Legal Eagles Know How to Tweet

What is all the flutter and flap about Twitter and why should lawyers care?

Twitter is a “micro-blogging” tool that you can take with you. While similar to SMS and blogging, it mimics your freshman creative writing course by giving you a topic upon which to expound. When you log on, you are presented with the question: “What are you doing?” Tweets are limited to 140 words or less, in keeping with our modern affinity for newsworthy sound bites rather than in-depth analysis. The idea is to update everyone, or anyone, willing to “follow” you, on all the minute details of your life as you relay them in near real time. According to the site itself, Twitter allows you to be “hyper-connected” with your friends and always know what they are doing. I think the service lends itself more to the mobile phone than to the desktop, or even laptop, computer, as a cell is better sized for adventuring and reporting while on the run. Oh, and did I tell you the service is free? Apparently, they haven’t “monetized” yet.

Why the fuss? According to Blogger pioneer Evan Williams, quoted in this Fortune article, Twitter is gonna be “really big”! As of June, 2008, Twitter had almost three million monthly users. That number doesn’t include mobile activity. Adam Lashinsky at Fortune talks about how “establishment” Twitter has become:

Other establishment types are getting down with Twitter. Barack Obama’s campaign (handle: BarackObama) has 51,620 followers and counting, who’ve requested updates on events. CNN distributes news alerts via Twitter, and JetBlue (JBLU) sends out customer-service updates. The CTO of Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500), Padmasree Warrior, Twitters all day long. She recently took a moment to inform her 180 followers she was having “an aargh moment right now: forgot to pack my laptop power chord [sic].” Utility is in the eye of the betwittered.

Umm, Errr. O.k. That brings me to my second question, why should lawyers care? Apparently, many think they should. Here is some cross-pollination for you: attorneys in Linkedin’s Answer section talking about the effectiveness of Twitter as a marketing tool. Some feel it is effective for networking, while others use it to point to their blog or Facebook profile and, in turn, their websites. Steve Matthews has created a “Twitter-tracker” for legal types at his site legalvoices.com. I browsed some of the entries and I have to admit that the industry-related conversation was quite lacking. Apparently, even lawyers need a break from the law.

Matthews discusses Twitter’s value to lawyers as a marketing tool here. The value Matthews identifies is not so concrete and seems more a by-product of the catharsis of letting everyone know your most mundane thoughts as they bubble up. According to Matthews, Twitter shines as a tool for relationship-building, blog-to-blog discussions, link sharing and improved search engine rankings. All of these are good things.

With a bit of incredulity in her words, Law Librarian Connie Crosby notes that webinars and Twitter have joined and their offspring, the Twebinar, is now upon us. Having not yet personally experienced one, I cannot say how well the format works.  As they are out there, Twebinars should at least be included in the “potentially valuable” column.

Entering a more tangible realm, Kevin O’Keefe provides four personal examples of how Twitter has enhanced him professionally. You can’t argue with firsthand experience. O’Keefe also provides the following three general examples of how Twitter can expand your professional prospects:

You can benefit from Twitter in three ways, that I see today. First, a way to socially network with people, some of which networking may lead to work, speaking engagements, and the like. Two, a means to amplify your message, i.e., spreading what you what you may be blogging, writing, or speaking on. Three, if you blog, you are going to get news from other bloggers whose content you may want to reference in your blog or work.

Although not personally a Twitter-er, Jordan Furlong talks about the benefit of Twittering your clients:

1. GPS tracker. Clients who want to get hold of their lawyer don’t get much help from an out-of-office autoreply e-mail. But a Twittered status update — “Going into motions hearing @ 10:15, incommunicado till 11:30″ or “Leaving office to visit client @ 2:40, in meetings from 3:30 on” — provides clients with more information than “I’m away from my desk.” Better yet, it allows the lawyer to issue “blackout period” notifications — “I’m unavailable at these times for this reason” — which I like because it could help restore to lawyers even a small degree of control over their accessibility (cf. the expectation of 24/7 reachability, above).

2. Bulletin newsbreaker. Say a significant court decision affecting your client’s industry has just come down, or a key competitor has just issued a revised profit forecast. You could e-mail the news, and hope the client happens to be looking at her overloaded Inbox at that moment. You could blog it, if you owned a blog and had time to post something and were anywhere near a web interface. Or you could take 60 seconds to punch out a 140-character tweet to your client Twitter users, and thereby gain the full breaking-news benefit. Do this a few times and your client will start tracking your tweets for need-to-know news, and how cool would that be?

3. Link recommender. It almost seems as if TinyURL, the invaluable little site that transforms long, unwieldy web addresses into six-character TinyURL suffixes, was designed years ago with Twitter and its strict character limits in mind. Quite regularly, a lawyer comes across an article that would be of interest or utility to a client, but most times those links go unforwarded, are bundled into a newsletter, or maybe form part of a series-of-links blog post — no immediacy and not a whole lot of impact. Instead, try Twittering a recommended item (with a TinyURL hyperlink) to your client once a day, and if it’s good-quality stuff, your client will start to look forward to your daily dose of twitter recommendations.

Echoing my refrain from my earlier Facebook, Linkedin and virtual law discussions, it would be shortsighted of any professional in this fast-paced, technology-driven world to ignore the latest, greatest communication fad. Worms to the early birds who can figure out how to use these tools to their fullest advantage, and maybe have a little fun at it too.

In Lashinsky’s words:

Birds twitter. Their tweets may be meaningless to you, but they presumably mean something to other birds. And therein lies the latest flight of fancy dreamt up by ambitious entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich.

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