Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Can Lawyers Use Twitter

In my mind the jury is still OUT on twitter. Sure there are many who have taken big chugs of the twitter kool-aid and proclaimed there lives to the technology. I am not one of them, yet. I do reserve the right to change my mind, but right here, right now, I am not there and neither is twitter. Jim Calloway is the the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Management Assistance Program. He also publishes the Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog. Jim recently wrote an in depth article on twitter. His answer to the question "Can a Lawyer Really Use Twitter to Market a Law Practice?" is a definite maybe. Here is what Jim has to say:

Some of you may think you have no interest whatsoever in Twitter. But if you read through this entire article, you will learn of several ways to use Twitter, even without registering for the service and you will also have my answer to the question in the title.

Can a lawyer use Twitter to market a law practice? This simple-sounding question has generated a bit of controversy which seems to have heated up recently as notable lawyer marketing consultants Larry Bodine (www.lawmarketing.com) and Kevin O’Keefe (www.lexblog.com) took opposing positions in various online forums, with Bodine being anti and O’Keefe being pro.

Twitter is a quite interesting phenomenon. By now, most everyone has heard of it. Over 7 million people have registered Twitter accounts. And the phrase “follow me on Twitter” is now more likely to be heard from TV personalities and celebrities than early technology adopters. A Twitter posting is called a tweet. Twitter is an interesting writing exercise for lawyers as the tweets are limited to 140 characters.

Late night comedians have lampooned Twitter. Recently I was in a room where a respected lawyer unleashed a tirade about Twitter and the egotistical nature of its users messaging about where they ate and other trivia. He didn’t know, of course, that several of the lawyers in the room did use Twitter.

So what’s the truth about Twitter? Is it a great technology advance or an utter waste of time? And, more importantly, can a lawyer use Twitter to market the lawyer’s practice?

To really examine this concept you have to look very briefly at the nature of online information today. Just because Twitter appears to be one of the hottest things right now does not mean it is the best for everyone.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) recently broadcast an episode of the Kalb Report on the state of American journalism. Panelists included the chiefs of the Associated Press and CNN, among others. One of the topics covered was the challenge presented to newspapers and other traditional media by the Internet.

As many of you know, the rise of blogs, personal Web sites and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been referred to as citizen journalism. Today’s Internet tools allow anyone with the time and inclination to create the online equivalent of a newspaper, radio station, wire service or video broadcast service. This is referred to the democratization of the Internet. Gaining an audience is, of course, another matter.

President of CNN Jonathan Klein may have made a larger point than he intended on the Kalb Report when he said:

“The world is changing. There are many other ways evolving for humans to commit journalism. You know, journalism, it's not really a profession, it's an obsession, you know? It's not really an occupation; it’s a preoccupation for people who want [to do it.]” kalb.gwu.edu/2009/0323/transcript.pdf.

So the question is not whether one can build awareness of practice areas or market one’s law practice through Twitter or other social media. The answer to that question is an obvious “yes,” in my opinion. The real question is whether the individual lawyer or law firm has the inclination, time, talent, writing ability and understanding to open an outpost on the frontier of citizen journalism and to support it once it has been opened.

Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that a media source, even a modest small citizen’s journalist outpost needs more than “once a month” posting of content.

So what’s your public information output currently? By that I mean information someone outside of the law firm might read. Many small law firms would truthfully have to answer that question with an answer of one (or less) press release, article or speech per month. My opinion is that if you do not already have new content that you are generating at least a few times per month, it is difficult to see how a law firm would gain any value from opening up a new social media outlet even though it is certainly true that having the outlet would encourage one to produce more content.

This does not mean the once (or twice) a month content producer is precluded from online marketing activities—quite the contrary. A new feature added each month to a “traditional” small law firm Web site or a blog can build great value over time and would put the small firm lawyer among the elites in online marketing compared with the online presence of many other small law firms. Many law firms are likely better served by a traditional law firm Web site or blog for online marketing at the present time than leaping into Twitter or Facebook.

Do not take this statement the wrong way. Using social media can be great fun and even somewhat addictive. If you enjoy it, by all means use it. It could be great if your hobby generated a little business for you.

It should also be noted that the issues are very different when applied to large law firms as opposed to solo or small firm lawyers. Even a 30-lawyer firm will likely have some lawyer or staff person with the ability and inclination to become a social media conduit and even if each of the 30 lawyers only produces “publishable” content three or four times per year, that aggregates to a lot of content. And, of course, if a law firm is large enough to have a marketing/communications/PR department; those staffers will be looking at communicating through all forms of social media.

Twitter is certainly hot. We hear about it all the time. There are several ways to “consume” information from Twitter. Most with an interest have a Twitter account. They follow those other Twitter users with content that interests them. (Subscribing to receive the content of another is called “following.”) One could follow only those you know personally. One could follow celebrities. One could follow news outlets or particular journalists. One could follow only those who tweet about your favorite sports team. One could register with Twitter and never post a single tweet, but just use it to read what others have posted. You can learn more background information about Twitter by reading a pair of articles we published on our Oklahoma Bar Association Web site earlier this year at www.okbar.org/news/onlineexclusives/twitter.htm.

If you do post tweets, then people will follow you so that they can read all of your tweets. I tweet primarily about law office management and technology issues.

You can follow me if you like. I am @jimcalloway

But you can also use Twitter without ever registering with the service because, by default, Twitter content is published to the Internet.

So in your web browser, @jimcalloway can be found at twitter.com/jimcalloway.
The Oklahoma Bar Twitter feed, @OklahomaBar, is found at twitter.com/oklahomabar.
OBA Continuing Legal Education’s Twitter feed, @obacle, is twitter.com/obacle.

But that’s not the only way one can use Twitter. Earlier this year, the Twitter home page, twitter.com, was changed to make it look a lot more like Google and other search engines. It has a search box and displays the most popular topics of the last week, day and minute. You can click on a popular topic to read the most recent tweets or you can search through what the millions of Twitter users are posting about right now. Tom Mighell, @TomMighell, gave a good example of how that would be useful when he spoke at the OBA Technology Fair. His Gmail account wasn’t working and he wondered if it was system-wide or just something with his account. He did a search on Twitter for Gmail, found many recent complaints and new ones being posted every second and knew it wasn’t just him. As opposed to Google or Bing, Twitter search is more about what is popular right now than links to comprehensive or authoritative information.

Certainly a lot of what is tweeted to Twitter is nonsense or of interest only to one’s close friends.

Lawyers who wished to promote their law practices via Twitter would be best advised to tweet about something related to their law practices and profession, in my view. Others would disagree. Certainly a lawyer who loved archery and tweeted about it frequently, mentioning he or she was a lawyer only infrequently, could pick up some legal business or referrals from other archery enthusiasts who use Twitter. But that’s not really using Twitter as a law marketing tool. That’s enjoying Twitter and picking up some business as a result just like one might do from coaching little league or participating in a civic organization.

My view is that you are not likely going to convince anyone to hire your law firm tweeting every mundane detail of your life. And those who follow you may soon un-follow you.

I know there are many ways to market, but here’s one concept of how a small firm lawyer could use Twitter to market his or her practice.

  1. Set up a Twitter account using either your name or your law firm name, possibly with the word law included. Post your picture and a link to your law firm Web site on your profile. Twitter accounts are personal and you need a picture.

  2. After you have posted several tweets, send an e-mail out to your tech-savvy friends announcing that you are on Twitter and giving them the web address, e.g., twitter.com/myfirm. Those already using Twitter will understand they can follow you at @myfirm. Those who don’t use Twitter can click on the link.

  3. Do some searches in Twitter to see those who you might want to follow. When you find them and follow them, also look to see who they are following and who might be following them for more prospects for you to follow.

  4. Try to tweet at least weekly, but no more than 4 or 5 times a day. (The Twitter evangelists have given me grief over this expressed opinion before and others are free to use a different business method. To me, there’s a great danger for a practicing lawyer to give the appearance on Twitter that they are not all that busy and have lots of free time to tweet.)

  5. Follow almost everyone that follows you. (Many people view this as a hard and fast rule of Twitter etiquette. I do not and I do not do that personally right now. But for this business model, I believe it makes sense.)

  6. Check your followers every now and then and block the few with inappropriate profile pictures or other salacious content.

  7. Be very, very, very careful not to violate attorney-client privilege or your client’s privacy with tweets. Don’t post negative things about opposing counsel or judges. You will regret it later.

What do you tweet about? News relating to your community, your practice areas and the legal professional in general. The people I follow on Twitter are those who provide me links to great articles online that I might otherwise have missed. To me, the best thing about Twitter is the fact that it provides me with a large group of friends, professional acquaintances, some total strangers and some technology superstars who all voluntarily serve as a clipping service for me with links to news articles, blog posts, product launches and more. They also toss in their own unique and personal content.

But the main thing to remember is that Twitter is a tool. There is more than one way to use a tool. If you have fun following everyone’s comments about your favorite sports teams and never post a tweet, that is great, and if you build a national practice representing archery enthusiasts, that’s great, too.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal Oct. 10, 2009 - Vol. 80; No. 26. Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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