Twitter: 11 years on
Inksters was the first law firm in Scotland to start tweeting. With contributions from today’s tweeters, Brian Inkster looks at how firms and individual lawyers can best use the platform
Over the years, Twitter has brought me many connections and opportunities in a way no other social media platform has.
It is ‘networking on speed’ and it can certainly 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 firm’s Twitter account @inksters. However, I soon realised that, like actual networking, it is best to do so on a personal basis (as yourself) 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 other- wise. Those Twitter connections have resulted in a plethora of unexpected opportunities.
However, it is still important to tweet via the main law firm account, and for other solicitors in your firm to tweet on their own account. In addition, you could tweet from niche accounts, for example like 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 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 of TBD Marketing looks back to the early days of Twitter and says 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 Twitter today might actually be more like the wild west than it once was. She explains: “People are less measured and the trolls are scary and there is a lot of groupthink and aggression.” She does, however, reassure us that she has “always found legal Twitter to be welcoming”.
Rebecca Morgan @lawyer_inmaking reaffirms what Richmond said about legal Twitter and says: “We do things a lot better on Twitter than others.” She expands 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 says: “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.”
In fact, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 arose from a collabo- ration 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 otherwise would not have easily been able to get in front of.
I find Twitter is very good at relationship- building and all that flows from that – including 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 can, of course, ultimately lead to legal work coming your way. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. It is a lengthy campaign.
Broadcasting v engaging
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 be-
Twitter is a great place for lawyers to craft their voice in their own niche markets, and to develop the capacity to listen and respond to peers @nakosargan to kill it off, the social element of social media. Look at a law firm Twitter feed: new tweet on the hour every hour, [with] ‘likes’ by someone in the comms team but no one else. Pointless.”
Burness says that many solicitors struggle with Twitter. She comments: “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: “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 plat- form (see Trump... sorry).”
Barristers seem to know what they are doing on Twitter. As Marshall points out: “Barristers were (and still are) well suited to the platform. Twitter works best when you have an opinion and are willing to share and rea- son 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’s an idea they are willing to defend repeatedly and 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?” Shireen Smith @shireensmith of Azrights believes that Twitter “has gone the way of most platforms, such as Facebook, and Insta- gram in that the algorithm no longer enables you to reach a wide audience”.
Marshall disagrees: “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.”
Twitter really comes into its own at conferences where content is much easier to tweet and attract reactions, 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.
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 compares it to science and comments 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 was once.
However, over the past few years I have grown to like LinkedIn a lot more. It has evolved and come into its own and is now effective as a networking and interaction tool. I notice that posts I put out on LinkedIn invariably get more traction and interaction than the same post on Twitter; and the spam that used to come via groups on LinkedIn is no longer an issue.
But Mike Whelan @mikewhelanjr takes a different view, commenting: “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.”
Burness is of the view that solicitors should primarily focus on LinkedIn, with Twitter coming next in line. Instagram, she comments, is “really hard” for solicitors.
Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words recently decided to quit Twitter completely and deleted his account. He explains his reasons: “After about five 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.”
Richard Moorhead made a decision not to leave Twitter completely but, instead, to start again and reduce his follower count. He “wanted to spend less time on Twitter, scrolling through tweets. Aimlessly.” So he reduced his followers with a new account. His old account still exists as @lawyerwatch (with him following 7,689 and having 15,800 followers).
Moorhead believes that following too many people reduces your ability to engage properly. His new account @richardmoorhead, at the time of writing, has him following 102 and being followed by 505.
His thinking follows that of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who is of the view that you can only properly maintain stable social relationships with about 150 people at any one time (Dunbar’s number).
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.
My view is that one social media platform does not fit all situations and circumstances; and you have to switch between them. Twitter for me remains, 11 years later, a very important part of the mix.
Brian Inkster is a solicitor and the founder of Inksters inksters.com