In this blog post, I will outline some of the ways law library directors and their teams can maximize the value of email alerts and newsletters (aka bulletins) sent to attorneys, support staff, and clients.
UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT AWARENESS NEEDS AND PERSPECTIVES OF YOUR PATRONS
Effective alerts and newsletters are often designed to provide “current awareness” and keep busy recipients informed about news and social media related to topics of interest, client development opportunities, industries, regulatory and legislative developments, and competing firms. Naturally, emails with irrelevant news are seen as a distraction and go unopened. Creating meaningful goals and performance metrics for alerts and bulletins requires understanding the interests and perspective of each patron or group. For example, marketing and business development professionals have much higher-expectations than other patrons. They may want alerts to contain actionable intelligence that results in new business leads for a specific practice area.
CAPTURE & MANAGE CURATION KNOWLEDGE
Most current awareness systems do not make the process of configuring alerts quick and easy enough for attorneys. Describing the topics, types of events of interest, the desired frequency for newsletters, and the ideal graphical format takes too long for most time-keepers. These tasks and the ongoing effort to ensure that only relevant news content is retrieved usually falls on the shoulders of the Library staff.
Because of the turnaround and global distribution of the research staff, it is important for law firms to capture knowledge about configuring alerts and newsletters including the best eResources, search queries and deliverable parameters for specific Practice Areas, types of attorneys, regions, and types of alerts. Unless this knowledge is captured and reused, there will not be a significant time reduction or quality improvement. Also, capturing this knowledge helps maximize the utilization of e-Resources.
ADD MORE VALUE THROUGH PROACTIVITY
With library and research department staff stretched thin, the time spent curating newsletters and alerts can distract from providing high-quality answers to specific legal research requests. Delegating the work of configuring alerts and curating newsletters to a few research analysts as their main function can come at a high price. Every attorney and marketing person has unique goals and needs. It is the interaction with them, and a solid understanding of client matters and growth plans for each practice, that provides researchers with the contextual knowledge they need to maximize the relevance of alerts and newsletters.
Curating news feeds and producing newsletters, are time-consuming processes. Not surprisingly, many librarians find themselves reacting to requests from attorneys who want them to set up alerts, as opposed to proactively suggesting to attorneys that the library set them up. Directors should encourage their staff to be attuned to opportunities and proactively offer alerts, newsletters and other information products and research services. For example, when a new bill is passed in Congress and has the potential to impact clients, the researcher has an opportunity to proactively provide an alert to the relevant practice group. Industry groups and BD teams deeply appreciate proactive action that can result in awareness about new business opportunities.
In the coming years, the name of the game when it comes to business development Intelligence is going to be anticipatory intelligence. According to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), “anticipatory intelligence focuses on characterizing and reducing uncertainty by providing decision makers with timely and accurate forecasts of significant global events.” Beyond monitoring news about past events that, sophisticated law firms will collect and analyze information about possible future events that might lead to risk to clients and opportunity for their practice groups. Successful anticipatory intelligence capabilities will help library directors get a seat at the table with chiefs of client development, practice group chairs and development managers who need news and trends put into a larger strategic context.
TRACK EMAIL OPENS AND SYSTEMATICALLY GATHER FEEDBACK
Delivering the greatest possible impact with alerts and newsletters requires close interaction with patrons— firm management, attorneys, BD teams and so on. Librarians need data about whether alert emails are opened and read, and feedback about their relevance and usefulness. They especially should be told when alerts provide actionable intelligence that leads to outcomes like new business.
Why is feedback so important? Current awareness and media monitoring software tools cannot consistently deliver high-value alerts on autopilot with “set-and-forget” configurations. Mid-level or junior staff tasked with dealing with alerts and newsletters typically say that their main challenge is simply coping with the sheer volume of alerts, research requests, and the need to tune search configurations to separate the wheat from the chaff. They receive a lot of junk results, particularly news alerts about large companies that are mentioned extensively — these require the most frequent and demanding curation.
To improve service quality and engagement levels, it is often not enough for librarians to “police” the news feeds, tweak search parameters, and manually check that the retrieved articles seem relevant. It is important to systematically measure the utility, relevance, and value of alerts and newsletters from the perspective of recipients (e.g., attorneys and BD staff). To maximize the value of alerts and newsletters, law firms need to be able to measure engagement levels. The pressure of handling the volume of research request tickets on a daily basis is intense, but interacting with patrons to elicit feedback and to find out how to improve is essential. This is especially true when the Library cannot track email opens and attorneys do not rate the relevance of alerts and newsletters.
LEVERAGE ALERTS AND NEWSLETTERS TO PROMOTE OTHER LIBRARY SERVICES
Because they are sent out with great volume and frequency, alerts and newsletters are a good medium for proactively offering other information products and research services. For example, adjacent to a news headline and summary in an alert or newsletter, librarians can include quick request links. These links would enable an attorney to request things like the full text of an article and other information produces. Libraries that do not leverage alerts and newsletters to promote other library services are missing a critical opportunity to promote themselves and their services.
To best utilize the librarians and to handle the volume of tickets, libraries need to categorize them with the help of analysts empowered with Artificial Intelligence software tools that learn and suggest things, help assign them to the best-fit analysts, and help those analysts ticket and capture institutional knowledge efficiently.
LEVERAGE PROCESS MAPS TO APPLY A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH
When asked what would improve their alerting service, some library staff members tend to imagine technology tools that return search results with fewer irrelevant and duplicate articles. Therefore, it falls upon directors to apply a more strategic and comprehensive approach towards improving alerts and newsletter services. Directors need to consider all of the elements (people, process, technology, data, and governance) associated with achieving results with alerts and newsletters. Chief among the factors that impact the success of the alerting and newsletter services are those involving people. Librarians need clarity around what patrons consider relevant. Bidirectional feedback loops between patrons and librarians, between the software and librarians, and between librarians are essential. Monitoring tools cannot deliver continuously relevant and high-value alerts with “set-and-forget” configurations.
One way library and research directors can model a more comprehensive approach to improving alerts and newsletters is by creating process maps that graphically depict curation business processes. These diagrams can facilitate discussions about these feedback loops and other dimensions of the sociotechnical system-of-systems involved with alerts and newsletters.