Seriously, bar associations have a lot of stuff.  No matter how unique bars may be, I know there is a shared  struggle to get a lot of information out to members, leadership, the public, and other key audiences all at the same time.  When I served as the Director of Communications for the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA), one of the biggest challenges the communications team faced was consistently competing with ourselves — marketing myriad programs and initiatives to the same groups, using the same channels, and trying to cut through our own clutter.  Message fatigue in the bar world world is real, and we’re never quite sure that our most critical messages are the ones that are the most visible. Am I the only one who would visibly cringe when a member would say “I didn’t know we did that?”

In an attempt to organize all of our content, and provide a guide for our internal team of “what goes where,” we created a content management framework, as a supplement to our three-year Communication Plan. For the purpose of our framework, we considered our content to be anything from run-of-the-mill CLE announcements to legal ethics opinions and substantive articles from our publications. Though there are formalized and mechanized content management systems, what we used was incredibly rudimentary — as in, it is a series of excel worksheets in one workbook. Seriously, that’s it. But it worked for us at the time.

What Do We Have?

The first step in drafting the framework was listing and categorizing all of our content – creating an “inventory” to draw from for our different communications mediums.  Next, we worked to determine which content was most relevant and spoke to the association’s bigger goals and objectives.  Our communications plan called for positioning the SDCBA as San Diego’s legal information “hub,” while also positioning the organization as a thought-leader in different areas of the profession that are most meaningful to  members.  For the SDCBA, at the time, critical content content talked about the following topics: Technology for Lawyers, Social Media for Lawyers, Basic Information on Different Areas of the Law (for members and the public), Law Practice Management, Legal Ethics, and Current News/Trends.

What Do We Need?

After reviewing our inventory, and the content categories where we were looking to be more vocal or demonstrate leadership, we made a list of the holes we need to fill and how to get the kind of content we are seeking.  While a lot of the content we were wanted had been generated by volunteer writers, we recognized that there are also a plethora of bloggers, journalists, law professors, and others who are writing on these topics constantly, and who we often turn to for reprint permission when their content is in line with our goals and strategy.

What Goes Where?

Our next step was to define which channels we were using for which messages.  For example, we determined that the Twitter feed would be used for “substantive articles both created by the SDCBA and culled from the internet. (With an) Emphasis on SDCBA serving as thought leaders, curators of important information, and a filter for highlighting content that might be meaningful to members, adding value whenever possible and logical.” Whereas the Facebook feed would be used for “information best displayed visually. Events and pictures from events, member recognition and community service. (A) place to showcase the ‘good’ lawyers do and the diversity and reach of various bar programs.”  Thus, this became the venue to show pictures from special member events, like our annual Shred/Recycle Day, our signature events, and Bar Center amenities, and a place to thank our sponsors and highlight our member benefit partners.

When Does It Go Where?

Finally, we created a “flow.”  This showed where premium content (in each of our categories) first appears and where it goes after its debut.  For example, our technology column first appeared in San Diego Lawyer, then is edited to become a blog post, which is then promoted on Twitter, and then used in our daily Lexology e-blast as our Tuesday “Tech Tip.”  Another example: an “Ethics in Brief” article appears every other week in our weekly e-publication, This Week at the Bar, which is distributed every Monday.  The same article is then highlighted in our daily Lexology e-blast the following Thursday, and then posted to our blog the same day, and then finally makes its way to our online ethics article archive.

Of course, as is the case with any bar association-related plan, flexibility is key, as priorities and programs are consistently changing.  When we created this framework, we had no doubt that we would be asked at times to promote a particular program “everywhere.”  Our strategy wasn’t rigid — it was intended to serve as a guide for the Association’s internal team, to provide some structure and lessen “clutter,” and to give greater visibility to the initiatives that were most important to the SDCBA at any given time.  No “cookie-cutter” content strategy will work for every bar association, but this method gave us greater control of our content overall.