Individual versus firm Twitter accounts for lawyers, accountants and engineers

A number of clients have asked me how they should use Twitter. Typically they're on there but aren't doing much more than broadcasting a variety of disparate messages to their followers. While I still consider myself a Twitter novice I do find it a great source of valuable content, a way to engage with those I want to, and a driver of traffic to my blog/website. 

I think fundamentally there are three routes that lawyers, accountants and engineers can go down when setting up a twitter account: 

  1. Individual accounts
  2. Practice group or industry specific accounts
  3. Firm accounts 

Individual accounts

Individuals setting up their own accounts is, in my view, the optimal way to go. That's because:

  • Twitter, like other social media tools, is about engagement and building relationships and it's very difficult to do that as a firm. 
  • People do business with people they like and so it's important for your personality to come through in your tweets – that's not to say you should share what you had a for breakfast but it is okay to tweet about things outside of work you're interested in. I tend to apply the 80/20 rule here (i.e. tweet about business-related issues 80% of the time and personal interests 20%). 
  • Research shows that 83% of clients of professional services firms hire the individual rather than the firm. 
  • This is a way to build your personal profile and expertise. 

Practice group or industry specific accounts 

One of the biggest objections I hear to setting up individual accounts is "I don't have the time/inclination". While I don't believe the time excuse has much merit given that, by following the right people, Twitter is a bit like reading the latest industry magazine (only it's a lot quicker to do) and it's a lot quicker and easier to share content than via email, the lack of inclination is a factor. If you are simply not ready to set up your own account then you might want to consider setting up specific practice group or industry sector accounts. These should be maintained by those working in these areas and should be set up with the audience in mind – is there a specific group of people who will want to engage in this area? For example, you may set up an employment law or an energy sector account.

If you go down this route I recommend: 

  • Sharing the responsibility for tweeting around the team and ensuring you engage with your followers/others by sharing (retweeting) their info, asking them questions, sending direct messages etc. 
  • Sharing relevant tweets from those in your firm who do have individual accounts through these accounts. Inksters in Scotland do this well – take a look at their account to see how it works. 
  • Being consistent – try not to share 5 tweets one day and then do nothing for another week.
  • Avoiding the temptation to use this as a broadcasting tool. While there's nothing wrong with doing so you really won't be harnessing the power of Twitter and are unlikely to build engagement this way. 

Firm accounts

There are a couple of instances where I think firm accounts can work (as set out below). However, in the majority of cases I find them less than ideal. As a prospective client, I don't want to follow you if too many of your messages are totally irrelevant to me. One thing I do on Twitter is look out for those people who regularly share valuable content and read their Tweets. I don't do this with those who occasionally share good stuff. Having a Twitter account designed to appeal to a broad range of people may mean those you want to see certain content don't because they're not looking out for it. 

The other reason I personally dislike firm-wide accounts is that there's no personality coming through. I don't feel as inclined to retweet (share) an organisation's tweets as I do an individual's. One tactic some smaller firms use is to have the tweeter's initials at the end of the post – but again, people don't connect with initials. 

I do think firm accounts can work in the following situations: 

  • For graduate or other recruitment purposes
  • For niche firms i.e. those with a focus in a particular area such as intellectual property

But again, the reason they work is that they are appealing to a specific group of people. 

If you're looking at setting up Twitter accounts for yourself or your firm do bear those you want to engage with in mind. Make it easy for them to follow you and look to engage people one on one as that's where the real power of Twitter lies: it's a two way communications/engagement/relationship building tool NOT simply an email substitute. It's not a silver bullet, takes time to build up an engaged following and to engage, and its effects are cumulative. Give it time, be consistent and help others first. 

What's your view? 

Specialising in professional services and law firm marketing. I help firms to retain and grow existing clients and attract more of their ideal clients. My core services include social media for lead generation, voice of the client programmes and tender strategy and development. Outside of work I love to run. I’m a bit like Forest Gump in that I’m not that quick but can keep going for ages. I also enjoy coming up with new inventions. Unfortunately, most of them have already been invented! | * Professional services marketing consultant | * Legal marketing consultant | * Law firm marketing consultant
  • http://www.johngraymarketing.com.au John Gray, Law Firm Marketing

    Good article Kirsten. In the past I’ve mainly recommended a single firm twitter account, primarily out of a fear of losing the ability to manage the flow of content and reducing the likelihood that the accounts would end up abandoned.

    Although thinking about it some more I agree with your point about too many irrelevant items being a problem. Industry or legal practice area focussed accounts are probably more relevant for most readers and reasonably likely to be continually maintained.

  • http://marketingforprofessionals.co.nz/ Kirsten Hodgson

    Thanks John and good point about abandoned accounts! Ultimately maintaining the account is key (or deleting it if it isn’t maintained).

  • http://suitcaseentrepreneur.com Natalie Sisson

    Well written article Kirsten answering the fundamental concerns people often have. I’d say ultimately the key is creating and maintaining an account with the purpose of using this Twitter tool to drive engagement, referrals, new business and building credibility.

    • http://marketingforprofessionals.co.nz/ Kirsten Hodgson

      Absolutely. You do that really well Nat. I’m still learning!

  • Jayne Westwood

    Interesting article Kirsten – I think the time/inclination argument is the biggest barrier. I’m sure in any industry we are starting to see people who are using individual accounts well to promote their firm (as opposed to their own business). But, this really depends on the individuals seeing marketing as part of their role day in day out rather than “what the business development person” does.

  • http://marketingforprofessionals.co.nz/ Kirsten Hodgson

    You’re right Jane – to really leverage any social media network professionals have to see marketing/BD as their responsibility and it’s difficult to get some of them to see this. I’d start with those who do and get them engaged before trying to crack the harder nuts. At least that way you will have found a couple more internal advocates to help others see the value.

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