Feb 23, 2009

To Twitter or Not To Twitter? That Is the Question for Lawyers

Over the past nine months or so, Twitter, a micro-blogging service that enables users to communicate with each other in 140-character spurts has steadily gained traction with lawyers.  Some lawyers regard Twitter as a bit of time-sink in an age of information overload, while others revere its immediacy and use it largely for business purposes.  I'll admit that initially, I too was was skeptical of certain aspects of Twitter, though it's since grown on me as I've become a regular user.

But that's just me.  As for you, to Twitter or not to Twitter? That is the question that I'll address in this post.  But before I evaluate the pros and cons, I'll begin with a quick description of what Twitter is, how it works, and how lawyers are using it for marketing and other purposes.

1.  What is Twitter?

According to Wikipedia, Twitter is "a social neworking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length."  Users can find out what others are doing by signing up to "follow" their tweets and can comment by sending a reply.  You can keep messages private (by direct messaging) or posting them to all your followers (the default).  If you're interested in seeing what the Twitter interface looks like, take a look at this Legal Tech presentation by Chris Winfield.

Users employ Twitter in a variety of ways.  Lawyer Bob Ambrogi summarized sixteen "reasons to embrace the Tweet" -- which include sharing information (such as links to recent blog posts or news items of interest) -- like monitoring buzz by finding out what topics are of interest to lawyers, making introductions to lawyers whom you're following and would like to meet and even finding clients by responding to inquiries for legal assistance that sometimes crop up in the conversation.

More recently, Twitter has helped build communities of lawyers.  Two sites, LexTweet and Justia Legal Birds list lawyers with Twitter accounts along with information on where they're located and how many followers they have.  If you're ever heading out to a law-related conference, chances are it will feature a "tweet-up," i.e., a casual, in-person get together of fellow 'tweeps.

2.  Getting Started

The only way to get started on Twitter is to dive right in.  After registering for the site, you can check your email to determine whether you already know folks on Twitter -- because you can sign up to follow them.  After that, you may choose to follow some of their followers or identify other lawyers from LexTweet or Justia Legal Birds whom you might want to follow as well.  If you're interested in expanding your inner circle, use Twellow or Summize  to search for specific topics that interest you and find people within those groups to follow.  Feel free to introduce yourself, but thereafter, you can jump into a conversation.

You can use Twitter through the web, but most power users rely on applications like Tweetdeck to keep track of tweets and replies.

3.  So, is Twitter for me?

So, how can lawyers use Twitter for marketing?  Several ways.  First, if you use Twitter to establish your expertise on a particular topic (for example, you post links to current events on foreclosures as a consumer credit lawyer), you'll build your reputation, which may lead to clients.  You may also use Twitter to build relationships with other lawyers and non-lawyers who may help you grow your business.  Sometimes you'll be lucky enough to field a direct inquiry for a lawyer to provide representation on a particular matter. 

Still, Twitter isn't only about business.  Interspersed with news links and blog posts, you'll find personal information about the kind of wine that someone's drinking or links to photos of what someone's cooking for dinner.  Many enjoy these diversions from "shop talk" as well as the ability to get a peek at someone's personal life.  But others find the side talk frivolous, uninteresting, or off-putting. 

As for me, I view Twitter not as a stand-alone tool, but more as a super-charged, ancillary utility.  To me, Twitter helps bridge the gap between the online and offline world, but it's not really a universe in and of itself. 

So should you Twitter or not?  Ultimately, I can't really answer that question.  But I will say that Twitter definitely falls into the "try anything once" or "nothing to lose" category.  Sign up and spend a few days in the Twitterverse and decide for yourself whether it works for you.

For additional Twitter reading, see these posts:

How Lawyers Use Twitter  (Grant Griffiths)

Collection of Posts About Twitter  (Kevin O'Keefe)

Lawyers & Twitter at Health Care Blawg (David Tarlowe)

Formerly Skeptical Lawyers Using Twitter  (Josh Fruchter)

What Is Twitter and How Do I Use It?  Patrick DiDomenico

Ten Tweets About Twitter (Matt Homann)

Tools and Tactics to Tweet Well on Twitter (Kelly Talcott, Law Technology Today 2/19/09)