Lawyers have a reputation for being slow to adopt new technologies. I’ve been blogging for two-and-a-half years, and still get quizzical looks from colleagues. I’ve been twittering for a couple of months now, and the consensus seems to be that I’m just one of those bleeding-edge geeks with too much free time. I bet I would’ve gotten the same reactions from fellow lawyers if I had installed a telephone in my office back in the 1870s. A recent post at Blawg Review links to some of the arguments for and against Twitter for lawyers. Just as telephones — and now cell phones, laptops and BlackBerries — are ubiquitous tools of the trade, in the future, social media will be regarded as integral parts of the armamentarium. One of the latest elements of social media to break through to the mainstream is Twitter, and it is growing at a fast clip. Consider its potential value to your practice’s marketing plan as we run through the five or six classic reporters’ questions (though not in the order I memorized as a kid).
So what is Twitter? It is a microblogging platform that asks users to post, as frequently as they like, answers to the question “What are you doing right now?” in 140 characters or less. It allows for an interactive experience among users who can subscribe to each other’s “tweets” and respond to them publicly or privately, or “re-tweet” them to a broader community. Some people use it to post breaking news about the second latte of the day, but many use it as a business communication channel. It is a powerful medium to use for communicating with friends, colleagues, communities with shared interests, clients, potential clients, referral sources and potential referral sources. There are over three million registered users, including big business and lawyers from solos to Am Law 200 firms. It even rates serious coverage in the Wall Street Journal.
Before jumping into the “twitterstream” with both feet, it is vital to formulate a plan for using Twitter. As an example, my plan is to use Twitter to leverage my existing online presence through a new channel, by tweeting links to new posts on my blog, microblogging short items not worth a whole blog post, and otherwise communicating with other like-minded individuals. It is another arrow in the marketing quiver, a tool; the medium is not the message. For me, its value lies in a combination of “broadcasting” information and engaging in conversations with others.
In order to find “tweeple” you’d like to follow, start by searching on Twellow (a subject-matter index a la the original Yahoo!). This tool will allow you to find tweeple in your target market and related sectors. You may also find a catalogue of hundreds of twittering lawyers at JD Scoop, the JD Supra blog. Once you set up a Twitter account (with a username that is your personal brand, your name or other catchphrase; I use my blog’s title: HealthBlawg), you should start “following” tweeple who seem interesting. You can then see who else follows them, and who they follow, and you can expand your twitterverse organically. In order to keep track of all this, I would recommend using an application other than the Twitter Web page, such as TweetDeck. I also read and post tweets from my BlackBerry using TwitterBerry. There are Apple-compatible clients available as well for desktop, laptop and iPhone. TweetDeck has a tag cloud panel, and useful search and group functionality. Monitter is another easy-to-use tool that builds feeds of tweets based on user-supplied keywords.
Now it’s time to start tweeting. Given the informality of the medium, remember to loosen up, be yourself and work your professional and personal interests into the twitterstream. Offer something of value in your tweets — links to interesting articles or resources, coupled with miniature comments or insights. If all your tweeting is crowing self-promotion, or seems like one big online ad campaign, your followers will “unfollow” you pretty quickly. As in real-world networking, you must give in order to receive.
Twitter does not exist in a vacuum. There a number of ways you can integrate it into other social media. I usually tweet via Ping.fm, which I have configured to post to Twitter, Facebook and Linked In. I feed my blog through Twitterfeed, so post titles end up in my twitterstream with links back to the blog. This approach simply increases my blog posts’ and tweets’ exposure, which is a key element of social networking: in a 24/7 online world, it is one way of being in several places at once. Ideally, productive professional relationships begun on line can move into the real world. A discussion of the legal ethics of twittering is beyond the scope of this column, but a common sense approach should keep you from establishing attorney-client relationships and providing legal counsel in 140 characters or less.
And a little more how?
Many collections of tips on using Twitter are posted on the Web, but the first stop I’d recommend you make is at Darren Rowse’s TwiTips. This blog (along with the accompanying stream of tweets @ProBlogger ) provides a steady diet of not-law-specific instruction in the use of Twitter.
Welcome to the twitterverse, get used to silly words starting with “tw,” and please feel free to follow me @healthblawg.
Harlow blogs at http://healthblawg.typepad.com and “tweets” at http://twitter.com/healthblawg
This column is also available at http://bit.ly/twitlaw.