The coronavirus pandemic is driving content consumption to a new level across all platforms as people are searching for information, distraction, and connection. And lawyers are rushing to meet the need with volumes of thought leadership content via blogs, articles, white papers, videos, social posts, and email alerts. As always, some of this content is spot-on – thoughtful, informative, readable, engaging. And there is still plenty of the traditional legalese offered as well – dense, formal, complicated, and way too long. I’ll skip the usual advice for making legal thought leadership content better – those last two sentences encapsulate it well, and I want to focus specifically on adapting your message for the COVID-19 crisis.
Provide Guidance with Compassion
Remember that everyone looking for advice or information as an employer or a business executive is also dealing with the coronavirus as a person, and those worlds are colliding more than ever with most people working from home. So, don’t try too hard to keep it “strictly business” – you can acknowledge that everyone is a little overwhelmed, and include some authentic concern and encouragement in your content. Employment lawyer AJ Johnson has authored a series of FAQ posts related to COVID-19 like this one “Coronavirus FAQ #3 for Employers – The CARES Act” that starts with a short, simple note of empathy before she dives into her practical legal guidance.
Adapt with Authenticity
It can be tough for lawyers to say, “I don’t know.” But this pandemic is raising unique questions and the answers change daily as new guidelines are issued and new legislation is passed at local, state and federal levels. The accurate information your clients need most has changed dramatically in the past two weeks and it will undoubtedly change again in the weeks ahead. Your thought leadership pieces may be out of date within hours of publication, but you can’t let that stop you from publishing. If you wait for absolute certainty or total clarity, you will not get to contribute to the conversation at all.
The key is to be transparent about the evolving nature of the situation – no one expects you to have all the answers right now. It’s fine to admit you can’t see into the future and that your current advice is based only on what you know now and is subject to change as quickly as the world around us is changing. Make sure all articles or posts are clearly dated so readers know if they’re reading information from yesterday or two weeks ago. Qualify your content with language that openly admits you have only had one hour to review the latest regulations before publishing your thoughts. Note where you see potential gray areas or loopholes that warrant further exploration and promise to come back to those after more research. Invite readers to post a question to your social media account that you can address in a future update.
This article “What Should Landlords and Tenants be Doing in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic?” from real estate lawyer David Waxman poses as many questions as it provides answers but knowing the right questions to ask is a good starting point for commercial real estate clients who don’t know where to begin in a situation no one has ever encountered before.
What clients need most is the assurance that whatever changes are coming, you will be among the first to know, and that you will quickly be able to help them apply new information to their own situation.
Keep it COVID-Current and Purposeful
How many emails have you received from brands and businesses to let you know how they are dealing with the coronavirus that used phrases like, “carefully monitoring” or “an abundance of caution”? Hopefully, we’re past the point of sending those initial “we’re here for you” messages now, but even in your ongoing communications, push past the standard messaging that everyone else is using and say something meaningful. If you don’t have anything new or different to say, wait until you do.
If you have a standing series of thought leadership articles or social media posts, take a hard look at them through COVID-colored glasses before you continue to publish as usual. They might still work fine, but they could come off as out-of-touch with what’s happening in the world. Ask a colleague or someone in your marketing department for their perspective. The best approach might be to adapt your series with a new introduction that addresses the reality of the coronavirus and adds an explanation of why your content continues to be relevant. This article from Pittsburgh lawyer Danielle Dietrich focuses on one of her primary practice areas: helping clients obtain diversity certifications. She subtitles her article “Gearing Up for What Comes AFTER COVID-19” and segues into her main topic only after acknowledging that every business is primarily focused on dealing with the coronavirus crisis right now. To launch directly into a discussion of these business certifications would have sounded tone-deaf right now, but her topical introduction hits the right note to make it relevant.
Lawyers have been deemed an essential business in many states across the U.S. Thought leadership is one way to prove your importance to the economy by providing vital information people need to understand how to keep business operating and people employed during this time of social and economic crisis. Take time to produce high-quality content that will be greatly appreciated by an audience hungry for answers during this time of confusion and uncertainty.