At the time of writing this, I’ve been using Twitter for nearly four years (3 years 11 months 2 weeks and 5 days to be more specific). What started out as a slightly confusing and unfamiliar social media service has transformed into a regular part of my daily life. And what continues to strike me every day is the value of the personal and professional relationships I’ve developed through Twitter. Without any question I believe in the value of social media services like LinkedIn and Facebook, but those services offer very different opportunities for professionals than Twitter offers. In fact, it occurs to me that very nearly every professional opportunity I’ve obtained since starting my practice has been either directly or indirectly related to my use of the service.
Why is Twitter so valuable? The service makes it easy to follow and interact with other professionals even if they aren’t following you back. Twitter users regularly “tweet at” other users who don’t follow them back. It can be a great way to develop a relationship with someone who you may otherwise have no opportunities to interact with. It’s also a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and market your services to those people who do follow you back. The more natural your use of the service becomes the more people who are likely to follow you back thereby growing your opportunities and professional network. For more information about why Twitter can be a valuable tool for your practice, read my previous post on the topic. In the meantime, let’s look at how you can get started with Twitter.
Create an account
The first step is creating an account. I recommend creating an account using your name (as opposed to a corporate name). Corporate/brand accounts are a great way for companies/brands to share information with their followers. Personal accounts are a great way for professionals to develop relationships with other professionals in their industry. In my opinion, if you are a law firm then most people are going to be interested in your Twitter account not because they are seeking information about your firm as a brand/corporation, but because they want to interact with you personally.
Create a profile
Begin be selecting a picture of yourself. It doesn’t have to be boring, but it should be relatively professional. In my opinion, you should always avoid the use of cliche images such as gavels, scales of justice, law books, and similar icons. They’re boring, cliche, and unoriginal. More importantly, you want your followers to feel like they are interacting with you on a personal level.
Next, add your name, location, website (blog url or website url) and a short bio. It’s good if your personality shines through in your bio, but it should also be professional. At a minimum I’d recommend mentioning that you are a lawyer, what your practice areas are, and any other information that might encourage relevant people to choose to follow your account even if they know little or nothing else about you.
Setting up Twitter on your mobile devices
Many people find Twitter to be a great tool for using while you are on the go. People often share quotes from speakers at conferences, updates about events they are attending, and other “on the go” information with Twitter. It’s available on pretty much all mobile devices and you’ll only be making the most of the services if you download it to all your devices including iPads, iPhones and Android devices.
Start following people
When you initially create an account you’ll find Twitter to be a boring and barren place with little utility, so the first thing to do is to follow other people. The more relevant people you follow, the more useful Twitter becomes. Start by finding your colleagues if they use Twitter. If you’re using Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or AOL you can search your contacts for other users. Go ahead and start following all of your colleagues, friends and family. Then start seeking relevant people in your practice area and industry. At a minimum, you should also follow your clients, opposing counsel, other counsel in your practice area, potential clients, and your favorite bloggers. At an absolute minimum you should be following at least 30 people within the first few days. Within a month I’d recommend following at least 100 people. Don’t worry about cluttering your feed. Once you are set up and become more comfortable with the service you can always unfollow people.
Understandably, this is the area where many attorneys get nervous (and if you work for a firm, where they get nervous). Attorneys and firms are understandably worried about committing faux paux or, worse yet, potential ethics violations. It’s my personal opinion that such concerns are generally exaggerated, but it’s nonetheless important to remember a number of important tips. First, what you post on Twitter is visible by anyone. That means anyone can see all of your normal Tweets. If you Tweet a nasty comment about opposing counsel, they can potentially see it if they are on Twitter whether or not you are following them or if they are following you. If you post confidential information on Twitter, it will no longer be confidential. The main exception is when you send a direct message (as opposed to “tweeting at” someone). Nonetheless, to be safe I’d recommend that you never share confidential information on Twitter or post anything to the service that you wouldn’t want opposing counsel, judges, mediators, or clients to read/see. After all, better to be safe than sorry.
Although you can keep your account private, I firmly believe that doing so completely defeats the purpose of using Twitter. I can’t remember where I read it, but one commentator compared a private Twitter account to going to a networking event and refusing to talk to anyone. I fully agree with the sentiment.
For many people, (myself included), Twitter didn’t come naturally at first. It took time to get to understand it, it’s value and it’s norms. If you’re unsure, I recommend watching to see how other people use the service before you start using the service heavily. Before you know it though, it will come as second nature.
Do you have any other suggestions for new Twitter users? Share them in the comments section. Likewise, let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help get you started.