For all the media attention (or hype) that it receives, many lawyers remain cautious, if not skeptical, about the value of Twitter. Utter such unlikely terms as “retweet,” “twitbin,” or “twitpic” among a group of lawyers at a continuing legal education seminar, for example, and you are likely to get a lot of “sideways” glances. But, should lawyers”twit that” old-fashioned behavior, and jump on the “tweet deck?” (or some other Twitter app)
When I first heard about Twitter, I thought to myself what a load of ?!?! Not too long afterwards, however, I found myself reminded by a law school chum – stunned because I had a Facebook page – how negative I had been toward another classmate who suggested (way back in 1993) that we all get “email addresses” to communicate better with one another, that it was the wave of the future. I, along with many of my law school compatriots at the time, thought this other classmate was, well, not entirely well-hinged. How wrong we were.
Because of my previous error, and at the insistence of friend and colleague, Lori J. Paul, I decided to give Twitter a second glance. When I did, I discovered at least part of the disconnect I think many lawyers experience when they first learn about Twitter. Describe Twitter to any “non-twitterer,” and frankly, it sounds ridiculous, shallow, and more than a bit narcissistic. At first glance, Twitter does not come across as the powerful marketing, research, and collaboration tool it actually can be.
To be sure, Twitter is fraught with ethical implications for lawyers, ones we should all keep in mind. R. Crowley’s article on Blawg House is a good article to review, which you can link to here. This particular article also has an informative PDF you can download by Steven C. Bennett entitled, “Look Who’s Talking: Legal Implications of Twitter Social Networking Technology.” I have also uploaded a copy to the Box.net widget on my other blog, “Civil Rights and Wrongs.”
Crowley points out 5 valuable ways lawyers can ethically use Twitter:
- expand their network;
- comment on legal issues and trends in their practice area;
- build their reputation;
- showcase their expertise by linking to content they have published; and
- receive news updates relevant to their practice area.
However, as the Bennett article points out, “Twitter messages…for all their informality, must be treated with the same caution as messages in any other form…” Problems of particular concern to lawyers using Twitter are:
- Divulging privileged or confidential information in Twitter messages, whether intentionally or inadvertently;
- Giving legal advice and thereby establishing an attorney-client relationship, again whether intentionally or inadvertently; and
- Engaging in prohibited solicitation for legal work.
Bennett’s article suggests that lawyers establish a Twitter protocol, a suggestion with which I agree. Therefore, I do recommend that you take the time to download the Bennett article and read it carefully.
Having been forewarned of some of the pitfalls of careless “twittering,” how do you “tweet” in the first place? The first step is to go to Twitter.com, set up a free account, and create a user profile. Once you have done this, you will want to find other individuals or organizations that you want to “follow.” Those whom you choose to follow may be people or companies with which you are already familiar. However, I encourage you to think of Twitter as a way to get to know some people, companies, organizations or ventures that you would not otherwise have an opportunity to know.
One good place to find other professionals already using Twitter is by checking out various Twitter directories on the Internet. One example is the Twitter Yellow Pages, Twellow.com. Another example is Just Tweet It. Directories such as these frequently list users by profession, making it relatively easy to zero in on a particular target market.
Once you have your account going, and you are following some Twitter users, you will need to find one or more Twitter “apps,” software applications that assist one in using Twitter. Almost no one still logs onto Twitter.com to access or use Twitter, as that process is simply too cumbersome and it does not maximize Twitter’s benefits. That’s where “apps” come into play.
When it comes to choosing an “app,” there is no right or wrong choice. If you decide to become a “twitterer,” then pick the “app” that you like, one that is easy to learn and use, and one which gets you the information you desire. However, finding an “app” can be challenging. Do a search for Twitter “apps,” for example, and you will find an overwhelming number of search results.
Because there are so many “apps” for Twitter, I thought I would list a few of the free ones out there and then provide additional articles that contain many others from which you can choose. Where applicable, I have noted my own personal experience with the “app,” and whether I recommend it or not.
- Twitter Search (formerly Summize) – this tool allows you to find conversations happening on Twitter by utilizing directed keyword searches.
- Twitbin – for Firefox users, this add on allows you to manage your tweets directly in the Firefox browser. I have personally used Twitbin. I liked it especially when I was a brand new Twitter user. It ran smoothly, even in the sidebar, something I cannot say for all Firefox add ons. And, it was easy to learn.
- Tweetdeck – Tweetdeck is a great desktop application. Using Adobe Air, this application allows you to customize Twitter in many ways, including tracking your tweets in real-time, tracking those whom you are following, and even tracking those who mention you in their tweets. Tweetdeck also provides suggestions for others you might enjoy following, and it works with the iPhone. Perhaps most important, Tweetdeck is incredibly easy to learn and use. I have personally been using Tweetdeck for several months now, and highly recommend it.
- TwitPic – If it is photo sharing that interests you, TwitPic is an “app” you may want to check out.
- TinyURL – One of the limitations on a “tweet” is the fact that it can only be 140 characters long, even though there are “apps” to help you exceed this number. Because of this limitation, you will need to shorten long website addresses as much as possible to maximize the number of characters left for your text. There are a number of “apps” that achieve this goal, collectively referred to as “URL shorteners.” TinyURL is one of the more well-known among these.
- TwitThat – TwitThat is a very simple Firefox add on that allows you to tweet any page of the Internet you are viewing with a couple of clicks. I personally use this add on and it has consistently performed without any problems.
- Hoot Suite – Hoot Suite is the latest Twitter “app” to catch my eye, and it looks like a fantastic product. Calling itself the “professional Twitter client,” Hoot Suite allows you to manage multiple Twitter accounts, social networks, track your statistics, and much more. As I become more familiar with this product, I will post more information on the blog.
The information I just provided is the veritable “scintilla” of the Twitter “app” universe. To aid in your search for the perfect “app” that will help you get the full benefit of Twitter, I recommend the following blogs/articles:
- thesocialmediaguide.com – download the free “Twitter Cheat Sheet” and the article entitled “The Ultimate List of Twitter Tools”
- mediapost.com – check out the David Berkowitz article entitled “Make A Twitter List And Check It Twice”
I hope you found this article useful and informative. I received no incentives or freebies of any kind for the reviews in this article, and anticipate receiving none as a result of these reviews. In the future, there will certainly be more to blog about on the subject of Twitter and its uses (or misuses) for lawyers. So, stay tuned, and I hope to see you all in the “Twittersphere.”