Opinion: Twitter is more than just a fad, so don’t miss the boat

Lawyers are joining Twitter every day. Some are seeking to promote their practices, ­others just want to engage on matters of special interest or follow emerging news events.

But is Twitter just another fad?

It is important to be clear as to what Twitter actually is and why it is different from other social media platforms. In essence, it is a simple but highly effective form of instantaneous electronic ­communication. It is now used by ­thousands of people for obtaining and sharing information. Without an ­awareness of how Twitter works, legal advisers may soon be at a disadvantage when discussing certain issues with their clients.

At the heart of Twitter is a ’tweet’ – a message of up to 140 characters. This can be an open statement or can be addressed directly to another ’tweeter’. Often tweets contain links to webpages. There is a ­surprising degree of flexibility in what can be achieved with a mere 140 characters – it certainly forces one to be succinct.

For many who start on Twitter, the ­initial low follower count can be ­dispiriting. But once a tweeter is known to be informative or entertaining the number will climb dramatically. Follower counts of 100-500 are standard, and some legal tweeters have more than 10,000.

The key to gaining followers is ­engagement. A Twitter account that is only used for announcing press releases or other such links is generally pointless and will not grow in any significant way. The best accounts have a personality as well as being a source of information or pleasure.

Twitter accounts that interact with other accounts and with topics being ­discussed will quickly become very ­popular. For example, Charles Russell partner Andrew Sharpe tweets successfully as @TMT_lawyer and is often the first ­tweeter to be contacted by those seeking data protection or other technology law advice. Similarly, Emily Goodhand of Reading University tweets as ­@CopyrightGirl and provides an excellent resource for those with copyright queries.

You will soon notice that tweets often contain one or more ’hashtags’. These tags allow others using a search function to find tweets on certain topics. For example, tweets on the Digital Economy Act will usually have the hashtag ’#DEAct’, while those on libel reform may be tagged ’#LibelReform’. Following and contributing usefully to a hashtagged topic is one good way of attracting followers.

But who should you follow?  Well, apart from clients and others who you know personally, there are a range of rewarding Twitter accounts for any lawyer to follow: mainstream media sources of legal information such as @thelawyermag and @GdnLaw ; established legal commentators like @JoshuaRozenberg  and @afuahirsch; innovative legal bloggers such as  @carlgardner  and (the sometimes surreal) @Charonqc ; in-house lawyers like  @LegalBizzle,  @legalbrat   and @in_house_lawyer; and so on.  Fairly soon you will have a list of about 50 to 100 accounts worth following, all providing instant information on topics that will interest you and your clients.  

On Twitter reliability and credibility is as important as interaction. Once you are known to be a helpful or interesting ­tweeter, others will promote you.

So is it worth the effort? Anyone too naked in their commercial intentions or contrived in their overall approach tends not to become popular. However, Twitter offers a method of sharing reliable ­information with those you would not meet otherwise, from providers of information to those who may wish to instruct you.

Done badly Twitter can be a time-eater with little return. But done well it can enhance any lawyer’s practice.

David Allen Green is head of media at Preiskel & Co and he tweets as @davidallengreen