You just don't get Twitter, you say? You're not alone. But many of your colleagues, including some who shared your skepticism, are using Twitter to reach out to fellow practitioners, communicate with the public, and make themselves better lawyers.
Even for the technologically challenged, it's pretty easy to understand how two of the big three social media websites, Facebook and LinkedIn, work. Facebook provides an informal way to share information and photos of yourself or about your business with your "friends," whom you may define as tightly or as loosely as you like. LinkedIn is a means of posting your educational and professional accomplishments and connecting with others, especially business associates and potential clients or employers, on a professional level.
As Chicago lawyer David D. Clough summarized, "I use Facebook mostly for friends, keeping topics I post there light. I use LinkedIn mostly for business, making observations on the law, reconnecting with former colleagues, and so on."
But Twitter takes longer to understand. For the uninitiated, Twitter.com is a website that enables registered users to post messages of no more than 140 characters, known as "tweets." Getting started is easy and free. Basically, you provide your name and email address and you can start tweeting away.
Or not; some registered Twitter users never tweet at all.
"I'm not sure what to do with Twitter," Clough said, who set up an account in response to the deafening buzz. "I would hate to merely copy some pithy observation from LinkedIn, nor would I want to use it to just post jokes. I also don't want to post a pithy message every hour about what I'm doing. My life is just not interesting enough to continually update anyone about my wanderings!"
Clough also expressed concern about whether using Twitter to market his practice might seem like bragging and alienate some of his followers. "Am I that interesting that I can maintain three different sites with different content a few times a week?"
Clough, who's no technological slouch, is in good company. Many lawyers and others are skeptical of Twitter's utility. Writing blurbs that can be no more than 140 characters and that anyone - or no one - might see? Reading tweets from others? What's the point, many ask? What kind of return on investment is a lawyer likely to see from Twitter activity? (See sidebar for more on the Twitter's downside.)
Though Chicago lawyer Ava George Stewart now tweets avidly at @chicagoduilaw, she says it took her around six months after she established her account to "get" Twitter. "Like most people, I didn't understand the point."
The power of microblogging
But what if you could find someone to cover a hearing for you when you're tied up at another courthouse 45 minutes away? What if you could find out breaking news from reliable sources, including the latest opinions and rules changes from the state and federal courts as well as what the President of the United States was going to say more than an hour before he made an unscheduled late-night appearance on national television?
For more about the conference and to register, visit http://www.isba.org/soloconference.
What if you could follow a trial, question by question and objection by objection, without having to stand in line and sit in the courtroom, from the comfort of your home, office, or favorite coffee shop? What if you had some time on your hands and wanted to show your expertise by sitting in on that trial and explaining it, play by play?
What if you could create your own magazine, filled with articles by people you like and admire about matters of particular interest to you? What if you could meet people in your area, or across the country, or on the other side of the world, with whom you have common interests or would like to do business? What if you could find your dream job? What if you could publicize your work and your passions to people who are or might be interested in you and what you do?
What if you could do all of these things for free, and with a minimal expenditure of time?
You can do all of those things by using Twitter, as the IBJ learned both from personal experience and by speaking to a number of Illinois lawyers who use Twitter in different ways for their work and personal matters.
Though all of the lawyers interviewed had different opinions, most said they enjoy using Twitter and plan to continue doing so. They cautioned, however, that lawyers considering using it should manage their expectations. Like other forms of social media, Twitter may not be for everyone.
"You're not going to get rich by sending out a bunch of tweets," says Chicago intellectual property lawyer Kevin Thompson. "But you might meet somebody who then sends you business."
Recipes, not legal matters, helped Ava George Stewart to understand what she could do with Twitter. "I read an article in the New York Times about a woman who was dating one of the founders of Twitter and was tweeting recipes in 140 characters or less. I got to know her and it clicked: I realized it was microblogging."
By "microblogging," George Stewart means posting something to the internet without spending the time or effort to create a blog post. An avid blogger in addition to a tweeter, George Stewart maintains two legal blogs, one on DUI law and one on criminal law, and one personal blog. Like fellow lawyers Stephen Hoffman and Peter Olson, she began tweeting every time she posted to her blogs as well as when she found something that she didn't have the time to blog about.
"I realized I had something to say to people who might not friend me on Facebook. I realized I could do something with Twitter. I realized it had some value from a legal perspective."
As Hoffman says, "Twitter is a way to lead consumers and others to other places, such as your blog or LinkedIn, where they can find out more about you. Tweeting is a way to get people interested in what you have to say."
George Stewart uses other free applications to enhance her use and enjoyment of Twitter. HootSuite and HootSuite Mobile, which she uses with her smartphone, allows her to send the same posts to any or all of her LinkedIn, Facebook, and blog accounts.
"With each post, I make a decision whether and where I will cross-post it. Anything that's professional, meaning anything about my specific area of the law, goes everywhere. That way I get to get my content to all of my audiences. The people I'm connected to on LinkedIn might not necessarily follow me on the other accounts." (Other applications similar to HootSuite include TweetDeck and SocialOomph. All offer free accounts that enable users to schedule tweets and organize followers.)
She's unconcerned about possibly putting people off by the frequency and quantity of her posts. "I don't think people will feel they're getting more of me than they want. There are ways to minimize the content, and the people who follow me recognize that. They can always unfollow me."
George Stewart and other lawyers interviewed also enjoy using Foursquare, another application offering free accounts, with Twitter. Describing itself as "a location-based mobile platform," Foursquare permits its users to "check in" anywhere they go from their cell phones, whether a coffee shop, courthouse, or country club.
Users earn points and collect virtual "badges" for checking in. Check in frequently enough at a business, and you might become its virtual "mayor" and become eligible for discounts or freebies. "There's a Starbucks at the Rolling Meadows courthouse with a special coffee offer for the mayor," George Stewart notes.
Part of the Foursquare check-in process is sharing your location with their friends and the businesses you frequent. By doing so, you can find out whether someone to whom you're connected is at the same airport where you're waiting, for example. Urbana lawyer Thomas Bruno recently did just that, and meeting and chatting with a virtual acquaintance for the first time face-to-face.
Like George Stewart, Chicago criminal defense attorney Harold Wallin also enjoys using Foursquare with Twitter. Wallin says he thinks it's a good way for lawyers shuttling between hearings at different courthouses to find coverage when they're stuck in traffic or in a hearing that's taking longer than expected. "Other attorneys I know might see that I'm in Skokie when they're stuck in Rolling Meadows and ask me to step up on their cases."
He and George Stewart also see Foursquare combined with Twitter as a marketing tool. "Wouldn't you want your lawyer to be the mayor of the Markham courthouse?" asks George Stewart. "I think there's a significant understanding [from my Foursquare and Twitter usage] that my clients have a lawyer who's actually in court. I'm not just talking about it, I'm clearly doing it. To me, the check-ins are a reminder [to my clients and others] that I'm riding the circuit. No one wants an expert who can't deliver."
For lawyers concerned about potential stalkers, George Stewart reveals her tips for avoiding such problems. "I check in when I leave a place, like the celebrities. And I don't check in everywhere. I never check in at a financial institution, or at home. If I have something interesting to say, or if I think a place is interesting, I check in."
"[A] tool to make yourself a better lawyer"
Wallin says he originally began using Twitter to follow the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. "During both trials there were reporters live tweeting the trial. You could see the objections and evidentiary rulings as they happened from their Twitter feeds. It was an interesting way to follow the trial while sitting in my office. I would make comments on Twitter about the evidentiary rulings."
Champaign lawyer Mark Palmer also likes following trials, public meetings, and breaking news on Twitter. "It's far faster than waiting for an article to be updated online and certainly in print."
Wallin sees a live tweeting niche for lawyers. "I think it can be a good way to educate the public. I often find that news stories incorrectly state things. They don't seem to understand legal complexities. Everything seems slightly off. Twitter can allow an attorney to interact with the public and explain legal matters."
George Stewart, who's live tweeted sessions from bar association meetings and CLE seminars, suggests that an enterprising law student or lawyer who hasn't yet built a busy practice might help build a name by live tweeting trials. Comments Chicago lawyer Stephen L. Hoffman, "This is one way for consumers to find out about us. It's a way for them to see who does what and provide news that your potential clients, or people you want to connect with, could use."
Articles and seminars abound encouraging the use of Twitter for marketing. But Bourbonnais lawyer David Stejkowski says, "I tend to use Twitter as a learning tool, not as a marketing tool. I purposely don't follow anyone who's a social media guru, ninja, or expert. By following the right people, you can filter out a lot of noise and use it as a tool for learning and sharing."
For Stejkowski, Twitter is both "a tool to make yourself a better lawyer" and "a 'This is who I am' tool." He says he's gotten useful perspectives from other lawyers and real estate professionals in his field, commercial real estate transactions.
"They've helped me to understand some issues and what the market might be in other parts of the country. They've given me different perspectives that I might otherwise not have had." In turn, Stejkowski has helped those professionals, many of whom are not lawyers. "They're interested in what lawyers think, so I can give them that perspective."
Like Stejkowski, Thomas Bruno eschews overt marketing. "If you use it to shill for your practice, then I think Twitter's worthless. It might look just like cheap, shameless self-promotion and have a negative effect." Anyway, "Repeatedly putting the same message out and talking about your business ends up being pretty boring. People end up quitting following you, or resenting your presence in their Twitter feed."
Bruno, who's involved in Champaign city government, tweets announcements of city actions or meetings. And "If something crosses my mind that I think is funny or clever, I tweet that. Or breaking news."
Bruno is selective about his tweets, though. "People already get breaking national news from national news organizations that do it better than you ever could. They don't need that from you, unless maybe you've got a unique, insightful take on it. But they might need to hear 'Judge So-and-So has just been in a bad car accident.' That's something that you know that the whole world doesn't know."
And Bruno agrees with Stejkowski's practice of using Twitter to be himself. "You need to offer some content that people aren't going to get from another source. Offering your own personal knowledge or a revelation of your personality to others can have a positive impact on your practice."
It's not surprising that Chicago lawyer Kevin Thompson is conversant enough with Twitter to co-moderate a seminar Hoffman organized on Twitter for lawyers, for his field of practice is intellectual property. Affirming other lawyers' stances against using Twitter as an overt marketing tool, Thompson says that by sharing information, being himself, and interacting with others, "I've gotten referrals from people who wouldn't have known about me but for social media. It's a good way to be seen as an expert in your area."
Thompson and others recommend against placing too much emphasis on metrics. "A long time ago, I decided to spend a few minutes a day trying to market myself and my practice," Thompson says. "I consider Twitter part of that. I might use that few minutes to write posts, to interact with somebody on LinkedIn, or to meet somebody on line or off line. I consider that time well spent."
Bruno points out the impossibility of quantifying the return on investment of Twitter or any other social activity. "Little things all add up. You're not going to be able to put your finger on exactly which of the many different things you can do to help improve your practice brought a given customer in the door. It's the collective result of doing many different things."
Similarly, Chicago lawyer T.J. Thurston suggests, "I think of Twitter not in terms of ROI, but in terms of people who are following me because they're interested in what I have to say [and vice versa]. Think of it in terms of finding other likeminded people and in terms of a personal passion. People with whom you share a passion will be more likely to hire you as a lawyer on a matter unrelated to the passion, because of trust."
Emphasizing the "social" part of "social media" such as Twitter, Thompson urges "If somebody interacts with you on Twitter, pick up the phone. Call them. Set up a lunch meeting. Take it offline and actually meet the person. Social media in and of itself is a vacuum. Behind it is real people."
Helen W. Gunnarsson, a lawyer in Highland Park, is an Illinois Bar Journal contributing writer.
Twitter clutter. Twitter abounds with self-promoters, spammers, self-styled social media experts full of blather, and purveyors of porn, all of whom are eager to separate lawyers and others from their hard-earned cash. Plenty of people tweet incessantly about how wonderful they are, what they just had for lunch, the latest urban legend or unsubstantiated rumor from the world of entertainment, or worse. (A Google search for "stupid tweets" turned up @TheWorstTweets, dedicated to "retweeting all the very worst of Twitter, until I get banned.") Some twitterati aren't who they say they are, and some won't say who they are.
Tweets can't be recalled. Careers have been derailed after ill-considered tweets. Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner resigned in June after a week of denying that he'd tweeted lewd photos of himself to various women. Two months earlier, comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost a nice gig as the voice of AFLAC's duck mascot after he sent a shockingly insensitive tweet about the Japan earthquake and tsunami victims.
Breaking news tweets may be inaccurate. Though the news of Osama bin Laden's death broke on Twitter from solid sources who had verified their information more than an hour before President Obama announced it in his address to the nation, seemingly solid breaking news tweets are sometimes no more than unsubstantiated rumors or malicious falsehoods. On July 4, for example, Fox News's Twitter account was hacked and sent false tweets that the president had been assassinated.
How do you get started on Twitter? How do you find out whether someone or something you know is tweeting? How do you follow them and get people to follow you? How big a phenomenon is Twitter? Here are a few places to find answers to these and other Twitter questions.
• One of your first stops after you set up your Twitter account should be the TweetSmarter blog at http://blog.tweetsmarter.com. Dave and Sarah Larson, who do not work for Twitter, manage it. Posts focus on news and nuts-and-bolts information about Twitter and how to use it.
• Twitter Search http://search.twitter.com allows you to subscribe via RSS feed to search terms you want to monitor, like your name, your company name, your product, your competitors, your Twitter handle, and your blog.
• Win friends and influence people on Twitter: http://blog.tweetsmarter.com/twitter-tips/win-friends-and-influence-people-on-twitter-in-just-5-seconds-a-day.
• Ashley Parker of The New York Times explains hashtags in her June 10, 2011 article, Twitter's Secret Handshake, at http:www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/fashion/hashtags-a-new-way-for-tweets-cultural-studies.html.
• In their podcast, Missing Manners for the Digital Age, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell discuss etiquette on Twitter and other digital media: http://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/kennedy-mighell-report/2011/05/missing-manners-for-the-digital-age.
• Kennedy and Mighell explain Foursquare in another podcast, Geolocation services - should lawyers care? http://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/kennedy-mighell-report/2010/08/geolocation-where-everyone-knows-your-name-and-location.
• Mediabistro has a list of Twitter hacks and shortcuts at http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/twitter-hacks-shortcuts_b9526.
• Janet Boyer explains How To Use Hashtags on Twitter at http://janetboyer.typepad.com/blog/2011/06/did-you-know-twitter-hashtags.html.
• For a contrary view directed toward accountants and lawyers on whether Twitter is helpful for marketing professional services, see Chicago and Milwaukee forensic accountant and fraud examiner Tracy Coenen's post, Why I'm Quitting Twitter (And You Should Too) on the Fraud Files Blog: http://www.sequenceinc.com/fraudfiles/2011/05/18/why-im-quitting-twitter-and-you-should-too.
• The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently conducted a study indicating that 13 percent of adults online now use Twitter, up from 8 percent in November 2010. The report is available at http://pewinternet.org/%20Reports/2011/Twitter-Update-2011.aspx.
• The Harvard Business Review weighs in on Twitter at http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/what_the_heck_are_we_doing_on.html.
• CNN suggests that Twitter is the New Facebook: http://articles.cnn.com/2011-06-10/tech/twitter.facebook.competition_1_twitter-ios-facebook?_s=PM:TECH.
• The AP recently reported that President Obama is now personally tweeting: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iKM0Mr2rq_lfEOpqoJfQPAU0R-2w?docId=cd5ce8323b704e88a8ca8f06a0245829.