How to lose followers on Twitter – a helpful guide for lawyers and legal journalists

Everyone should understand how Twitter works, whether they use it themselves or not

My Twitter account now has 33,000 followers and I genuinely have no idea why. This is not false modesty or a so-called ‘humble brag’. It is because there are many far better legal journalists and lawyers on Twitter, all of whom are worth following more than for my erratic tweets.

Accordingly, I cannot explain why I have so many followers. If I suddenly had half or double the number, I would not be able to explain that either. But what I can share is how it seems to have happened over time, and this may be useful to any other legal journalist or lawyer interested in using the Twitter social platform.

The first thing is to look not at how one gains followers but how one loses them. Unless your account is being followed because you are a celebrity or public figure, then the person who has just followed you really has no idea who you are. And people who follow easily also unfollow easily. Say something boring or uninformative, you will be unfollowed. Post two or more tweets and then you will be unfollowed just because you are clogging up their timeline. It may well be that thousands are following you, and this perhaps is nice; but on the way hundreds, if not thousands, will also unfollow you. On average, I get unfollowed by up to a dozen people every time I tweet.

So the first key is to not worry about being unfollowed; it usually is not personal, just evidence of a dynamic medium. At worst, it just means you said something interesting enough to be followed in the first place.

But what attracts followers? In my experience, it tends to be when people retweet you. This means that they have reposted your tweet to their follower list. The effect of this is that people who are not already following you will come across your existence and think you may well be worth a follow. But even here there is no way one can aim for this. Retweets are entirely in the gift of your followers. If they do not think you worth retweeting they will not retweet you, and nor should they.

And this takes you to one underlying merit of social media. So-called ‘social media strategies’ usually do not work. Other than at the margins, increasing a social media profile cannot be done by mere contrivance. Even those who acquire thousands of ‘bought’ followers are swiftly exposed and discredited. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, social media abhors phoniness. If your purpose in having a Twitter account is simply to increase followers then you are actually unlikely to do so.

My own approach to Twitter is mixed. It is a great means for sharing information, especially links, and viewpoints, and for instantly getting feedback. Sometimes the responses are boring or banal; but often there are those willing to share a fresh insight or engage in constructive criticism. On the other hand, there is a great deal of misinformation and sometimes sheer nastiness. But none of this is a special feature of Twitter; it is a feature of people generally.

In respect of the law, Twitter is a superb forum for pointing out errors in news reporting and for promoting generally the public understanding of law and our legal system. It is now becoming common for interesting trials to be live-tweeted and discussed, and for the mainstream media to then play catch-up.

The combination of live tweeting and legal blogging can mean that newspaper reports of the very same case add no or little value. For lawyers, Twitter can also be a rich source of information about clients and their environments. A lawyer who only looks at press cuttings may as well be looking at cave art. So even if a lawyer or legal journalist does not want to tweet, it is increasingly important that he or she understands how Twitter works.

David Allen Green, media correspondent of The Lawyer