When we were building ABAJournal.com in 2007, we wanted the site to foster a sense of community among lawyers. But we didn’t go about that in the typical way.
At the time, many business-to-business publications were creating their own social networking sites, all trying to become the Facebook for [fill in the blank]. I didn’t think that profession-specific social networks would be successful. It’s a view that proved controversial when I voiced it at a magazine trade show in 2008, but I think it has since been largely proven correct.
Profession-specific social networking sites generally miss the crucial ingredient that make Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so successful – they don’t include the profession’s clients. If a professional networking site doesn’t allow a user to develop new business, it serves no purpose.
So rather than serving as the hub of the legal profession’s social network, we saw ABAJournal.com as just one more member – albeit an influential one – of that network. And we set about providing some of the glue that would bind the legal community together online.
We viewed our constantly updated feed of the latest legal stories as providing the raw materials for the growing community of legal bloggers who commented on the news of the day. Opening our site to anyone, rather than limiting access to just members of the ABA, was an important way to support that community. Doing so also maximized our traffic and our ad revenue.
We noticed there was no comprehensive online directory of legal blogs. So we created one. (It’s hard to believe today, but in 2007 it was still a matter for debate whether news websites should link to other sites.)
The directory categorized each blog by subject matter, the kind of author (partner, associate, judge, etc.), and the state or court that the author wrote about. Each entry included the blog’s 10 latest headlines. As of July 2011, the directory included more than 3,000 blogs.
To provide more granular access to that blog network, with a technology partner we built a search engine that covers those blogs, allowing users to find the latest commentary on any particular subject directly from the search box on every page of ABAJournal.com.
We also wanted to spotlight the newest and best blogs, and created a feedback loop to do so. We asked our readers to nominate what they considered to be the best legal blogs (also known as “blawgs”). From those nominations and our own research, our editors selected the best in a dozen categories for our annual Blawg 100 magazine cover story. We then asked our readers to pick their favorites in each category, with the annual online balloting attracting as many as 25,000 votes. Category winners were then listed online and in the magazine.
Each week on the site and in our email newsletter, which has a circulation of 400,000, we spotlighted a noteworthy blog, which was often related to the topic of a breaking news story. Each Friday one of our editors posted a roundup of some of the most interesting commentary in her Around the Blawosphere online column. Between weekly installments, she highlighted blawgosphere posts in her Blawg Whisperer Twitter account.
And at the ABA’s annual TechShow conference, in conjunction with a company that markets blogging services to attorneys, we hosted a Beer for Blawgers cocktail hour, where virtual friends could meet in person.
By knitting the legal community together online, ABAJournal.com became an essential resource for that community.