posted 1 Oct 2009 in Volume 13 Issue 1
A practical guide to Twitter
Hélène Russell provides guidance on the effective use of Twitter in the workplace, including top tips, measurement metrics and how to avoide potential pitfalls.
Twitter is one of the few web services that tech-savvy people say they ‘don’t get’. But whether you love it or loathe it, it is a global phenomenon – ranked the 14th most popular global internet site1, with 23.5 million unique visitors2 and growth of 1,382 per cent3. One can no longer ignore its business potential, so this article will hopefully help you to make a more informed decision as to whether Twitter is right for your firm, your lawyers or for you as a knowledge management (KM) professional.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a real-time, micro-blogging, social-networking site that enables you to post 140 character micro-blog posts – or ‘tweets’ – which your followers choose to receive. The 140 characters include all punctuation and spaces. Twitter is multi-modal, enabling messages to be posted and viewed from a computer (via the Twitter site or a desktop gadget), a PDA or a smart phone. Originally, tweets answered the question ‘What are you doing?’, but more recently people are answering the question ‘What is interesting you at the moment?’, or simply broadcasting and conversing with their followers. Twitter can support pictures (via TwitPic) and links. By default, tweets are public but senders can restrict delivery to their followers or send direct messages. It is similar to group text messaging.
A quick search of the site suggests that although plenty of US and Australian lawyers, lawyers’ groups, legal recruitment firms and publishing groups are tweeting, few large
How can businesses use Twitter?
There are three main potential benefits to businesses and individuals:
Listening and research;
Sharing information; and
Networking – building relationships and communities.
Whether Twitter could help you, your lawyers or your firm with any of these aims obviously depends upon you, your clients, your brand and your business objectives.
Listening, information gathering and research
Twitter has excellent search facilities (Twitter Search and Trending Topics) which can enable a firm to gather real-time market intelligence and listen to what clients, competitors and others are saying about it – albeit this is a particular cross-section of views (Twitter users) rather than the whole market. Twitter gives critics a forum, but firms need to be aware of what their critics are saying and why to be able to fully understand and address those problems. Some businesses have found that customers are prepared to offer feedback about minor complaints or desired features, which they would never have bothered to contact the firm about directly, over Twitter.
Firms can also listen to their competitors and leaders in the legal field to find out more about influential lawyers and converse with them about current legal events and trends.
For example, your firm might be about to tender for work. It would probably be helpful to know what is concerning that potential client at the moment, what the market is saying about them and your firm and what your competitors are up to.
Alternatively, if you are a new lawyer turned professional support lawyer (PSL) and are confused by KM jargon, you could follow key figures in the KM arena and be spoon-fed all kinds of KM information, such as hot topics, recommended blog posts, details of webinars, and so on.
As well as information about a particular market, Twitter can help individuals with business services by tapping into the knowledge of the crowd. For example, to obtain advice about recommended hotels, restaurants or training courses.
If you are thinking about using Twitter purely for personal use, many recruitment agencies are now advertising jobs on the site. Their followers often hear about roles before those with e-mail alerts.
Sharing information of interest
Twitter can be used to communicate a range of information to your market. You can simply use it as an alternative RSS [really simple syndication] feed, alerting your followers to a change in your website or a link to your monthly client newsletter, or you can use it to send additional, specialist and more detailed information, perhaps from one of your key rising-star lawyers, showcasing their expertise. Its immediacy gives you the potential to be the first to forward useful information, such as key case or new legislation commentary, to a wide-reaching audience, especially those on the move. This positions your firm’s brand to your clients and maintains awareness.
All lawyers want to be at the forefront of their clients’ minds: the trusted adviser of choice. Twitter enables firms to build relationships, shrinking the emotional distance between their clients, potential clients and others. In a global market that is tough on costs, clients think twice about personal meetings and marketing events, which removes the traditional opportunities for lawyers to build relationships. Twitter has the potential to be one of the tools that builds this personal relationship. It can also enable you to share the human side of your firm with a wider audience, giving them a peak behind the scenes at your offices or at new projects or events; whatever is appropriate to your market. Twitter also enables firms to ask questions, float ideas and solicit feedback from their market.
On a personal level, joining conversations about key topics can build your reputation as an expert in your field and, if you work from home regularly, Twitter can act as a virtual water cooler – keeping you in touch with the outside world. If you are attending a conference, you can make the most of the event and networking opportunities by identifying other attendees beforehand using the event’s #hashtag and tracking what they say during the event. You could even use Twitter to link up with a potential mentor.
Getting started is easy and free. There are only four fields to complete on the sign-up page. First, choose an account name. For a firm, perhaps its domain name less the .com or .co.uk or another easily identifiable name. For an individual, it is best to use your real name (if you are Twittering to raise your profile, you need to be easy to find). Second, enter appropriate profile information so people know who you are and what you do. Third, add a photo or logo, then add links to your website and/or blog. You are then ready to go.
It is probably a good idea to ‘listen’ for a while before you post your first message. Following people with similar interests to your own and also those who others recommend as good tweeters, can help you with style and etiquette issues. Then, when you feel confident, you can start tweeting and posting updates.
One of the key advantages of Twitter is that you are not immediately exposed to a huge audience in a new medium. You can dip your toe first and then build your following after you have honed your twittering skills. If the conventions, symbols and strange terms concern you, look at Twitter’s ‘Learn the lingo’ section at the ‘Twitter for Business 101’ website (http://business.twitter.com/twitter101/learning). I have also included a short glossary of terms at the end of this article.
Like many Web 2.0 enterprise tools, you run the risk of wasting time unless you consider your strategy for Twitter use before allowing people to use the tool. Spend some time thinking about the goals you are trying to achieve by using Twitter, including:
Who will be the twitterer?
You as a KM professional;
Your firm; or
Your lawyers as individual ambassadors for the firm.
What are you trying to achieve?
Build expertise in a particular niche (legal or KM);
Send out information your clients will find useful as quickly as possible;
Build personal relationships between your lawyers and potential clients, to be their trusted adviser of choice; or
Driving more traffic to your website.
Choose a couple of key goals and use these to dictate the nature of your posts. Don’t get sidetracked into the objective of ‘getting more followers’. What you need are followers who help you to achieve your goals.
Set-up costs on Twitter are minimal, so why hasn’t every firm already adopted it? There are a number of potential disadvantages.
First, despite the low cost, firms can’t adopt every innovation due to lack of staff time for implementation, so it is important to focus resources on the innovations that best suit their market. Many see Twitter as a purely personal tool aimed at techno-geeks and not yet ‘enterprise ready’, so overlook its potential.
Second, there is always a risk to a firm’s reputation. Some clients are anti-Twitter and anti-Enterprise 2.0 generally – they see it as an unnecessary overhead, or are concerned that their lawyers are billing them for tweeting time. Also, like blogging, if you allow staff autonomy to tweet as they see fit, there is always the risk they will say something inappropriate, spill confidential information or open the firm up to criticism or litigation.
Finally, there is a concern that Twitter could be a massive time-wasting activity for staff. The majority of the disadvantages appear to be HR problems (not Twitter ones) so get your HR solutions right. By devising and circulating published codes of conduct and raising cultural awareness, the majority of the disadvantages should disappear.
Twitter appears to be a quick, easy and effective marketing tool. Whether it is worthwhile for you, your firm or your lawyers will depend upon your business focus and your clients.
Finally, you will want to check whether Twitter is providing an adequate return on the time you have invested. There are a number of quantitative and qualitative measurements you could use to measure the success or otherwise of twittering. In relation to quantitative measurements, you can watch the tally of questions answered, problems resolved and positive exchanges, then review whether the percentage is improving. You can monitor traffic to your website from Twitter or track click-throughs from the links you post on your tweets, to check whether you are interesting and engaging people. And you can check whether people are continuing to follow you. With qualitative measurements, you can simply ask your followers how you are doing. Some companies have found that the communities they have built are actually quite keen to give them feedback and help them build better products and services.
Twitter certainly has much to offer businesses. There appear to be clear benefits for the KM professional, but whether Twitter is for right for your firm or your lawyers will depend on your firm, its brand, its business strategy and your market. Notwithstanding this, it is easy and free so why not try it?
Alexa.com the website ranking company http://www.alexa.com/topsites/;
Compete.com (August 09)http://siteanalytics.compete.com/twitter.com/;
McGiboney, Michelle (18/03/09) Neilsen http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire.online_mobile/twitters-tweet-smell-of-success/.
Hélène Russell of The Knowledge Business provides consultancy services in knowledge management to the legal sector. She is also Founder of Knowledge Network West, the knowledge-sharing and networking group for KM professionals in the West. Contact her on 07548 912 779, visit www.theknowledgebusiness.co.uk or www.knowledgenetworkwest.com, or follow her on Twitter.
Sidebar: Some tips for successful tweeting
If you have decided that Twitter is right for you or your firm, or that you want to at least experiment with it, here are a few top tips to help you avoid the main pitfalls.
If you are tweeting for your firm, it may be tempting to delegate this task to one of the youngest members of staff, but consider the purpose of your feed and the audience you are aiming for. If you are simply using Twitter as a kind of RSS feed, your IT department can probably identify a suitable third-party tool.
There are many tools that can co-ordinate updates to Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs. If you are pushing a mix of marketing, client-facing know-how, or trying to build a relationship through conversation, many PSLs will be ideal. If you are primarily relationship building you may want to choose an appropriate rising-star lawyer. Whoever you choose needs to have an easy, engaging style, with a love of language and the ability to write short, pithy posts. It needs to be someone you trust and they need to understand your firm’s brand and Twitter strategy, as they have your identity in their hands. If you find Twitter worthwhile, make sure you have more than one ‘twitterer’ at your firm. People take holidays and quit and sometimes it is nice for the audience to have a bit of variety.
Once you have identified your twitterer, you need to ensure your tweets promote your brand. Twitter is a recipient-controlled model, which means that if you are posting interesting messages people will view your updates, but if you are not it is easy for them to ‘un-follow’ you. Successful feeds can take different forms and it will depend upon the intended audience which style is adopted. You may want to consider having a number of different feeds for different purposes (retailers often have one feed for vouchers and a different one for customer care and relationship building).
There is no perfect recipe for successful tweeting, but these are my top tips.
1. Study your audience, your competitors and those whose tweets you enjoy, but don’t feel you have to read every tweet otherwise you will soon be overloaded:
Listen especially to your critics. Third-party applications can e-mail an alert to you when someone tweets about you or any keyword or URL you choose and Twitter Search will make sure you see if someone is talking about you or your firm;
When you start tweeting, continue to listen and join in relevant discussions; and
Always answer questions directed to you.
2. Post a balanced number of tweets:
Recommendations as to a maximum vary, but personally I advise no more than four or five per day. Your audience will be impressed by quality not quantity; and
Most professionals I know are more likely to un-follow if you tweet too much rather than too little, but do try to tweet at least one message each week.
3. Provide value to your followers:
Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to read. Be thought-provoking, pithy, interesting and engaging;
Twitter works best for conversations, not just as an RSS feed or for press releases;
The best self-promotion is subtle and interesting;
Promote other people and re-tweet interesting people more than you promote yourself;
Share links with a discussion point or explanation as to why it is interesting;
Minimise the ‘noise’. You want to shrink the emotional distance between you and your clients, but they won’t really want to hear that you are having coffee again; and
Keep private messages private and just send a public tweet when it is of interest to many of your followers.
4. Automatic direct messages may save time but do little to build relationships or help you to connect with your followers.
Tweet – a 140 character post (n) and to write a tweet (v);
Twitterer – someone who tweets;
Retweet – re-sending a tweet you have found or received, which will be interesting to your followers;
Twitterati – those who twitter, the twitter crowd;
Twibes – a twitter community, a sub-set of the twitterati;
Followers – people who subscribe to your tweets;
#Hashtag – a categorisation code (i.e. #KM or #TED).