If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you appreciate—or at least suspect—the prodigious power of social media (and the internet in general) to anchor professional branding and business development strategies. Perhaps you have successful colleagues or competitors who blog, independently or on their firm websites, or who regularly share content on LinkedIn and Twitter. These lawyers likely owe some portion of their robust reputations as thought leaders, experts or “players” to their strategic use of social media.
Still, most of us are reluctant to fully embrace the daunting task of designing, much less implementing, an effective social media strategy. We envision futile hours pecking away on laptops and phones and clambering through a morass of inconsequential news and opinion posts. We blanch at the awkward prospect of amassing “contacts” and “followers,” polishing our “brand,” and “selling” our firms and ourselves. It’s just too much to take on. And it feels inauthentic and undignified.
But wait. There’s a different way to go about this, one that requires not a single post or tweet… The key lies in investing the time and effort to use social media as a tool to gather the knowledge you can use offline—in your personal interactions with clients, prospects, colleagues, and other members of your professional network.
Skillfully managed, Twitter is a powerful news and data filtering platform for gathering premium information and vital insights about people, companies, industries, markets, national and world events, and ideas—information and insights that will inform both your client work and your development and business generation activities. Even if you do nothing more than follow, listen, and learn, you can use Twitter, paired with a data management tool like Hootsuite, to deepen your understanding of the clients and industries you serve, or wish to.
The Business Case for Twitter: The Optimal Digital Newspaper
The internet is vast and unwieldy. Without adequate tools to sort the news and information it houses, it is impossible to use efficiently. Unfortunately, no browser, RSS reader, or other compilation filters the web’s wealth of data effectively. Even a refined Google search, constrained as it is by algorithms, will steer you to the most popular articles published on your topic, many of them months or years old, most of them posted on highly ranked websites. On Twitter, however, your post, if accurately keyword-tagged, would show up in the order in which you published it.
For example: If yesterday you published (and tweeted) the most comprehensive, current, and insightful article on cryptocurrencies and blockchain, subjects of deep interest to me, but did not have a prominent, Google-preferred online presence, I could search deep into the ether without seeing your post. However, if I were to search “cryptocurrency” or “#blockchain” on Twitter, your article would appear at the top of my feed.
Every successful newsroom and commentator has an active presence on Twitter, and carefully monitors other relevant news sources on the platform, usually with the aid of some type of data-mining software. This was not always the case. One of the first times the mainstream press perceived how easily it could be scooped was in 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 ditched in New York’s Hudson River and the information (photos included) hit and “trended” broadly on Twitter first. Notably, Google showed no crash-related trends until an hour and a half later.
Years later, many people routinely turn to Twitter for the freshest news, and most insightful commentary, on national and world events—stock market ups and downs; floods, mudslides and wildfires; election results; Brexit fallout; various goings on in Russia, China, and North Korea; a terrible host of school shootings; Amazon’s threat to consumer brands, and the ruminations of the leaders of 94% of UN member nations.
Consider this excerpt from a Quora post by Bill Gross, founder of IdeaLab:
I find that I am getting more valuable and timely information from the people I follow on Twitter than almost any other news source…. Twitter has become… like a newspaper [that has been] dynamically configured perfectly for me.
Like you, I’m busy. And, like you, I need to stand out from others who do what I do to build my business. I do that in part by gathering and gifting superior information and analysis of interest to my clients and colleagues—and I find much of it on Twitter, with the help of many smart and vigilant “curators” and HootSuite, the essential dashboard management platform on which I house my very own, ever-evolving digital newspaper.
This guide will help you do the same.
First, a quick review of set-up basics, for those who have yet to try out the Twitter platform:
- Go to Twitter.com to get started or to upgrade your Twitter profile and settings. The website instructions are excellent. Scan the “help” pages and experiment with the range of tools featured there. Be sure to learn how to set up Twitter lists.
- Use your real name as your Twitter handle, or create a memorable practice area or industry-specific name (e.g. @FedGrantsLawyer, @taxgirl, @whitecollaresq, @GreenEnergyCounsel) that won’t embarrass you down the road.
- Tip: If you search “estate planner” and “divorce lawyer” on Twitter Users, you’ll discover that many people distinguish their handles by jurisdiction (e.g. “DivorceLawyerCA”, “@estateplannerFLA”). This is a good way to make the regionally specialized lawyer more searchable.
- A simple bio (perhaps including an eye-catching personal skill or interest) is fine right now. You’re just listening. (Note, however, that your LinkedIn profile is vastly more significant, whether or not you are active on that platform, and deserves your close attention.)
- I recommend uploading a photograph to your bio. In the Twitterverse, the no-photo “egg” shouts “spammer.” Consider uploading an appealing header photo as well. Nothing too precious, no family shots, but no stock photos of courtroom buildings either. (For example, @FoodandBevLawyer might use a quality photo taken at a presentation at last year’s Craft Brewer Conference.) Although tweeting is not your thing right now, you should be smartly dressed for the party.
- Resist any temptation to check “Protect my updates” unless you are fanatic about privacy on the internet, which is only an illusion. Social media is social. Let people reach you without impediments if they want to.
Selecting Your “Follows”
The Twitter “who to follow” prompts on the left side of your Twitter profile page will get you started reading tweets from a few friends, companies and news sources. You can also find people and entities you have in mind using the Search box; or upload and sync your contacts, allowing HootSuite to then identify those with Twitter accounts.
Importantly, figure out as soon as you can who among your clients and prospects (both corporate and human) is active on Twitter and follow them. The corporate posts may well end up being no more than ads and press releases, but should still be scanned. Most interesting information, however, will appear in the personal tweets.
Keep an eye on your competitors too, and learn from them. Some law firms are very active in the blogosphere, using Twitter as primary distributor for niche practice and sector-focused blogs. You need to know what you’re up against, and you may well have substantive law or industry knowledge to learn from them.
Over time, you will be able to identify the most reliable tweeters from among those with whom you share expertise, practice area, sector specialization, city or state, and interests. Start with your favorite journalists, bloggers, law professors, civic leaders, CEOs, and thought leaders: Find their Twitter handles and follow them. Then follow the people they follow, particularly the ones whose posts they retweet. Repeat.
These smart, informed, and topic or regionally focused tweeters are the ones sorting through the fire hose of news Twitter provides to the public. As part of his or her branding strategy, each of these tweeters aims to identify the best, most current, and most interesting news and opinion, so that you don’t have to. They are your “curators,” and they are invaluable.
Twitter has an excellent app for your smartphone and tablet. However, it is far easier to track your follows (and the lists and searches recommended below) on a laptop or desktop.
Sorting Your Follows into Twitter Lists
Twitter lists are used to segment and “sort” people (including all of your curators), companies, news sources, information, and trends, allowing you to gather, organize, and deploy information efficiently and quickly. Be sure to assign every new follower to one or more of your lists—if you don’t, you will be most unhappy down the road. Even the non-tweeters should be sorted by list so that you can find them on the day of reckoning when you decide to join the conversation and let them know you’re open for business.
Some sample lists: “Daily Must Read,”“Pundits” or “Commentators” (i.e. thought leaders, influencers), “Business News,” “[Your city or state] News,” “Lawyers on Twitter,” “Blawgs” (legal blogs), “Pharma,” “Tech IP,” “Cryptocurrency/Blockchain,” “Cybersecurity” and “Craft Beer”).
Your Twitter Searches
- If your goal is to get the most recent news and information, a Twitter search will likely yield faster, better-filtered results than Google—but this may not be true for all topics. The trick is to learn how to search keywords and hashtags in the knowledge communities of relevance to you and your clients.
- Use the instructions to learn about Searches.
- Despite my Twitter-bias, I consider Google to be an essential, though often secondary, resource. When I am looking for information gold, and time permits, I will always search on Google (and LinkedIn) as well.
- Another Google observation: I recommend setting Google Alerts to pick up search results mentioning key people, companies, and topics, but have been disappointed overall in the results, which are usually spotty and delayed.
- You can save your core Twitter searches to review later when you read any tweets from the people on your lists. However, as your Twitter data sources and interests increase this will become an ever more cumbersome activity. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.
HootSuite: The Ticker Tape
Most people who are professionally active on Twitter use a social media dashboard app like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to manage their updates on a desktop or smartphone. Random scrolling works well enough when you are first using Twitter but soon becomes inefficient and frustrating.
The Hootsuite “dashboard” allows you to (i) segment people, companies, industry players, and news services into groups and (ii) view the tweets of each group in separate columns, called “streams.” The best use of this tool is to embed each of your Twitter lists and saved Twitter searches in a live “stream” on the dashboard, offering an orderly and visually satisfying information delivery system for spotting high-value tweets, breaking news, and fresh analysis and commentary.
Think of Hootsuite as a news and information ticker, or electronic “Town Crier,” like the classic scrolling Dow Jones “zipper” in Times Square. Keep your eye on it and you’ll be ahead of those who hurry through the city with their heads down.
Setting up Your HootSuite Dashboard
HootSuite has a free user membership (you need nothing more). Start with the HootSuite home page and follow the prompts. Be sure to learn how to set up Tabs and Streams.
Use the “help” guides to create some basic streams on your first Tab. Start with your Twitter “home feed” and streams for your tweets and retweets (it’s always best to be prepared) as well as for “Likes” for tweets you don’t have time to read and want to review later. Add your LinkedIn feed to take maximum advantage of the dashboard. (Hootsuite’s primary service to enterprise customers is as a social media network aggregator.)
It’s easy to add more streams using the “Add a Stream” tool at the bottom-right corner of every tab. Click to expand the tool, select your Twitter profile from the drop-down, and then click one of the stream types to add it to your tab.
Next, embed each of your Twitter lists and Twitter searches in a separate stream. Most Twitter users have some searches that are always running on Hootsuite but change the other search streams periodically to reflect their needs and interests at the time.
Here are some ideas to help you design your own searches, some of which may generate information you can use to help, engage, or impress your core network:
- A high-profile prospect
- A top client
- Your sports-mad client’s favorite athlete
- A prospect’s daughter’s top choice college
- Your favorite practice area commentator
- Your client’s competitor
- A newsworthy client-relevant legal case or statute
And some double hashtag searches designed for the same purpose, and to inform your legal work as well:
- #M&A #earnouts
- #medicaldevices #robotics
- #productliability #litigation
- #HIPPA #databreach
- #estateplanning #taxreform
If you attend a conference (or simply wish you were there), you can follow the event hashtag (#ABA2018, #Davos, #WEF18, #CraftBrewersCon) to stay current and collect insights from tweeters at the breakout sessions you cannot attend.
Although Hootsuite has an app for your smartphone and tablet, it is best presented on a larger screen. Viewing a properly populated dashboard on a small screen is truly exhausting. Configuring it on a smartphone is out of the question.
Research and the Power of Knowledge
Regular internet background and subject matter research (especially on Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn) are essential to any effective networking or rainmaking strategy. If your clients or prospects prefer lawyers who understand their business and industry, online research will be equally critical in assuring superior client service. With a carefully configured HootSuite dashboard, you will be able to source a variety of streaming data to assist your network and enhance the quality of both your work product and client development activities.
Converting Information Gold to Goodwill
Be alert to opportunities to reach out to your network and add value. Rather than relying solely on “random acts of lunch,” try using Twitter and other social media resources to come up with ways to connect with people you see too rarely:
- Consult the appropriate streams before your next pitch. If you identify any breaking news or fresh commentary before your prospect does the same, it could make all the difference.
- Check your dashboard in advance of a client lunch date, a negotiation, or a conference call with clients and counsel.
- Reach out by phone and email to offer information your contact can use to advance her personal or professional agenda.
- Find ways to help a client help his or her boss.
- Read op-eds and investigative news reports, and ask your new prospect some smart open-ended questions about her or his business.
- Monitor a top client’s company, and demonstrate your business fluency by passing along articles or asking questions about the company’s non-legal challenges.
Go For It
If you make a sustained commitment of time and effort, and stay alert and nimble, you can leverage Twitter and HootSuite to deepen critical relationships, stay “top of mind” among those most difficult to access in person, and set yourself apart from your competitors.
Equally important for most of us, you will over time develop what I call “the confidence of knowledge:” using the information and ideas you accumulate online and in resulting personal exchanges to navigate challenging professional situations and manage intimidating clients and colleagues.
You never know when you will find information on your HootSuite dashboard that will give you a competitive advantage. You may never convert your online presence from passive to active. But a disciplined listen-and-learn social media strategy is of undeniable value to any lawyer seeking to develop a vigorous brand and build a self-sustaining practice.
I have summarized below my Top 5 Best Practices for Twitter and Hootsuite. As additional resources (especially when you are ready to engage on social media), I recommend Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers by Jared Correia, and the Legal Ease Blog by Allison Shields. (Allison is also a widely respected LinkedIn expert.) For a video tour of a range of social media tools, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and HootSuite, you can also watch the video from my ABA-Legal Career Central webinar.
Top 5 Best Practices for Twitter and HootSuite
1. The Dashboard: Always On
Set your HootSuite account to bypass your log-in, then bookmark it on the visible portion of your menu bar or desktop, so that you can open it with a single click.
Open the streaming HootSuite ticker tape first thing in the morning when you get to your desk, and leave it minimized throughout the day, so you can turn to it when you have some downtime.
2. Daily Checks and Reading: Gathering Information
Review your HootSuite dashboard each morning for at least five minutes. If you find posts of interest click on the links and scan what you find, looking for interesting material. Allocate up to 15 minutes each morning to hunt through HootSuite/Twitter. Pick one more time during the day—perhaps at lunch, or in the evening while watching television, to review your Hootsuite dashboard.
Always be on the lookout for prolific new sources of information, ideas, and opinion. Your curators are the key to rich and efficient Twitter results.
4. Add Value
Deploy the information you gather in ways that fit your relationship building and business generation strategies. Periodically refine your lists, searches, and dashboard to reflect new developments and strategic changes.
Pass along valuable news and ideas to clients, prospects, and others with the goal of providing value or, at a minimum, demonstrating expertise, savvy, focus, or thoughtfulness.
5. Mind Your Manners
If and when you are ready to engage, keep in mind that social media sites really are intended to be “social”—and are therefore governed by important rules of etiquette:
- I recommend an 80/20 rule when posting to any social media site. At least 80% of your posts and shares should promote others (whether or not among your connections on the site) or offer information and news of value to your network.
- A maximum of 20% of your activities online should be to promote yourself directly (announcing an achievement, award, or upcoming presentation, webinar or other sponsored event, or distributing a blog post).
- In my view, we can earn the highest praise, and the longest-lasting positive word of mouth, simply by consistently promoting and helping others—whether by sharing content and advice of value, lending a hand whenever possible, or otherwise proving to be an indispensable friend and advisor.
About the Author
Elizabeth H. Munnell is a business development coach and social media trainer, advising lawyers of all ages. A partner for 25 years in a large law firm, she serves on the Board of the ABA’s Legal Career Central. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BetsyMunnell.