Social media trainer and author Nicky Kriel outlines what lawyers need to understand about Twitter
At a maximum of 280 characters per tweet, the 'micro-blogging' platform Twitter is a bit of an oddity. How can anyone – let alone a lawyer – say something meaningful in so few words? On the other side of the coin, how can anyone spare the time to deal with a non-stop stream of input?
In truth, law firms have been slow to turn to Twitter; and often, those who do tweet just dabble at it in a way that is guaranteed to achieve little. But Twitter can be a quick and effective way of keeping up to date with what is happening in your area of interest. And for those who are prepared to invest the time, it's a place to start and develop relationships that can lead to new business.
Getting started on Twitter
Even if you have little intention of being active on Twitter, secure your Twitter name before someone else does.
Creating a profile for your law firm is simple, though with almost a billion Twitter accounts already registered (over 300 million of which are active users) you may find your preferred Twitter @name is already being used by someone else. Look at other law firms on Twitter to get ideas for different versions of a name.
You want to make it easy for people to find you if they are searching for legal services, so make sure the most important keywords are included somewhere in your profile. Try a few searches using the sorts of terms potential clients might use (for example, 'divorce law Norwich') to see where there are opportunities.
"It's okay to have a straightforward professional profile, as it's what people expect. You can show a little more personality through your tweets"
Rory MccGwire, CEO, Atom Content Marketing
Your Twitter commitment
To make effective use of Twitter, you need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Like other forms of networking and social media, you are unlikely to generate new fee-paying clients in the short term.
You need to make some key decisions about how you will manage your Twitter activity.
- How much time and money are you prepared to commit? Do you aim to actively build your presence and network, or will you just dip in and out from time to time?
- Who are you trying to influence and what impression are you trying to make? While a barrister might want to build a reputation for legal expertise, local lawyers may do better by demonstrating an interest and involvement in their community.
- Who is going to be responsible for coming up with new tweets? The fee-earners who are most likely to have an insight into what is worth tweeting may be unwilling to devote time to helping out.
- Who will monitor and respond to tweets from the accounts you follow?
It may be worth discussing your approach with a consultancy, perhaps as part of your overall social media strategy. They can also advise you on the most useful tools to help you manage your Twitter account.
The easiest way to start tweeting is with your own news. You can tweet a link to anything that you post on your firm's other social media pages, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. This sort of approach works best if you have a blog or something similar that offers useful content for your target audience, and for promoting new publications and events.
If you have put together a large body of useful content in the first place, creating a regular flow of good tweets becomes an easy task. You can use slightly different versions of the same tweet several times, linking back to the content on your website and social media.
You can easily extend this by sharing articles (and tweets) that you find interesting and think your network will as well. Add your own comments, or reply directly to the author. Think about your audience – why they will find something interesting, what they might get out of it.
You'll want to tweet in a way that fits your firm's style, but try to come up with things that are a little intriguing and thought-provoking. Questions and lists (eg '5 mistakes people make when writing wills') can work well; wherever possible use images as part of the tweet.
Think carefully about how you show your firm's interests and personality. Share content about staff's charity work and local networking events you are attending, but don't feel the need to update everyone with the comings and goings at your football club (unless you are a sports lawyer).
Over time, your aim should be to build up a balance that mixes professionalism with personality, and shows a real interest in the people you are interacting with. If there's one tweet that really expresses what your firm is about and is worth highlighting, you can 'pin' it to the top of your feed.
- Tweet regularly to keep your account active. A tweet a day done consistently works better than floods of tweets followed by none.
- One piece of original content can generate several tweets. Think up different angles and schedule the tweets over a period of days, weeks or months.
- Use tools to automatically schedule tweets for the times when people you most want to reach are likely to be on Twitter. For other lawyers, this is most likely to be early evening.
- #Hashtags aren't essential, but can make it easier for posts to be seen by people interested in a particular topic. Get to know the hashtags used by the people you are interested in.
- Think before you tweet. Be careful about casually tweeting anything that might breach client confidentiality.
- It's good to be topical, but don't try to blatantly hijack news and conversations to market your services.
- Free tools such as Twitter Analytics track engagement – how many people like, retweet or reply to your tweets. This will help you understand which tweets have the most impact.
"Twitter gives lawyers the opportunity to have a very personal and real-time dialogue with existing and potential clients, while building trust and demonstrating their approachability"
Rachel Tombs, legal marketing specialists, Orion Legal Marketing
You can set up a listening dashboard using software such as Hootsuite, which will track when certain keywords are used.
Aim to keep track of any tweets that mention your firm or individual lawyers. Track your firm's name as well as its @Twitter name. Make sure you respond to any direct questions or comments.
Consider tracking any posts containing combinations of relevant words such as 'recommend + Norfolk + solicitor'.
Twitter can also be a useful platform for keeping up to date with legal developments in your area, industry news for sectors you work with, local developments, and so on.
Depending on how your key clients use Twitter, you may find that following them gives you a sense of what their current concerns are. Even if this doesn't lead directly to new business, it may make it easier to have fruitful conversations. You can create 'private Twitter lists' that list your key clients, so that you can track all of their tweets in a single place that is easy to monitor.
Switch off the automatic notifications for everything other than when people mention your Twitter account.
Periodically check who your new followers are. If they are relevant, follow them back. It might be the start of a relationship.
Software such as ManageFlitter is useful for tidying up your Twitter account now and then. You can then unfollow some or all of the people who are not following you or who have become inactive on Twitter.
"Twitter, like any network, should be as much about listening as talking"
Brian Inkster, founder, Inksters
You should start by growing your network 'organically'. It makes sense to follow the people you should be interested in. Start with your existing network of key clients, referrers and other contacts. You may want to follow industry leaders in your key sectors, relevant legal news reporters and some of the Law Society's Twitter accounts.
Look at who is following competing law firms, and scan through Twitter to find potential referrers (or even clients) that you have yet to build a relationship with. You may want to start following them, or retweeting and commenting on relevant tweets.
This sort of approach helps draw attention to your Twitter feed. Then it's largely a question of whether what you are saying is interesting enough for them to want to follow and engage with you.
"Twitter shouldn't be a numbers game. Aim for real engagement with people who share common interests with you"
Paul Hudson, proposition development, Travelers
Twitter top ten
- Make sure your profile includes keywords like your location and the services you offer.
- Commit to a sustained campaign of building your presence and network.
- Get advice on the best tools to use to manage Twitter (and other social media).
- Tweet links to all the interesting content you generate.
- Share and comment on interesting content from other sources.
- Show your firm's personality but keep things professional.
- Limit the amount of self-promotion.
- Use automation sensibly – it may be worth scheduling tweets, but not sending an automatic thank you message to each new follower.
- Keep track of what people are saying about you.
- Try to engage with key influencers and potential sources of referrals.