A lawyer friend recently said they were hopeless at Twitter and rarely used the service as regularly as they should. I can well sympathise with how they feel as that was my first experience with Twitter when I first signed up with the service in 2008 but then gave up after six months because I couldn’t see the point. Talking of ‘see’ – awful pun alert – I see the Holy See in the shape of Pope Benedict only joined Twitter last month!
But back to my experiences… by 2009 I’d begun to see the light (helped by the fact there were by then some decent apps for using Twitter on smartphones – HootSuite is my personal favourite as you can simultaneously post to other social media platforms including FaceBook, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Google+) and since then I’ve gone on from strength to strength and (at the time of writing) I’ve now posted just over 13,000 updates on the service.

Why do it? The simple answer is: Why not?

It is a free service – let me repeat that FREE – as are all the other social media/social networking platforms, including Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn to name the rest of the Big Four platforms. And, in a world where all law firms, lawyers, IT vendors and consultants need to be in contact with their potential markets/potential clients/potential customers/potential employers more than ever before (the competition are getting desperate) you should take advantage of every promotional channel that is available.

But, and there is an important caveat here… note the word social as in social media and social networking. This is not meant to be a one-way broadcasting medium. Your audience does not want a monologue, they wanted to be offered the possibility of dialogue. To go back to the social analogy again, would you want to go for a drink with a tweeter? If you were in a bar with an acquaintance and they just talked at you all the time, telling you how great they are and what a wonderful lawyer/salesman/consultant/IT director they are, you would politely and very quietly tip-toe away and make a mental note never to be caught with them again. (Yes, I know a lot of legal IT sales people have yet to realise this.)

Another point to note is that when Twitter (and similar but now defunct services) first emerged in 2005/2006, they were called micro-blogging sites – and you can’t blog much more micro than 140 characters. True, this does lead to some boring “I had a cheese sandwich for lunch today LoL” tweets. But, thanks to the fact you can also add documents, photos and website URLs to your tweets, you can encapsulate a lot of information in that very small 140 character package.

Twitter is perfect for communicating news. It is perfect for communicating comment – particularly if you are somewhere where it is not possible to fire up your laptop, open WordPress or Blogger and post a conventional blog entry. It has an element of immediacy – if you are a conference you can tweet from there. It is ideal for communicating quips, jokes and funny pictures – particularly as all smartphones also include cameras. It can also be used to push content in the direction of your audience, such as links to your full length blog posts, whereas otherwise they have to make the effort to visit your blog or website. (As distinct from pull media where you rely on the strength of the content to regularly pull in visitors.)

In otherwords, it is an ideal way to communicate the less formal, human side of you to your readers and potential markets. If you want examples of how this is done well, follow Sean Jones at @seanjones11kbw or Brian Inkster at @BrianInkster and @TheTimeBlawg or Chris Sherliker @London_LawFirm or @MarkGarnish

Yes they do sometimes talk about current affairs, their bikes, their gammy legs, dancing the tango etc but overall it makes you think They sound interesting, likeable guys… maybe I’ll check out their services – and not What obnoxious prats, I’ll avoid them like the plague!

Of course it can sometimes go horribly wrong, as Starbucks found to their cost with their recent #SpreadtheCheer campaign on Twitter (and please employ a #hashtag if you use Twitter for several different purposes – my day-job tweets are always identified by a #legalit hashtag to distinguish them from other stuff) but that is no reason for not trying it. And true, we know there was a panic over Twitter a couple of years ago when a law firm in the North of England created a hashtag for an event and then was mortified to see the Twitter traffic become increasingly lewd as the evening and alcohol wore on! But, that is just a matter or practice and training.

When the Legal IT Insider newsletter first started, many City law firms still required associate solicitors to submit draft emails to a partner for approval before they could be sent to clients. We’d laugh if anyone suggested that today – and Twitter is starting to go the same way. Law firms in particular just need to give a little guidance and have a little confidence.

Now I’m not suggesting that by starting a Twitter feed, you will immediately have the World and His Uncle beating a path to your door but in a competitive industry, being overlooked and ignored is a marketing mistake nobody can afford to make. Besides,  sometimes social media can deliver surprising results.

I was chairing a legal IT conference in Stockholm in November and used the opportunity (when I wasn’t performing) to tweet about the event, as were several other people in the audience. The tweets were picked up and then retweeted by some of our followers in the United States and then retweeted by their followers. For a few minutes the event went viral, becoming the top trending event on Twitter globally, bizarrely beating both #Christmas and #Rihanna in the popularity stakes. Then, when I tweeted the fact the event was the more popular than Christmas or Rihanna, that became the top trending tweet globally.

OK, so in a few minutes it was all over and something else became the top trending tweet – and obviously you cannot build a business or career upon a few transient minutes of social media fame but it never-the-less raised the global profile of a regional European event to a far greater degree than would otherwise have been possible. And it was all done at no expense.

Final thoughts? A tweet is only 140 characters long. Just how busy are you that you can’t produce a least one of these day! A tweet takes far less time to write and post than a traditional blog post. And, given that your audiences are also busy people, it takes them far less time to keep up with you than to read your blog posts.

So, to go out where I came in, the question is not why should I tweet, but why on Earth would I not want to tweet?