Lawyers and Twitter – 11 years later

Lawyers and Twitter - 11 years laterOver the years, Twitter has brought me many connections and opportunities in a way that no other social media platform has.

It is “networking on speed” and certainly can connect you faster and more easily with people that you want to connect with than conventional networking ever would.

When I started tweeting, back in February 2009, my plan was to do so for business purposes and I naively thought that meant concentrating on doing so via my law firm’s Twitter account @inksters. However, I soon realised that, like actual networking, it is best to do so on a personal basis, as you, and not as a faceless corporate entity. Thus, I quickly changed my focus to my personal Twitter account @BrianInkster. Through that account, I built up a network of new connections that I would never have had otherwise. Those Twitter connections have resulted in a plethora of unexpected opportunities.

Tweeting in convoy

However, it is still important to tweet via the main law firm account too and for other solicitors in your law firm to tweet on their own account. In addition, you could tweet from niche accounts as for example we do at Inksters from @croftinglaw and @ukinfolaw.

Jon Bloor (@jonbloor) called this ‘Tweeting in Convoy’. He made the analogy of the main law firm account being the battleship, whereas the personal solicitor Twitter accounts were nifty destroyers, and the practice area Twitter accounts were, perhaps, aircraft carriers. All taken together they are a force to reckon with as they tweet in convoy.

The Wild West

Simon Marshall (@CEO_TBD) of TBD Marketing looks back to the early days of Twitter and says that it was “like the Wild West when ideas were shared, people were willing to have a view, be proven wrong and admit it. It was refreshing and no little bit scary.”

Nicky Richmond (@notalwayslegal) thinks that today Twitter might actually be more like the Wild West than it once was. She explains that, “people are less measured and the trolls are scary and there is a lot of groupthink and aggression.” Nicky does, however, reassure us that she has “always found legal twitter to be welcoming.”

What is it good for?

Rebecca Morgan (@lawyer_inmaking) reaffirms what Nicky said about legal twitter. Rebecca says that, “we do things a lot better on Twitter than others.” She expands on this by saying that “compared to other sectors it doesn’t feel as sales-y which I love. Many good people, sharing news, insights, content but also just general friendly chat. A very supportive group.”

Nicholas Kosar (@nakosar) thinks Twitter “is a great place for lawyers to craft their voice in their own niche markets, to develop the capacity to listen and respond to peers within their market, and to learn how to concisely express their knowledge to other lawyers, the press, and corporate stakeholders.”

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 arose from a collaboration on Twitter between @nearlylegal, @justinbates28 and @KarenPBuckMP.

Helen Burness (@HBurness) of Saltmarsh Marketing thinks that Twitter is a “very empowering tool”. One that “strips away hierarchy”. She reflects on how in the early days it gave her access to some “heavyweight legal people” that she would not otherwise have easily been able to get in front of.

I find Twitter is very good at relationship building and all that flows from that. This includes referral work from other solicitors. More so is the general profile raising resulting in being asked to do articles, guest blogs and talks. That profile raising, of course, can ultimately lead to legal work coming your way. Do not expect it to happen overnight. It is a lengthy campaign.

Broadcasting v Engaging

Simon Marshall points out that, “one of the platform’s problems is that it is mistaken for a broadcast media. Some firms – and some teams I have worked with – enjoyed the level of control it gave them over their comms because unlike journalism, no one could edit their words. The problem is that is what began to kill it off, the social element of social media. Look at a law firm twitter feed: new tweet on the hour every hour, likes by someone in the comms team but no one else. Pointless.”

Fear?

Helen Burness says that many solicitors “struggle with Twitter. They do not want to use it. They see it as being too risky.” However, on the other hand she points out that there are “many exceptions, with solicitors using it well and creating strong professional brands”.

Peter Byre (@Pete_Byre) of Digital Whiskey says that “Business Development folks in law firms by and large don’t like or get Twitter so it is rarely recommended. Yet it is a powerful platform (see Trump…..sorry).”

Barristers do it better?

Barristers seem to know what they are doing on Twitter. As Simon Marshall says “Barristers were (and still are) well suited to the platform. Twitter works best when you have an opinion and are willing to share and reason for it over time balanced against spotting prevailing winds and knowing when not to tweet. For the Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) it is that the system is broken and needs fixing: it is an idea he or she is willing to defend repeatedly, told with humour. Hence with a little help from Bananarama, that account became the zeitgeist.”

However, some Barristers get it wrong from time to time as Jolyon Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) found out when he tweeted on Boxing Day 2019: “Already this morning I have killed a fox with a baseball bat. How’s your Boxing Day going?”

Algorithms

Shireen Smith (@shireensmith) of Azrights thinks that Twitter “has gone the way of most platforms, such as Facebook, and Instagram in that the algorithm no longer enables you to reach a wide audience.”

Simon Marshall, however, says, “I have seen lots of people recently say that the algorithms only get your content in front of a fraction of your audience. That is most likely because they are broadcasting their work rather than inviting comment. If you invite comment, it will achieve the reach you want.”

Conferences

Twitter comes into its own at conferences where content is much easier to tweet and get reactions to in a way that other social media platforms are simply not designed for. This is especially true if you use and follow the official conference hashtag.

Legal Communication

The Twitter user @LawPleb says that over the past 11 years “what we’ve seen is an absolute explosion in what I like to call Legal Communication.” He explains, with a comparison to science, “that scientists realised a long time ago that they needed to make their subject more accessible to lay folk. That led to deliberate efforts, collectively known as Science Communication, or SciComm – Everything from Brian Cox to Robert Winston to Sir David Attenborough.”

The same thing, he says, has happened in law with “a goodly number of legal folks, some with blogs, and some without, realising there was a great opportunity to push credible analysis of law and jurisprudence via social media – Hence, LawComm.” Twitter has been at the root of this movement.

Twitter v LinkedIn

For a good few years, I thought that Twitter was the most effective social media channel for solicitors to spend their time on. I used to refer to LinkedIn as “deadly boring”. It once was.

However, over the past few years I have grown to like LinkedIn a lot more. It has evolved and come into its own. LinkedIn is effective as a networking/interaction tool. I notice that posts I put out on LinkedIn invariably get more traction and interaction than the same post on Twitter. The spam that used to come via Groups on LinkedIn is no longer an issue.

However, Mike Whelan (@mikewhelanjr) thinks that, “LinkedIn is easier for lawyers in all the ways that make it a boring platform. So little personality and engagement. Moreover, people who try to add that spice come off like bad Facebookers. Twitter has that balance more sorted.”

Emma Stephen (@akawakeford), says, “I think that Twitter is a blend of personal and business and I think lawyers may find that too daunting and risky. LinkedIn is almost entirely business – it is a must have. I do not think you get a feel for folk there though. I use it as an address book.”

Helen Burness is of the view that solicitors should primarily focus on LinkedIn with Twitter coming next in line. She thinks that Instagram is “really hard” for solicitors.

Leaving Twitter

Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words decided recently to quit Twitter completely and deleted his account. Explaining his reason he told me:

“After about 5 years of using Twitter, alongside LinkedIn (which I have used for over 10 years), I came to the conclusion that the latter was infinitely more useful as a business tool.

I have never gained any work via Twitter, whereas LinkedIn has proved extremely useful. In addition, I have found that the debate on Twitter tends to be a lot more opinionated and often leads to arguments rather than any constructive discussion. Furthermore, many people/companies post exactly the same content on LinkedIn and Twitter so it seemed to me like there was not much point being on both platforms.

Finally, I have been looking for ways to reduce information overload in general, so deleting Twitter seemed like a good first step. All my business contacts on Twitter were also connections on LinkedIn, so I don’t feel like I’m reducing my audience in terms of sharing articles etc.”

Twitter v Facebook

Facebook is a platform for connecting you with the people you went to school with whereas Twitter connects you with the people that you would like to have gone to school with. For that reason, choose Twitter over Facebook for making new connections.

Summary

My view is that one social media platform does not fit all situations and circumstances and you have to switch between them for what is best on each. Twitter for me remains, 11 years later, a very important part of the mix.

Note

This is a version of the article ‘Twitter: 11 years on’ that I wrote for the Solicitors Journal (April 2020) and that first appeared online on 18 May 2020.

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