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Vol. 38, No. 2

Digital and print: How to tell your bar’s story

by Marilyn Cavicchia

“We’re storytellers first,” said Tim Eigo, editor of the State Bar of Arizona’s Arizona Attorney. “Everything else is just strategy.”

Eigo’s main message during a program at the 2013 NABE Communications Section Workshop in Portland, Ore., was that bar communicators should embrace social media and other relatively new tools—and should not buy into any fears that their supervisors or bar leaders might have about them.

For example, Eigo is frustrated by the idea that bar associations must have a social media policy. This is overly burdensome, he believes, and other tools, such as phones and fax machines, are not regarded with a similar level of concern.

And as for communicators who fear that adding social media and other digital platforms will pile onto their already busy schedules, Eigo and co-presenter Patricia McConnico, managing editor of Texas Bar Journal at the State Bar of Texas, offered ways that print and digital can play off each other without necessarily doubling the workload.

For example, Eigo said, he assisted with an article last year for Arizona Attorney on merit selection of judges. In the month before and the month after the print publication came out, he addressed the topic on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog as well—and didn’t find that this involved much extra work.

“My brain was already on merit selection,” he explained. “I was thinking about it and reading about it—why not share it with readers?”

For those with a competitive spirit, building the bar’s digital presence can open up “new avenues for communicators to love their jobs again,” Eigo believes. “You can beat the competition in ways that bar journals never could before.”

Different but complementary

It’s important to avoid just putting print content online as-is and calling it a day, Eigo and McConnico agreed; different media require different techniques, and each should complement, not duplicate, the other.

McConnico gave an example from her previous publication, Texas Monthly. Three years ago, it ran an article about a young professional skateboarder who died of the most common childhood cancer. The online version offered additional content that was not available in print, such as a Q&A with the author of the article and an interview with the skater’s parents, with voiceover done by the author.

The publication took the extra step of reaching out to bloggers in the skateboarding world and asking them to link to the article; this resulted in “lots of exposure” among people who might not otherwise read Texas Monthly, McConnico noted.

It’s also possible, she said, to keep things very simple on social media or other digital platforms, and then follow up with more depth in print. When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was the keynote speaker at the State Bar of Texas’s annual meeting, she recalled, he threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers baseball game. The Journal tweeted about it, with photos, at the time that this happened, and then covered it more fully in the next print issue.

To stay organized, she added, the Journal maintains a chart that tracks what is being communicated by whom, and in what particular forum.

Confronting fears head-on

Whether on the bar’s website or in social media, making a real impact online takes some bravado and some willingness to experiment, Eigo believes. “I’m willing to learn in public,” he said, “and I’m not afraid of learning in community.”

But how well does that kind of boldness play with bar leaders, many of whom have approached social media and other digital communications with some trepidation?

Eigo mentioned a few of the more common fears and objections and explained why they’re not a good reason to hang back. For example: “The online world is filled with error. Why join in?”

In fact, Eigo said, research shows that there’s no evidence that mistakes are more prevalent online than in print. And, he added, “If you talk to people about the errors they remember, they’re all in print.” Whereas blunders like “Dewey Defeats Truman” are indelible, he explained—even if they’re eventually retracted—if you do make a mistake online, it can be corrected almost immediately.

Another misconception, he said, is “Online’s all about glitz. Bars can’t compete.” In fact, he noted, the web has become a place for up-to-the-minute, newsworthy information.

“When news breaks,” he said, “we start to think of Twitter.” Indeed, that’s where Eigo looks first when there’s something going on—and not the Associated Press or the home page for his local newspaper.

As for the notion that bar associations can’t compete with other organizations or companies that have a significant online presence, Eigo said that when it comes to having a trusted, recognizable brand, bar communicators are “crushing it” (a popular expression that means doing something really well).

In fact, he said, many for-profit companies that are on social media are jealous of bar associations and other organizations that are “oozing content.” While a company might struggle to rise in the Google search ranks with news about, say, storm windows, a bar association always has an event or something else worth talking about.

Eigo reiterated that going out on a limb by using Twitter, blogs, and other tools doesn’t necessarily make a bar communicator feel tired and overworked. In fact, he said, “It enlivens your work life—and transforms the publication.”

New media, new tools

McConnico and Eigo mentioned many websites, apps, and other tools that help them create and manage their online communications. Among them:

  • Soundslides, to create and share online slideshows, with or without audio;
  • SoundNote, which allows you to type and record at the same time;
  • Audacity, an open source suite for audio recording and editing;
  • Adobe Creative Cloud, which allows access to InDesign, Dreamweaver, and other products for a small (relative to buying the software outright) monthly fee;
  • Muuter, which your Twitter followers can use to temporarily block you if you’re live tweeting something that’s not of interest to them (which is better than if they “unfollow” you, Eigo noted);
  • Scrivener, a word processing and management system for documents, notes, and metadata; and
  • Umbraco, an open source content management system for online publishing.