Twitter. Just the very name sounds stupid doesn't it?
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And some of the language around it – twittering, twitterati, twittersphere, tweeting, tweeps - sounds frivolous and lightweight. For those of you who tweet, nothing I say here will be a surprise. For those of you who don’t, some of it may be.
Before I start, let me just say that this is not a guide to Twitter, or an explanation of Twitter language. That’s been done before and if you’re interested, try “The Blog That Peter Wrote” http://pme200.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-to-use-twitter.html, which is a great guide to the language of Twitter. He also has a lot of interesting and insightful things to say about Twitter; not all of them good.
Really, I have more heated discussions about Twitter with colleagues and clients than I do about practically anything else. A waste of time, they say to me, stupid, they say to me and using the classic illustration, they tell me that they really don’t want to know what Stephen Fry is having for breakfast. That’s fine, because he won’t tell you. In fact, as I write this, he has tweeted about the Guildhall ceremony to install the new Lord Mayor of the City of London. Now, you may or may not want to know that and if you don’t, that is just fine. Don’t “follow” him and you can guarantee that you never have to see anything he does or says for the rest of your life, or at least at least your life on Twitter.
So what has Twitter ever done for us? Well for a start, it’s the reason I’m writing this blog. Twittering around on Twitter, I came across the marvellous Clare Rodway or, using her Twitter name @ClareRodway, of Kysen PR. Clare used to run the marketing department of an old firm of mine and at the risk of making it sound a little “Facebook”, (which, incidentally, I detest) Clare got in touch with me and suggested we have a drink. Next thing I knew, I was blogging MIPIM for The Lawyer. And then I was writing a blog for Estates Gazette, then a full article for said publication, followed by a quote in the FT, then tweeting live at a social media conference, at the request of the FT’s Tim Bratton (@legalbrat).
After that, one of my partners did an article for the FT, on investing in the US and now another partner is regularly commenting on issues relating to high net worth individuals in The Independent and Country Life. And so it goes on. Other partners and fee earners are getting more involved, commentating and writing articles and everyone is finding that they have something to contribute. And so, from a firm with a very modest social media profile less than 6 months ago, we now have a reasonable body of published work and a nascent media presence. Which is nice.
On the non-legal side, as a result of Twitter I got to meet the extremely talented Dr Jonathan Foyle and became involved in the World Monuments Fund and through that have met an inordinate number of interesting and dedicated people in the world of heritage and conservation. I’ve also made contact with a number of food writers and chefs (Twitter is Mecca for foodies) and have even ended up delivering some of my hens’ eggs to one of the most talented young chefs in London, @Benspalding1 of the restaurant @Roganic.
But really, I didn’t get onto Twitter to get ahead in business. I did it because I liked it. Being an early adopter, I actually signed up to Twitter way back in 2009. I got on it, got very excited when Stephen Fry followed me and then promptly forgot about it. It was opaque and I didn’t really understand it. I felt like the person in the class who isn’t in the in-crowd and doesn’t know how to use the right words to be popular. It was only when I went to a mini-MBA, where the excellent @kimtasso ran a segment on social media that I realised that it wasn’t so difficult and that I had been missing out.
So what is it? Well, to some degree that’s down to you. It’s not a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s actually an information network. You create your own information service by following people who tweet, or if you’d rather get away from the T-word, post information that you find interesting. You never have to utter a word yourself, but personally, I think the whole point of it is to have some engagement. So if you want to have a serious, dry and purely information–led Twitter experience, then you follow only “serious” Tweeters. There are plenty of them. My news these days comes from @BBCBreaking, which does what it says on the tin, @TheEconomist, which puts out a huge number of articles, @BBCr4Today and many others. Unsurprisingly, many journalists are prolific tweeters and you often get to hear the back-story behind the news, which is fascinating.
Wearing my legal hat, I follow a variety of legal tweeters (there are legion) and many of the most interesting legal bloggers are also great tweeters. The highly prolific @davidallengreen both blogs and tweets and you really should read his roundup of the best legal blogs, which appears in this magazine – he really knows. Also, try @LegalBizzle for an amusing take on in-house life and the consistently entertaining @_millymoo. What’s fascinating about legal tweeters is that people who would normally be rather reserved wearing their official firm hats are actually quite generous with their time and information when they are operating within the Twitter medium. The usual lawyer reticence is less in evidence, which has to be a good thing.
And for those of you who really don’t know anything, and give me that old chestnut – what can you say in 140 characters? Congratulations. You know about the 140 character limit. What this means in practice though, is that is that if you have information that you wish to share, you send a link to it. So whilst some people may just tell you about what they have been doing (albeit in an entertaining way), others are continually putting out interesting and informative material, which you may not otherwise get to see. And getting lawyers to say what they mean in 140 characters – that’s a miracle isn’t it?
Nicky Richmond, managing partner, Brecher