In case you hadn’t noticed, the web is big. There are seemingly unlimited sites to visit, sign up for, build a profile for, participate in, etc. It can be very overwhelming—especially for lawyers who are already stretched for time before the Internet.
I’m often asked about the what, where, and how much time should be spent online. And of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. As you might suspect, it depends on a variety of factors. But I thought I might provide some guidance and things to consider in budgeting time online.
How Much Time Do I Need to Spend Online?
The answer is none. You don’t need to spend any time online. In terms of business development, there are a variety of other things you can do that will likely be more effective (especially in the short term) to develop more business for your practice.
But since you’re still reading this post, you probably aren’t very satisfied with this answer. So, let’s think about some of the things you might want to do online to build your professional profile.
Listening and Consuming
Do you regularly consume news and information online? If so, you don’t have to add this time. If not, this is where your first investments should be made. Before you even get into writing, sharing, discussing, and otherwise participating online, you would be well-served to listen.
Identify people and places that are “talking” online and start to follow them. Add their blogs to your Google Reader. Set up Google Alerts to follow discussions that involve topics you’re interested in. You can also set up alerts to listen for posts that include your name and firm name.
The more time you spend listening and consuming information online, the more you will be able to contribute to the conversations.
Publishing “stuff” online is probably the single most important thing you can do. It’s also the most time-consuming and requires the most amount of skill—which probably goes a long way in explaining why it’s so valuable. Not everyone is willing to commit to online publishing. And of those that are, many less are actually good at it.
In terms of time investment, depending on your skill and inspiration, a 300-500 word blog post will generally take about an hour. Obviously, this is a very general guideline. Therefore, if you’re doing posts of this nature, you should expect to spend a couple of hours per week to publish a couple of posts per week.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about how frequently you should publish. Just keep in mind that at some point, some of your readers might view your blog as stale if you’re not posting there. Does that happen in a week, a month, or a year? Depends upon the reader.
My suggestion is to shoot for two or three posts per week. And if you’re struggling with posting something worth reading at that clip, simply start with one.
The key is to actually schedule some time dedicated to content development. Put it on your calendar.
While I do place slightly more value on publishing posts and articles, publishing comments is almost just as important. Commenting on news articles, blog posts, and even social threads is a good way to introduce yourself to authors and communities online.
So that there is no misunderstanding, I’m not talking about comment spam. I’m talking about legitimate comments that you post under your name.
Posting comments allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of an issue and build rapport with both the author and the author’s audience.
Most sites and blogs have comment forms that allow you to enter your name and email. Some even permit you to enter a link back to your website or blog. By providing a thoughtful comment and including a link, where appropriate, back to your site, you can attract new visitors from other blogs. For attracting visitors in the short-term, this is a very effective way to participate.
With regard to time investments, commenting can take very little time. Especially when the article or post is on subject matter of which you are an expert.
Just like posting blog entries, the key is to make it part of your routine. Whether you consume and comment once or twice per week or daily, I encourage you to actually set some time aside for commenting. Even spending 10 to 15 minutes reading and commenting online can have a significant impact on your ability to meet new people online and attract attention to your own site or blog.
While some lawyers are still very reluctant to participate in legal question and answer sites due to ethical concerns, I have seen lawyers provide answers that are compliant with bar rules and also very helpful to readers.
When participating in Q&A sites, my advice is to limit your answers to subject matter with which you are most familiar. I would also caution lawyers not to provide answers in states in which they are not licensed. I know many lawyers still do this, but I think it’s wise to focus only on answering questions that you can truly provide insight for, in jurisdictions in which you are licensed. Also, keep your answers general. While this may limit your ability to thoroughly answer the question, I think it’s important to be clear that the person who posted the question should talk to an experienced lawyer in their state about the specifics of their situation. Does that make Q&A sites completely valueless? I don’t think so.
You will quickly find that there are many Q&A sites to choose from. Pick just a couple to get started. If you’re not doing so already, I recommend taking a look at Avvo.
Again, 15-20 minutes is a good starting point here.
Then there is social networking. While I think social networking can provide access to others like never before, I would place it lower in priority to the other activities we’ve discussed.
If you have the time to participate in social networking activities, focus on meeting people and having conversations. Avoid the temptation to create pseudo-accounts and auto-feed blog posts. Listen first. Find people that are talking about topics that interest you. Start by interacting with people you know offline.
Do more @replying than tweeting. Build lists to organize people you follow by topic or social group. Don’t let social networking become a distraction.
Let the time that you spend on social media be determined by the conversations that you are having. If people with whom you want to have a discourse are engaging you online, then you might consider taking more time to respond. Don’t spend time lurking on Twitter looking for potential clients.
A Day on the Internet
Here’s how a day on the internet might look:
- Check your Reader: 30 minutes
- Commenting: 15 minutes
- Write a blog post: 1 hour
- Answer someone’s question: 15 minutes
- Participate in a discussion (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn): 15 minutes
That’s 2 hours and 15 minutes, which might sound like a lot. If it does, scale it back. Maybe you drop social networking and Q&A sites. Maybe you focus on consuming and commenting only. Find the time during your commute, waiting in line, or around meals.
Think about these tools in the context of other communications tools. Your phone and email can be incredibly wasteful time suckers as well if you allow them to be. Filter out the noise and focus on the people and discussions that interest you.
There is no magic amount of time that will turn the internet into a business development machine. On the other hand, ignoring the internet completely is a missed opportunity.