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Lawyer Twitter Practices: 29 Do’s and Don’ts

Twitter is undeniably the social media darling of 2009. From celebrity stalking to Oprah coverage, the monopoly of micro-blogging is now pushing 10 million active users. The legal profession is equally aboard this bandwagon, with adoption numbers rising fast. Where tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook have traditionally helped to create value from existing relationships, Twitter is fast gaining its reputation as a tool to help generate new relationships. 

So Twitter gets your foot in the door? A great tool for business development, right? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a very lawyeresque ‘it depends’. While deriving business value from of Twitter is indeed possible, that value is often indirect in nature and depends greatly on personal approach. Similar to all forms of the online participation, there’s no room for the Injured? Call now! lawyer. Those that can’t drop the advertising and solicitation approach are inviting failure. 

It’s these types of lessons that I hope to address in the list below – which tactics will put you offside, and which will add value. The following practices (I’m hesitant to call them ‘best practices’) are tips that either work for me, or methods that seem to consistently work for others. Enjoy!

 The Dos

  1. Do start by replicating your offline network on Twitter. There’s a much greater likelihood that people you already know in real life will follow you back.

  2. Do be strategic, geography-wise, about who you follow. Consider whether you stand a realistic chance of future networking, referrals, friendship, or other value before clicking “follow”. 

  3. In the same vein, do understand professional demographics. If you’re a tax lawyer and you know that a good deal of your work comes from accountants or other financial services professionals, seek out those people. Just as you would in real life, use Twitter to embed yourself in your chosen industry — show that you are in tune with the industries that relate to and intersect with your own.

  4. Do exchange content and opinions.

  5. Do be thought-provoking.

  6. Do poll your followers and ask questions. Take advantage of the opportunity to consult the crowd. The more followers you have, the more varied the responses, and the more value you get from your network.

  7. Do recommend books and articles that you’ve read.

  8. Do tweet about events and conferences you attend. Identify the event’s #hashtag before you get there – you can’t attend all the sessions, but you can track what people are saying about them.

  9. Do keep a balanced approach when demonstrating your professional and personal characteristics; don’t veer too much in either direction.

  10. Do post your blog posts to Twitter. It’s a great place for feedback as well as continued conversation on the topic. (Tip: use Twitterfeed to automate this process.)

  11. Do use Twitter to publicize your upcoming speaking engagements.

  12. Do use your real name as your username, the one that people know you by. Your name is your brand, after all! There is SEO value in Twitter only insofar as it can help extend the reach of your content and build a network — there’s no juice in the links you post or the URL in your profile. One exception on the branded username: If you’ve built a personal brand around a name other than your own (e.g., @taxgirl), staying consistent takes priority. 

  13. Do craft your Twitter bio with consideration, and use the 160 characters wisely. Cut right to the chase with what you do and, offer a keyword rich profile to help others find you. Although Twitter has a social slant to it, use a balanced approach: if your description is too “business”, people may be inclined not to follow you. But by the same token, if your bio appears too personal, people can’t discern what you do for a living.

  14. Do track what people are saying about you, by using your @username in Twitter search (e.g., @stevematthews). The replies function in Twitter misses references to your username mid-tweet.

  15. Do respond when people engage you in conversation.

  16. Do include a photo in your profile. Not everyone is comfortable with displaying a photo, but the reality is that it’s standard practice. People are reluctant to follow or trust someone who isn’t willing to use a picture of their face. As for how formal your picture is, that’s up to your individual taste.

  17. Do get yourself listed on Adrian Lurssen’s big list of lawyers to follow on Twitter...but don’t follow the entire list indiscriminately and without vetting.

  18. Do use an application like Tweetdeck to filter topics, create groups, and maximize your time on Twitter.

  19. Do engage the people you follow in conversation shortly after you connect. Ask them a question, or inquire about something they’ve read. They’ll be more likely to follow you back!> And as much as I like web-automations, don’t auto-welcome new followers – it’s obvious & tacky. 

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t follow more than 100 people than are following you. Watch the ratio and consider what it says about you. Following 6000 and being followed by 120 says twitter-spammer. 

  2. Despite the fact that you may be using Twitter as a marketing tool, don’t try to solicit business or make sales. It looks spammy, and aside from that, a number of states that have state bar ethics rules that prevent ANY type of solicitation. Bottom line: you gain business by letting people know what you do for a living and what makes your job meaningful.

  3. Don’t tweet more than 10 times a day or more than five times an hour. (There are different schools of thought on this one – for instance, Jim Calloway advises that four times a day is appropriate.) This might seem low compared to others you follow, but in the end, you don’t look like a busy professional if you’re tweeting all day.

  4. Don’t feel compelled to answer the question “What are you doing?” – but don’t worry if you occasionally are.

  5. Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t want to be quoted on in the news. Twitter exists in the public space – remember that it’s micro-blogging and as available and accessible as any other type of public commentary.

  6. Don’t expect to read everything on your Twitter feed. Think of it as a river, or a fire hose! Jump in-stream, participate, and then get out. NEVER worry about what you’ve missed – it doesn’t work that way.

  7. Don’t forget to consider the formal to informal rule – piping blog posts (formal) to Twitter (informal) is a great idea, but you’ll want to be careful when reversing the direction of that flow.

  8. It should go without without saying, but don’t tweet anything about a client without explicit permission. Along the same lines, even if it’s good or exciting news about the client, don’t assume that the client has already made it public. Even if it IS public, you may still want to get permission first.

  9. Don’t forget to fill out the location portion of your Twitter profile. Be accurate about the geographic region where you work. This is a simple step to help establish your presence locally.

  10. Don’t let Twitter replace your personal blog, if you have one. Medium-length discourse is still a better way to impart your knowledge and exhibit your skill as a lawyer.

What do you think? Do you agree with these? Disagree? Leave a comment with your own ideas and suggestions.

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Comments

  1. I’ve been trying to understand how it is that many younger lawyers feel that Twitter could be useful in the context of practice. This post has shed quite a bit of light on it for me. However, I have to ask about this pair of points:

    “Don’t tweet more than 10 times a day or more than five times an hour. (There are different schools of thought on this one – for instance, Jim Calloway advises that four times a day is appropriate.) This might seem low compared to others you follow, but in the end, you don’t look like a busy professional if you’re tweeting all day.”

    “Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t want to be quoted on in the news. …”

    Presuming that we’re talking about professional tweeting here, I think maybe these two suggestions set up an impossible conflict. In most cases, lawyers should not want anything they do to be reported in the news. Also, in most cases, the news wouldn’t want to report what those lawyers are doing, because it’s not newsworthy, in much the same way that most tweets are not really newsworthy (i.e. “I had breakfast. Yum!”).

    If I had to tweet four times during my workday, the tweets would almost read “Working” because, well, what else could I report? That’s what I’m doing, and my work invariably involves the stuff that lawyers do — almost all of which is specific to my particular clients and their legal matters, and so the details are not appropriate for release on any pretext. Even if it were deemed appropriate to tweet, it would be unbelievably mundane.

  2. Great list! I do admit to breaking the ‘no more than 10 tweets per day’ rule, though. Mostly because I’m talking to fellow law students, and we’re all freaking out about finals and it’s just nice to be able to trade tips and info and even study music. :-P

    In response to Tim B, a lot of the lawyers I follow tweet about their blog entries, random daily observations (sports teams they follow, cute things their kids say,), requests for input (@taxgirl often polls her readers and includes their input in her blog entries), and very often post news articles from the various online news outlets, as well as law articles from sites like the WSJ law blog, Above the Law, Law.com, and so on. Sometimes the articles pertain to their fields of practice, and sometimes not. A lot of the time, people respond with comments about the articles, and then the original tweeter will respond to those comments and so on.

    Hope that helps illuminate a little how it’s easy to hit that 10 tweets/day mark! :)

  3. I’m just not sold on Twitter. If you are a lawyer, and have generated more than 2 clients, do tell.

  4. @Tim B: To begin with, you shouldn’t be focusing your tweets on yourself. With the exception of upcoming events, which are always popular tweet-fodder, lawyers should be focusing on others: court cases, news, interesting developments in your practice area, blog posts you read and want to recommend.

    I think the “don’t” you quote is best interpreted as something akin to what your mama probably taught you: “don’t say anything to anyone in private that you wouldn’t want repeated in public.” In other words, a guideline – not a promise. Tweets don’t typically find themselves front page above the fold, but they are public, and the possibility is there for embarrassment if you don’t keep that firmly in mind.

    @MK: I think it’s best to think of Twitter not so much as an “ad campaign” (which would be … um, not so well received on Twitter to begin with), something with a measurable ROI that you can split test and implement over and over. Rather, it’s just one tool in creating your online brand and presence.

    Will a lawyer lose potential clients if she’s not on Twitter? Probably not. But being on Twitter gives the lawyer an unparalleled opportunity to create relationships that can serve as the basis for future referrals, to monitor her online reputation and perhaps improve it, if it needs some tweaking, and to share and receive helpful resources.

    Is it time-consumptive? Not so much, really. I recommend a one-month tryout, where you spend no more than 5-10 minutes on average each day, gradually increasing your participation. I’m writing more about this right now, actually, for a post on The Inspired Solo.

  5. Great suggestions. Thanks for writing this piece. Here are a few ways that I’ve used Twitter as a law student:

    - Searched on twellow.com for attorneys in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, who are on twitter so I can learn more about the legal profession and develop relationships with lawyers in that city;

    - Started following legal and marketing experts in areas that I am interested in so I get up-to-date information about my field, and issues that I might be interested in;

    - Tweeted live from conferences that I think my followers would be interested in attending/hearing about. I think this is critical. Your tweets build your brand, but they should also add value to the people who follow you.

    See for yourself – follow me @Leoramaccabee

  6. Very helpful post. I personally think more than 4 tweets a day is too much. I don’t follow anyone (other than a few politicians and celebs) that post more often than that.

  7. As someone who is monitoring Twitter for current awareness, I can only echo the call in item #10 to post blog links to Twitter. I further encourage you to use your 140 characters to tell me why I should follow the link.

    Thanks Steve – great post.

  8. My recent blog post at http://www.productivitymatters.wordpress.com has some further suggestions on Twitter & productivity.

  9. My biggest “Don’t” – don’t lock your Twitter stream (i.e. don’t make it private). People are less likely to follow you back, and you are less likely to meet new people who may be valuable to you in the future. There are a few exceptions i.e. when someone wants to remain as anonymous as possible and just talk with a few friends. But if this is for business or professional purposes, I believe the tweets should be open.

  10. Steve, I saw this article just minutes before I published my own post on the subject — you’ve made it pretty well redundant. Great piece!

  11. One other suggestion that I don’t think has been made yet is to make the investment in a custom twitter page. This allows you to really enhance your existing brand by bringing it into the twitter-verse. In my case, I have tried to strike a balance between hitting a more personal or casual note on twitter while still retaining an air of professionalism that is vital to my practice.

    Feel free to do a comparison at vs.

  12. Thanks for this article. I’m still finding my way and find these tips very helpful.

  13. Edward, I like your twitter profile page a lot. Professional but still personable. Well done. For anyone who missed it: http://twitter.com/prutschi

  14. This list has a lot of great tips for the growing number of lawyers using twitter.

    The one big “Do” I’d add is to check out http://www.TwitterKarma.com, which helps you remove those who don’t follow you back, which is essential if you want to build a large network (Twitter does not allow you to follow more than 2000 unless you have at least 1800 following you back — from then on it’s the 10% rule).

    I would also suggest any lawyers who use twitter and also use LinkedIn to check out the Legal Tweeters group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1803189.

    Thanks for the article.

    Andy Mayoras
    http:twitter.com/probateblogger

  15. This post is great Steven. Also like Jordan’s as well. Both these articles have made me “tweak” my twittering skills.

  16. I also break the 10 tweet a day rule on a regular basis. I think that all depends on who is following you.

  17. Also DO have a marketing plan that you are integrating Twitter into. DO have a brand and be consistent with your brand. DO use Twitter to stay current on important trends in your field. DO try to give a little context in your replies to other people’s Tweets so they contribute in a useful way to the “stream” DO retweet posts that would be interesting/helpful to your followers.

    DON’T post anything you would be embarrassed to have your mother read.

  18. Fantastic post, Steve. A very useful tips oriented approach and a perfect complement to Jordan Furlong’s recent post on Law21.

    The Canadians are laying down the law on Twitter!

  19. I talk about all sorts of stuff all the time – then leave Twitter for a week at a time.

    I don’t think there are any rules at all, apart from ensuring you observe professional ethics.

    I have had around a dozen people in the UK ask for legal advice – and am very happy to help pro – bono at any stage. I’ve acted for a number of folks through the years I’ve made contacts over the net.

    Quite honestly, most of us do the job as we love the contact with people. Set yourself up as a slick advertising ambulance chaser and you won’t get any interaction at all.

    The golden rule? Be yourself.

  20. Limit to 10 tweets a day? Honestly, I think that many people here have way, way too much time! Personally I try to keep in mind that people are being bombarded by so much information that less is more. I might do 10 tweets a month, perhaps a week if they are really important, interesting, etc. If you’re curious, I’m @thelawnetwork – yet another twittered lawyer.

  21. Ditto on limiting the number of tweets! I have a acquaintance who tweets about 10 times a day and I’m ready to kill her. I like to log onto Twitter briefly and review other people’s tweets, not spend page after page trying to get past one person’s drivel!

  22. Great list. Regarding Do #12, you can use a firm/brand name as your twitter name and add your real name in your profile. It will increase your exposure as both can be found in searches.

    Phil