get right at the best of times. When you're trying to create content in an industry that has additional challenges, you can't afford to be anything but strategic in your approach.

However, it would appear that law firms are still getting it together when it comes to being strategic with their content marketing. Research and Markets' '2015 State of Digital & Content Marketing for Law Firms Survey' revealed that little more than one in ten (13%) law firms have a documented content strategy.

'2015 State of Digital & Content Marketing for Law Firms Survey' revealed that little more than one in ten (13%) law firms have a documented content strategy.
To reap all of its benefits, law firms need to lay out where content fits in with the bigger picture – how it can be used to meet organisational objectives.

So, what exactly does an effective content marketing strategy look like if you're a law firm? We spoke with Stephensons' Head of Marketing, Sarah Boustouller, to discuss what a content strategy should comprise in 2017.

Like any business, law firms have an array of channels to pick from to engage customers and prospects - customers aren't using just one or two, so nor should you. In the same breath, it's a criminal waste of time and money to use a channel just because it's there. You need to be choosing your channels in line with your target audience's habits and behaviours - don't rule anything out until you've done your research.

Stephensons' marketing team work across the web, social media, email and beyond. They create and distribute content based on where the need is, and who it is aimed at.

To ensure that they are putting content out through the right channels, Sarah and her team carried out Mosaic profiling of Stephensons' client base to allow them to better understand the demographics, lifestyles, preferences and behaviours of the people who are reading the content.

They then team this insight with what they know about the different channels, to adopt a tone of voice that will resonate with the audience it is aimed at.

"We do all social media ourselves," Sarah revealed. "As well as looking at channel and tone of voice, we also analyse the best times of the day to post our content.
"For our e-mail marketing, we've invested in a product called dotmailer, which means we can time our content around what we call 'life events'; only sending them things they are interested in."

If you assumed that the more visual platforms were off limits for law firms, then think again. Like we said earlier, you should never rule anything out based on an assumption.

Today's consumers are crying out for visual content and who's to say that your clients are any different?

Creating visual content also helps to negate a common complaint we hear from legal marketing teams: the struggle to produce content that is engaging and suitable for marketing purposes. Visual content can only work if it's engaging, so by its nature, it demands that the creating team tone down the legalese language and use more accessible, social media-friendly English.
Also, we shouldn't forget that a good percentage of a law firm's target audiences will have no legal training, so there's a real need to keep language easily understood, without dumbing it down.

Stephensons has recently started to create content for Instagram, allowing it to show the people behind its brand. Instagram also acts as a platform to show its followers what it's achieved in terms of corporate social responsibility, with the pictures backing up what the firm claims to have done.

Video also forms a strong part of its content marketing strategy. Stephensons regularly upload new content to YouTube, with videos for every part of the client journey. Educational videos might introduce prospects to Stephensons' services, while testimonial videos give them confidence that they're making the right choice in choosing them.

Stephensons has been creating videos for four years, making them one of the first in the industry to engage with the platform. Video has helped them in terms of SEO, conversion journey and bounce rates.

Some of the most popular videos have enjoyed thousands of views - but views aren't always everything, Sarah explained.

"It depends on the how relevant a piece of video content is to the wider population. You would expect to see higher volume views on topics such as moving house, for instance, as more of the population is likely to encounter this life event than other types of legal service."

Being able to optimise and improve your content marketing relies upon measuring the success of your efforts so far and identifying areas of improvement.

In this day and age, with all the available technology to facilitate measurement, you shouldn't be leaving any stone unturned - every single campaign and piece of content should be analysed to draw insights.

"We try to measure content to the Nth Degree," Sarah told us. "If it's the web, it's not always the visitor numbers that we measure – they're for vanity, not for sanity. Conversion volumes are a better indicator of the success of a campaign. We use tracking software which shows us if visitors have come from paid, social or PPC, and then we try to attribute the enquiries to where they've come from."
To manage social media analytics, Stephensons has just upgraded its Hootsuite subscription, so the team can now pull in all the relevant data from the different channels without having to do it manually.
"Again, we're more concerned with engagement levels than follower numbers. If we push out content and nobody's engaging, then we're not really doing it effectively. We look at how much traffic has come from social – this year, for example, referral traffic from social sources has gone up 40% versus last year."
For e-mail marketing, meanwhile, dotmailer allows the team to see open rates, click-through rates and what people have read.

The Stephensons team are "drawing graphs of everything", but it seems to be paying off.

For content marketing to be a success in any business, there needs to be buy-in from the entire organisation. Without it, the marketing team could find themselves struggling for resources, both in zterms of budget and expertise.

Getting buy-in also helps build trust that you're not going bring the company into disrepute with the content you create - a worry that often prevents senior partners from committing fully to content marketing.

The best content is often a collaborative effort, whereby employees across departments come together to create something that the marketing team would have had little chance of doing on their own.

Stephensons attributes its collaborative approach to content marketing as the reason behind why it's able to maintain a steady stream of content, relating to all the different service areas of the business. It's adopted something of a unique approach, with all the different departments of the business contributing content.

The marketing team have carried out a lot of work to educate the different departments in content marketing – what it takes to create engaging content, what the value of content is to the business etc.

Stephensons has got blog rotas in all the different departments and incentivises each department to write blogs by running competitions, with vouchers handed out to those with the most-read content.

Not only does this approach produce lots of content, with service specialists behind the creation, it ensures that content is expertly written.

One of the unique challenges that law firms face is around malpractice liability. The potential for this arises when people do as the law firm suggests and it doesn't work out for them.

Firms try to protect themselves from this type of liability by making it clear in the publication that it is not intended to be legal advice. However, there remains a hesitancy in the industry about using channels to the full, for fear of being caught out.

Stephensons has taken proactive action to ensure its content marketing efforts are not inhibited by the threat of legal action against it.

"To get over that, we've had defamation training," Sarah said. "So when we blog on something, we've given people the blogging defamation training so that they don't end up liable for what they've said in the blog. Also, before a piece is deemed fit to be published, a person in marketing dual signs it off with the department head."
It's this sort of attention to detail that puts Stephensons ahead of the curve with its content marketing. It's committed to creating focussed campaigns, using all the tools, resources and channels that are available to it to engage with clients. It's always looking for strategic enhancements, too, by measuring campaigns and learning from insights.

It just shows that you don't have to scale back your content marketing just because you operate in a 'difficult' industry – a good marketing team (internal or external) will be able to overcome any challenges that lay in wake and really develop this valuable channel to its full potential. To find out how we can help, get in touch.