twitter tips for lawyersHaving plunged into the world of social media by joining LinkedIn, it’s now time to venture further.  The next step on your path to becoming a social media maven is to explore Twitter.

Since it’s founding in 2006, Twitter has mushroomed into one of the most active sites on the Internet, boasting more than 500 million registered users, who collectively post more than 340 million tweets a day.

For those of us reared in a world of broadcast media, Twitter represents a fundamental and somewhat bewildering change in the mode of communication.  It is a self-organizing and decentralized network that consists of individual broadcasters and their followers.  Followers, in turn, may be broadcasters on their own so an interesting tweet will often be rebroadcast (or retweeted) by the initial recipient and thus information propagates rapidly across the network precisely because of its decentralized nature.   This is part of the reason Twitter has proved to be an invaluable tool for social activists, including the highly visible role it played in support of the Arab Spring movements.  Dictators can seize control of the TV station but it’s much more difficult to silence the Twitter-sphere.

But to be honest, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s really only well suited to certain types of messaging.  All tweets being subject to a strict 140-character limit, brevity is the key driver of Twitter’s success, but also inherently limits the network’s suitability to information that can be successfully packaged in short bursts.  For most lawyers, accustomed as we are to endless footnoting and qualifying clauses, this may seem like a crippling constraint.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of Twitter as a powerful tool for quickly monitoring and gathering information –whether on clients, prospects, competitors and influencers.  Twitter can also serve as a sort of daily alert service where you can track the latest developments within your practice area and follow the people and sources that regularly publish updated content.

In order to get started you should set up your own Twitter account – this is useful even if you don’t intend to originate tweets yourself. Make sure it looks professional. Here are a few tips that can help you accomplish a professional look on Twitter:   Once your account is set up, you’re ready to begin searching for people you know or influencers in your space. You can search for companies or individuals or you can key word search for tweets that relate to topics of interest.  Once you find a Twitter source of interest, you simply sign up as a follower.

If you sign up to follow a number of feeds, you will also likely find it helpful to build one or more Twitter lists in order avoid being inundated by all the messages.  Twitter lists enable you to segment feeds by category. You can create a twitter list that pulls together feeds on M&A, or the telco industry or any other topic of interest in your practice. You can get help in figuring out how to build a list here:

Hashtags are another important feature of Twitter that people use to categorize posts by keyword:

  • People insert the hashtag symbol (#) before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their post to categorize those posts.
  • If you post a message with a hashtag on Twitter, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your post
  • Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message will return a list of other tweets marked with that keyword.
  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in a post – at the beginning, middle, or end.
  • Hashtagged words that become very popular will often be highlighted as Trending Topics.

Particularly if you’re using Twitter for promotional purposes, it’s important to use hashtags effectively since they can help make messages much more visible on the network. Here are a few additional tips for using hashtags correctly:

  • Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Don’t over-tag a single post. (Best practices recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per post)
  • Use hashtags only on posts relevant to the topic.

Although the 140-character limit renders Twitter inappropriate for long substantive messages, Twitter has proven to be extremely effective as a marketing and business development tool.  For a law firm that is creating and publishing valuable content on a firm web site or micro-blog, Twitter provides the most cost-effective solution for driving traffic to that content.  It gives you an easy tool to extend your reach across Twitter’s pool of 500 million users.  This will work most effectively with valuable content that can then be promoted through Tweets that make effective use of hashtags.  This way your promotional messages will be visible to your pre-existing followers as well as to users who are reading and searching on those hash-tagged keywords.  And anyone who finds your post to be of value may re-tweet it to their followers and so on, extending your reach across the network.

For active users, Twitter has also proved to be a very good tool for developing relationships with influencers and others who share your interests and concerns.  These relationships typically develop as a result of the way information is shared or passed on over the network.   This sharing — more formally called curation or curating third-party content — is an important part of the ethos of social media.   After you find people who are influencers or frequent writers on your area of interest, you may decide to re-tweet or mention their posts in messages to your own followers. There are two benefits to this:

1- You’re providing something useful to your followers  — content that you believe is informative and of high quality, which thus enhances your value as an information provider

2- This gives you the opportunity to develop a relationship with those people whose content you curate and share. Thanks to the sharing ethos of social media, this may prove especially helpful if they are influencers in your area and have large followings. By sharing their content and mentioning them (engaging with them) they will be more likely to share your content and mention you when you have something valuable to add, which enables you, over time, to reach a larger audience.

From what I’ve seen, most law firms don’t have a clue how to use Twitter effectively. They typically use it for promotional messaging or simply as a platform for distributing press releases. This type of promotional content is not well received by readers and provides almost no possibility for meaningful engagement or sharing of content.

Twitter is unlike most other distribution channels.  In order to create true engagement, law firms or individual lawyers should focus on creating valuable and worthwhile content that educates the reader or provides them with meaningful, actionable information. Legal analysis, white papers, interviews, tips, videos, infographics: These are all examples of content strategies that work, no matter what the size constraints of Twitter may be. Once you have something valuable to share, the key then is to write a clever and engaging post in 140 characters or less. Here are some tips on how to do that.

This post is the second post in a series that will provide assistance to lawyers seeking to gain a better understanding of social media and how to rebuild their practice as a social practice.

social media