The five stages of Twitter use by law firms

by Laurie Anstis on January 12, 2011

Intendance‘s survey (here) of Twitter use by the 50 leading firms has caused quite a stir amongst the UK’s tweeting lawyers.

The main point that has attracted attention is the fact that Norton Rose (@nortonrosegroup) managed to get into the top ten of law firms on Twitter, despite not having sent a single tweet.

However, one point that stood out for me in the survey was that 34% of the top 50 had no identifiable Twitter presence at all, and of those firms that did seem to have a Twitter presence, in 35% of cases it was not possible to tell whether the accounts were genuinely held by the firm or not.  So just over half of the top 50 law firms either have no account or an account which is not clearly owned by them. On that basis, Norton Rose are doing pretty well, even though they have not yet manage to send a tweet.

My theory is that there are five stages of Twitter use amongst law firms:

1. Register an account.

This is my first advice to any law firm.  Register an account in your name if for no other purpose than preventing cybersquatting. It is notable that even Norton Rose (who have been on Twitter for a while)  are @nortonrosegroup, rather than @nortonrose. It won’t be long before law firms are resorting to @therealbloggsandco, which will do nothing for their brand.

2. Tweet your news stream.

This is what most of the active top 50 accounts will be doing (and getting criticised for) – but it is something that every firm should be doing and which can be done with minimum effort. Every time an article goes on the firm’s website it goes on the Twitter account too. If the website is sophisticated enough, this process can be automated. In his blogpost, Tim Bratton points out that DLA Piper’s Twitter stream mixed Dutch employment law articles with Ukrainian tax advice in a single stream. Industry or sector specific streams would certainly be helpful.

Steps 1 and 2 can be done by marketing teams (or lawyers) with minimum effort, and, since it only involves a certain amount of brand protection and linking to documents published publicly on the firm’s website, ought to be capable of being done with a minimum of bureaucracy.

3. Lawyers get involved in tweeting on industry issues/topics.

This is where the lawyers need to get involved – commenting and drawing attention to things other than the firm’s formal updates. At this stage you need industry or practice group specific accounts.

4. “Engagement”

The legendary quality that law firms are supposedly so bad at. At this stage, law firms actually get seriously involved in their “community”, with regular replies, RTs and comments. Although there are sole practitioners, small partnerships and individual lawyers that do this, I am not aware of any mid- or large-sized firm (say, >10 partners or equivalent) that has managed to do this.

It is very difficult to get “engaged” when you are sending tweets from behind a corporate logo. Twitter is essentially a form of networking, and networking works best when it is personal. You would not send someone along to an industry conference with their face covered with a paper bag with the firms logo on it – and in the same way an account works best when it has a human face on it.

The best way I can see this working for larger firms is using Jon Bloor’s concept of “tweeting in convoy” – the firm’s account(s) being supported by individual accounts operated by and in the name of individual lawyers within the firm.

5. Work

Winning work is not the only (or necessarily the primary) reason for a firm being on Twitter. However, at some point, particularly if marketing teams are involved, someone is going to want to know what returns are being generated by the firm’s efforts. This will usually mean gaining referrals and clients for chargeable work through Twitter. Again, although there will be sole practitioners, small partnerships and individual lawyers who are at this stage, I do not know of any sizeable firms who have managed this.

What do you think, and have I missed any mid- or large-sized firms that have managed to get to stages 4 and 5?

9 comments

Do large firms have a strategy for social media? Surely not. Great strategy: go on this fantastic, free platform where we have 200 million connections …. and I know what .. let’s not send a single tweet! Duh. I can’t believe that marketing have not been involved (they tend to micro-manage most things) but they are as much in the dark as the partners. They would be as well to look at the presentation of the Brand Builder (http://www.slideshare.net/thebrandbuilder/olivier-blanchard-basics-of-social-media-roi) and decide if they can afford to go that deep. NO then don’t bother. Also, as I blogged about the other day, where is the client experience? What listening tools have they set up or better still what intelligence have they gathered? I haven’t got the time at the moment, but where I know a firm acts for a top 100 FTSE company it would be interesting to see if they are connected on Twitter. I don’t suspect they are because there would be too much sensitivity around the open or even a DM stream across a server that they don’t control. If I were a large law firm I would only consider going with the senior partner like a number of CEOs do (see http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/05/0508_ceos_who_twitter/4.htm). Interesting times.
Julian

by Julian Summerhayes on 13 January 2011 at 12:41 am. #

Check out Winston & Strawn LLP. They’ re reasonably sizeable and their use of Twitter has been excellent for the past few years – check out @bootlaw, as run by @bazv

by James Mayes on 13 January 2011 at 10:22 am. #

Interesting post – and thanks for the mention. I think your analysis of the various stages is pretty much spot on… I’m not really aware of any medium to large firms which have hit stage five although I stand to be corrected!

Just in relation to registering your name – under the Twitter ToS usernames can be reclaimed if they are inactive for 6 months or more (and I am aware of people who have obtained a username they wanted by using this process) so it is probably best not to linger at stage one for too long!

by Jon Bloor on 13 January 2011 at 10:43 am. #

I completely agree with what you say in terms of the stages although, in some cases as with my firm (BLP) there are a number of individual lawyers who Tweet and blog whilst the firm as a whole does not. What this does mean is that actually moving from Stages 2 to 4 should be possibly quickly and successfully.
In terms of stage 5 I see Twitter as a useful profile builder but recognise that it could be quite some time before (a) I build up a sufficient following to result in actual business and (b) the kind of clients I service actively using Twitter. My view is if you get in there early and learn how to use the medium then when your clients join they will easily find you. Wait until your clients are on-line to join and you are already too late.

by Barry Gross on 13 January 2011 at 12:57 pm. #

Good post Laurie

Amazing that we still need to be telling law firms the basics of #1, #2 and #3 but fully aware that we do.

I often see law firms eventually mastering those basics but not getting past them and not moving onto #4. Only if they do so will they have any chance of seeing #5.

I recently read a review highly praising a law firm for its use of Twitter yet they had only engaged once (i.e. only one direct reply to a tweet) out of their total 236 tweets. Such reviews and reports (like the Intendance one) give lawyers the impression that opening a Twitter account and broadcasting on it (or indeed not even tweeting at all) is all they have to do.

I have been a great proponent of Jon Bloor’s Tweeting in Convoy. Even though my law firm is tiny by comparison to those featuring in the Intendance survey we are currently Tweeting in Convoy with 11 Twitter Streams.

I have seen a number of larger firms adopt Tweeting in Convoy in recent times. The problem, however, for those law firms is often actually getting their solicitors to engage meaningfully on Twitter. You can lead a horse to water…

Thus, rather than the nimble destroyers that Jon Bloor had in mind the Battleship is left with various lifeboats bobbing about around it. To Tweet in Convoy properly the larger law firm needs a fleet of destroyers.

by Brian Inkster on 13 January 2011 at 9:05 pm. #

Well said, Barry: “Wait until your clients are on-line to join and you are already too late.” I think firms need to take the slow build approach, they might not see immediate results but if they stick with it and truly engage then they will build meaningful relationships, not only with clients, but with journalists and other legal industry professionals that can help promote their firm.

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