by Kirsten Hodgson
There are examples of lawyers in the USA and the UK who have generated work from social media, but are there any in New Zealand?
Rick Shera, Partner at Lowndes Jordan is a start-up, internet and IP lawyer and occasional blogger, who has tweeted under the moniker lawgeeknz since February 2009. Over the past 2 ½ years he’s built up over 1,500 followers and is one of the most active New Zealand lawyers on the network that I’ve come across.
I interviewed him about tweeting, how it’s helped him in his practice, and what advice he’d give to other lawyers thinking about using Twitter.
Why did you initially start using Twitter?
I found twitter hashtags (#[subject]) and people putting weird @ signs in front of nicknames, turning up in email discussions, lists and general conversation amongst the early adopters who I deal with. I was then at a conference where there was heavy use and almost had to get onboard or miss out on the conversations. So, there was no conscious plan.
But I quickly realised two great advantages to me of twitter. First off, it is an excellent way of following the start-up, IP and internet industries that I work with. Legal and business model developments in those areas anywhere in the world will impact us here in New Zealand and many of my clients are internet based, global or going global. I’ve now unsubscribed from most email and hardcopy newsletters and rely on twitter as almost my sole information feed.
The second thing which surprised me is how great a “trust engine” twitter is. People make a conscious choice to follow you and see what you are tweeting. If they don’t like it, or you miss the mark with the content or tone, they will unfollow you or just not pay any attention. That’s quite different from email newsletters and the clunkiness of unsubscribing or anything else I can think of. Even beyond that, if you are saying something that has value, they can reinforce that value by retweeting your message to their followers. In doing so, they are effectively saying to all their followers (who may number in the thousands) “hey, this guy has said something that I think you might like to see”. Professional services are generally obtained via word of mouth referral. Retweeting is online word of mouth referral.
How, if at all, have your objectives changed during the time in which you've used Twitter?
My objectives haven’t really changed – they remain information feed and direct engagement with people in the industries within which I work. If anything, they have strengthened. What I have done though is used twitter more to promote my blog, which adds profile.
What would you say have been your biggest social media successes to date?
Writing a blog post and having over 16,000 separate visits to read it. That was largely driven by twitter. Over 100 people tweeted the link to their followers, generating an instant targeted audience far greater than I could reach any other way.
That and the fact that I have had significant work flows from people I have initially met only via twitter.
Is there anything you've done that really didn't work?
Sometimes I post something and tweet about it but it just does not get any traction. That can be a bit disheartening but there is a definite rhythm to twitter I think. Before work and towards the end of a work day can get pretty active. Not using hashtags tends to mean things get lost too.
The other thing to be careful of is time. You need to take care not to blow out your time with all the interesting material that is on twitter. Focus helps and, conversely, you can quickly dip in and out of twitter because it is so easy to use.
If there was only one piece of advice you could give to other lawyers/firms thinking of using Twitter, what would it be?
Don’t be scared. As lawyers we tend to think that we must deliver pristine, legally perfect, pearls of wisdom every time. If you are using twitter in a professional context then you need to take that into account of course. But, equally, in 140 characters, you’re not going to get a full blown legal opinion across, so if you’re trying for that then you’ll #fail. People don’t expect it anyway – they just want to know that you’re an actual person and to understand your point of view.
And if you could provide any further helpful tips what would they be?
Keep your twitter name short. If you use up 25 of someone’s 140 characters with your name then they are less likely to retweet your message, which means you don’t get the advantage of referral to all their followers.
In the same vein, make your tweets memorable and short enough that others can retweet the whole thing. It’s a skill I still have difficulty with. Maybe that’s a lawyer thing – we can be a bit wordy The 140 character limit is interesting. It’s actually made me a better writer generally because I tend to get rid of superfluous cruft now.
Plus make sure your profile tells something about you. I never follow people if I can’t see who they are or what they’re about.
One more piece of advice – have fun! #lawyersFTW! [that's 'Lawyers for the Win' for those unfamiliar with this particular hashtag, i.e. me!]
What do you think of Rick’s advice?
What other tips would you share?
Are you a lawyer using social media effectively? If so, and you’d like to be profiled, I’d love to hear from you.