How best to collaborate writing articles in lawfirms or accountancy firms

Oh the horror! Collaborative authoring of articles in professional services firms

In a world where attention is increasingly hard to get from buyers, and content marketing has decimated traditional advertising, it seems like a good idea to spread the burden of writing articles as much as you can across your professional services firm.

Yet how do you square this literary collectivism with the idea that partners or communications specialists also want to shape and/or have the final say on articles?

The traditional waterfall-style approach has been to email a Word doc around. So the article gets written by junior solicitor X, who sends it to partner Y for editing, who then forwards it to marcoms person Z who, after they’ve dealt with an urgent tender, edits further (sometimes circling back to X or Y), formats to HTML, uploads, and pronounces ready for publication.

And of course this is necessary because in a risk-averse professional services environment you don’t want clients seeing something that’s incorrect.

Sounds an entirely reasonable process right? Well except for the following four factors:

  1. Incorrect articles aren’t the same as incorrect client advice because you’re not sending out the article itself (or shouldn’t for numerous reasons like reader trackability) – you’re sending out a link to the article where it resides on your own website. So if you decide you want a change it takes five minutes and for most firms the initial number of reads will be small anyway (the average for an article in Australia over the first 6 months after publication is 154 pageviews based on the custom Google Analytics reporting we do for many firms).
  2. Fancy modern web content management systems (CMS’s) run by most lawfirms and accountancy practices support multi-authored documents and warn you that at that specific moment someone is editing an article and lock it. So … [gulp] …. multiple people can work at the same time on the unpublished article on the website itself (goodbye Word…) negating the wait while the article is ‘with’ someone else [the horror, the horror again].
  3. Modern CMS’s also have revision tracking built in. So you can quickly see colour-highlighted changes made by someone else and even set roles so that, for example, some authors can edit but not publish.
  4. If you’re writing very large multi-chapter documents (books for traditional publishers or even large tenders) there are specialist web-based systems out there like Booktype that are being used to produce large fiction and non-fiction projects with multiple authors.

Our experience is that true collaborative authoring makes some people very uncomfortable, “this is going to make this article a dog’s breakfast” they say, or, “having other people see my work before it’s ready will wreck my creative flow.” And what about author egos (some authors may be loathe to expose early drafts) or just plain bad writing (you saw it here first)?

So as a result many firms will struggle to move away from older waterfall-style authoring methods.

But for firms not inclined to embrace new collaborative authoring methods it’s worth remembering Encyclopaedia Britannica. It was a great business until Wikipedia enabled thousands of [horribly unqualified] people to jointly create masses of content and revise quickly – Wikipedia being that authoritative website you likely read all the time – with an unassailable position near the top of search engine results.

Volume and speed are really important on the web: a competitor with a more collaborative authoring process can write more articles than you with the same number of staff, and also get something out commenting on a new development 2-3 days before you do. And that same competitor may also be better about revising older – but still high traffic – articles, something many firms don’t do at all.

Now those outcomes sound pretty horrible too don’t they?