Dennis Kennedy is a lawyer who practises in Missouri. He has a very successful blog (or should that be blawg?) which gets more hits per month than most blogs will get in a lifetime. In a wide-ranging phone interview Dennis had some extremely interesting things to say about the current state of the blogosphere and where it's going.
JH What's the purpose of the blog? What are you trying to achieve with your blog?
DK I always like to tell people that when I first started to do the blog, I truly saw it as an experiment in writing. I had done a whole lot of writing on different legal publications and I had done it in a certain style and it's been very successful. I decided I wanted to try some different things and let my writing find a new audience and I thought that the blog would be part of that. But I also was leaving a law firm to start up my own business and I thought the blog would be at the same time a way to get the word out about what I was doing, to cover some issues and, in an informational way, to market my expertise, my practice and my business.
JH Do you have any idea who reads the blog and in what numbers?
DK No, I don't have. I know this is going to sound weird but in a way I don't really care about the numbers. I have some numbers and I can tell you that the traffic to my website in the two years I've had the blog has basically gone up about fifteen fold. Before I started the blog I had a site where I was very happy with the numbers on it and I was getting 12 to 15 thousand hits a month and I thought that was phenomenal, I was really pleased with that. In December I was just a shade under 200,000 hits which is amazing, and the majority of those are going to the blog.
JH How effective has the blog been in generating business? Are you able to measure the ROI?
DK A lot of people are looking and that and there's been a lot of discussion especially in the last few months. Somebody was saying that they had worked up some sort of calculations and figured that the average blogger probably spends around $10,000 worth of time on his or her blog during the course of the year. That sounds plausible to me. You know, it's just adding up the time you spend writing it and doing the research that's related to it. I would say that, being a lawyer, what I find is that is hasn't generated a lot of business. That's because due to regulations here in the US I have a licence to practice law in Missouri, so I need Missouri clients. The contacts that I will get will typically be from California or Florida, that sort of thing, so that won't turn into business for me of the classic law practice type. Where I've found it's helped me is in visibility, in speaking appearances, getting paid to write articles and the consulting side but not so much on the law practice side except in the sense that it builds a general reputation.
JH I notice you don't have comments enabled on your blog. Is that a deliberate decision?
DK Yeah, that was very deliberate and I'm really questioning that these days but the fact is that blogging goes in different ways, people have different approaches to it. I see blogging as a publication vehicle first and foremost and so my feeling was always that this is my blog and I'm writing my stuff and if you want to write something, either comment privately by e-mail or criticise or talk about what I'm doing on your own blog. So that was always my approach and the comment spam also deterred me. I've written about that and I've said I can't pick up the phone because people are calling me with some sort of Direct Marketing thing all the time. Spam ruined e-mail for me, I'm not going to give the spammers another platform to ruin blogging, which is something I really love. So that's a piece of it and the other thing is I see comments as something you need to look at and manage and respond to and to me it's hard enough to keep up with e-mail, it's hard enough to do all those other things. I really don't need to give myself another place, especially a public space where I need to check things and respond.
JH What would you say were the benefits of blogs as a marketing tool particularly for lawyers? It seems to have emerged as a genre of its own.
DK I think that you get the quick credibility for having expertise in a subject matter. I think that happens very quickly with blogs. I think that potentially, because of the way that the Google search engine is working these days, that blogs just really jump you into the search engines quickly and up your rankings. It's hard to underestimate that.
JH Have you ever thought of putting ads on your blog? With 200,000 hits a month, there must be some potential there.
DK I've looked at that and I've given it a lot of thought. Last year I did some sponsor things on the blog just as an experiment. It worked well for me but I don't like the advertising model and the whole notion of the randomly served ads. My latest theory that I haven't really written about yet is that it's not the advertising model that works for blogging, it's more what I call the entertainment model in that as a blogger you have this great credibility, you have an audience and you have a trust with your audience and popularity. It's almost like the benefit to people is that they can hire you to make personal appearances or for speaking, that you can sell products, that you can do endorsements. It's almost like you're an entertainer in a very limited way. That's one of the ways I'm looking as a better way to turn blogging into a revenue stream. That to me is a lot more preferable than just saying I'll serve up a bunch of ads and make 17 dollars a month from putting random ads on my site. I want to protect the credibility and I want to build on things that help me and I'm just not sure that for the average blogger, especially on a niche topic or even a blog that's associated with your business, that the advertising model really makes sense. It causes more problems than it's worth.
JH Do you see any weaknesses or threats with regard to the blog as a marketing medium?
JH Do you see any weaknesses or threats with regard to the blog as a marketing medium?
DK It's interesting because I think that blogging is kind of the sideshow and that the real change is coming through RSS.
JH At one point I think you described RSS as a 'life altering technology.'
DK I have this new term - I've become 'feed dominant' because after all these years of being on the Internet and living in a browser, I now use this newsreader called FeedDemon and because the browser is built into it's become the way I experience the web. I don't go to the point of saying that if you don't have a feed, you don't exist, which some people will say, but I don't actually type in URLs and go to sites anymore so it's very important for me to find the feed.
JH Do you see any other developments taking place in the blogosphere?
DK I look at blogging and say it is a writer's medium and podcasting is interesting because that opens it up to people who are more comfortable with audio but you know not everybody wants to be a publisher, not everybody wants to live in the blogging world. I think there's going to be some sort of a backlash against bloggers this coming year. It's just the nature of how the news media and people view things. You build something up to be popular and then you knock it down. I see some of that. There'll be some shakeout in what blogging is but I think that it's tapped into something really amazing and I think that the collaboration and the people who start to work together will be the real story behind blogging and whether blogs continue to exist in the form that they do. As a lawyer, I worry about when the lawyers come into blogging and what kind kind of regulation and what kind of liabilities and sorts of things are going to come in. I worry to some extent about consolidation of the industry and any number of things that can happen. We live in a dangerous world and it's possible that something could happen that drastically either takes down the Internet or drastically affects it or that it's locked down in certain ways that you won't have this free ranging discussion and use of technology that you see in blogs now. I mean those things are concerns but I'm more interested in where it's going to go and how it evolves. The other thing I think that's an inevitable backlash is that everybody's saying blogging is this great marketing tool, we'll accomplish all these things and 80-90% of the people who do that aren't going to find that to be the case. It's not in their temperament, they're not going to be willing to do the hard work that it takes and they're not going to love it in the way that the initial generation of bloggers really loved it and that'll make the difference.