Social Media for the Legal Profession: Top 10 Guidelines for Twitter Use
Who is this post aimed at?
- Those legal practices who want to Get Better with their use of Twittter;
- Partners or senior fee earners who are having to make the decision whether to allow their staff to engage with Twitter;
- Risk managers who want to assess the risk profile of allowing people on Twitter;
- Fee earners or anyone else who wants to build a case for the use of or engagement with Twitter;
- And anyone else who needs a reference point for engagement on Twitter.
I recently tweeted about my follower/following numbers (not the figures) but the fact that about 3/4 months ago I followed a series of well known firms of solicitors. I say “well known” in the context of the legal profession not necessarily the general public or the business community (outside I suspect of a smallish geographical territory).
My theme – which I got a lot of comments about – was that in nearly every case (certainly well over 95%) not one of them had followed me and looking deeper into their feeds it was difficult to find any or any meaningful engagement. What I did see was a broadcast mentality, largely focused around their off line material: client wins, legal news relating to their firm and a bit of CSR news in a few cases.
I didn’t get into their own follower/following numbers but certainly one large firm that I looked at seemed to have a reasonable number of followers – well over 700 – and I was therefore even more surprised to see an almost completely lack of engagement.
Now, I know it is easy to criticize, and in fact I should be embracing and complimenting those firms that have that have taken the trouble to occupy one of the new media platforms but I don’t just think this is helpful to those firms that may be looking to replicate their pattern of behaviour, particularly given there are so many great examples of business that use Twitter as part of the customer experience (I assume legal practices have the client in mind with Twitter?).
One issue that is also synonymous is the fact that all these are House Twitter accounts, being the name of the firm. Now I am not saying this is wrong but as Brian Inkster of Inksters has shown, it is possible to combine both a House Twitter style but also allow people in your firm to have their own Twitter accounts. I will come back to this dichotomy in a subsequent post, but for now I would just ask you to consider that there is bound to be the perception that Brand [XYZ] firm of solicitors is unlikely to be as authentic as a person tweeting in their own name, even if they are subject to the same or similar Twitter Guidelines.
Apart from this point, here is my initial top 10 Guidelines for law firms. I say “initial” because it is just a foundation and it is up to you to consider what works best for you and your practice but I do recommend that you have something written down before engagement starts.
Top 10 Guidelines for Twitter
- Check the firm’s IT, HR, Social Media policies (if they exist) or at the very least your contract of employment and staff handbook. More firms are looking at relaxing their firm’s rules for engagement. Don’t score an own goal of going against an express rule that forbids the use of Twitter in firm time, where you either set up a firm account or immediately start tweeting as if you are tweeting on behalf of the firm.
- Assuming that you have got the go ahead to use Twitter, make sure you have the time to engage with the platform. I use the work “engage” deliberately because it is not a case of sitting at your computer and bashing our a series of tweets and expecting that to be end of the story. Twitter followers expect engagement – you know a two-way process. And don’t forget a lot of these folk may not be clients, in profile, type or interest. I am not saying you cannot block those people that are hell-bent on spamming you or sending inappropriate messages but if someone sends a message to you or comments on something that is relevant to your reason for engagement on Twitter, then you will be expected to say something, limited of course to 140 characters.
- Be transparent and if you are allowed to use a Twitter account that bears your initials and also the firm name (my preferred choice for those firms that do allow their staff to use the medium), then talk as you would normally do so. Please don’t be overly formal and use appropriate language. Unfortunately the ubiquitous disclaimer won’t fit into 140 characters although you may have decided in your Twitter profile to have something that makes it clear you are not seeking to or giving legal advice and nothing you say should be relied upon etc.
- Post something that has meaning and does not link automatically to your firm’s website or latest published newsletter. How about a piece of news from a relevant site making it clear the source of the news or re-tweeting a blog post that you like and has depth of content to your followers and those that you think may wish to follow you.
- NEVER represent yourself or the firm in a false or misleading way. I tend to adopt a pause button with a lot of my tweets. I like to pause and look at the tweets for at least 10-20 seconds before I hit the send button and in that way I have given myself a tool to moderate what I say.
- It is perfectly acceptable to reference your firm’s blog, particularly if you have written it, but don’t sit there for the next two hours shouting out the blithe message “My new blog post just up” or another one I see a lot “Just in case you missed it here is my latest blog post”. Now that’s fine once or twice but not every time as I see with a few people. No broadcast please.
- If you want to tweet about the competition then be very careful. They may bite back. I would speak to someone internally before you go near this area.
- Please, please respect your clients’ confidentiality, privacy and rights. Don’t comment on current cases that you or the firm are involved in. I know this sounds obvious but you may find yourself contacted by a client. In those circumstances you should seek at the very earliest opportunity to set up an off line discussion or communicate via email or as a last resort I would DM on Twitter. Remember that content on Twitter will be around for a long time and certainly as the Dr Gillian McKeith exchanges showed things can go quickly awry.
- Respect your audience. Don’t become personal.
- Try to add value.
Now this is not by any means an exhaustive list but it should give you a starting point to consider how best to use Twitter.
These Guidelines are unquestionably generic in their nature and if you are thinking that they need to be more prescriptive then that is just fine, but do bear in mind that when you have a conversation with someone you apply a sense of decency, there is a level of trust and you use your good sense as to what to say and not to say. And that is no different with Twitter. If you have too many rules then there is a risk that it comes across as a very stilted, unimaginative and non-authentic conversation. Ask yourself would you want to have a conversation with someone who conveyed those characteristics.
I would interested to hear about your own experience of using Twitter. What do you like/not like? Has it become too noisy to make sense of the conversations going on? Have you been able to find the time to engage? Will mobile technologies have an influence on habits of people of using Twitter?
I think for those who have taken the plunge there is a lot we can do to help those who are standing on the sidelines and I will be returning to Twitter with some further posts, particularly around the question of how to earn attention and use it meaningfully.