Twitter is a well-known social media service. Now is a great time to discuss whether attorneys should be using the service to promote their practices given that Twitter is in the news as it prepares to go public. Even though most everyone in America has heard of Twitter, many have either not tried the service or do not see the practical application of it. Understanding both what Twitter is and is not, as well as which groups benefit from promoting themselves on Twitter, leads to the conclusion that most in the legal profession do not benefit from promoting themselves or their practice by tweeting.

Lawyers must understand the nature of Twitter before deciding if it is appropriate for their firm

Twitter LogoTwitter was preceded on the internet by RSS feeds. RSS (which is short for “Rich Site Summary”) is a blog syndication system which is often referred to as “Really Simple Syndication.” RSS, in short, allows someone to “follow” a blog and every time that blog is updated the RSS program the follower is using on their computer adds that update to a list of “to read” articles that the follower can access at his or her convenience. RSS never caught on with the masses even though it is a useful system. In 2008, for example, only about seven percent of online adults used RSS services at least once a week[i]. This lack of mass adoption can be attributed to two things. First, RSS was always a bit of a “techie” product that did not appeal to people unless they were power users of their email and computers. Second, RSS rose in a time before social networking, when longer blogging was the primary way of disseminating information online, and the service does not lend itself well to shorter and more frequent bursts of information that is more common today.

Twitter and social networks are replacing the RSS feed. Rather than following their favorite website through RSS, many now simply follow their favorite blog through updates the writer posts to Twitter. Each time I update my blog, for example, I tweet to my followers that a new post has been put up and what the subject matter of that post is. While Twitter is far more complicated to use than social networks, it is far easier for a “non-techie” to use than an RSS service. Due to the rise of services like Twitter, RSS use is in steep decline. As I mentioned, in 2008 roughly seven percent of the online population was using RSS. In 2012 that number dropped to roughly four percent[ii].

While Twitter may be similar to an RSS feed and reader, it is also very different. An RSS reader simply places a link in your feed letting you know that a new article has been posted. If you subscribe to a Twitter feed, by contrast, you see all the “noise” which comes from various followers of a Tweeter as those followers chime in with their comments. Also, unlike the art of long blogging where articles are less frequent and tend to be of substance, tweets come much more often (typically providing a short status update of some sort) and can be no more than 140 characters. So unlike an RSS feed providing updates that an article has been posted to a blog you follow, if you follow a person in Twitter you will be receiving regular updates on all types of issues – including trivial things such as how someone spent their weekend.

Twitter is a service that few people actually use long term. Few people wish to know every single instance of something updating from a source they follow. You would not, for instance, want your smartphone to alert you every single time CNN of Fox News posts a new article on their website; your phone would never be silent. Also, while some people do like to receive regular updates from their favorite sources or people, many do not wish to be bombarded with every comment or opinion that is posted by other followers of that source, which is what Twitter does. The fact that many people see Twitter as more trouble than it is worth, or as having little use in the first place, is shown in the fact that over one billion people have signed up Twitter accounts but only a little over twenty percent of these use the service with any regularity; in other words, roughly eighty percent of Twitter accounts and signed up and subsequently abandoned[iii].

It should not be said that Twitter lacks purposes in all instances. If you are a person or business who people want to receive regular updates from then a Twitter account is appropriate. For example, I post a number of “how to” articles on my various websites and my followers can simply see that these articles have been posted by following my Twitter feed and they are not made to check all of my sites on a regular basis. Twitter also provides an easy to use platform for high profile entities and celebrities about whom many people wish to know every small detail. Twitter, in fact, is preparing to update its service to make media and television content stand out a bit more. This is recognition of the fact that the main utility in the service is for following the celebrity culture. There are, after all, plenty of Americans who care what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast this morning.

Twitter provides no value to most of the legal profession

Twitter is simply not a useful tool for an attorney to use in promoting his or her practice. The service is useful for those who people wish to follow on a regular basis. Attorneys are not a group that the average person follows however. The average person needing an attorney does not even think about lawyers or the law until they are in need of one and, even after they retain you, they only care about the law to the limited extent of what is happening in their case. Also, once their case is over they will have no interest in following your firm or the law. In other words, the information that a practicing lawyer would tweet is not something that your potential client base is interested in following.

While researching this article I came across many arguments of why attorneys should use Twitter. One suggestion was that a lawyer must be tweeting since people tend to use brands they follow. The problem with this argument is that this speaks more towards physical products or services people use on an ongoing basis and not your law office. Second, people are often following a brand because they already use it, not the other way around. Also, I came across a suggestion that tweeting will drive more traffic to your site. Assuming, arguendo, that you get traffic from tweeting, it is unlikely to be “quality traffic” from which someone is likely to retain you.

I have previously discussed why attorneys must focus on search engine optimization as well as the marketing benefits of attorneys maintaining a blog. As someone who has extensive experience in online marketing, I see little value in attorneys maintaining a presence on Twitter. Obviously there are many attorneys who use the service as part of their marketing efforts. Feel free to chime in with a comment below as to your experience with tweeting about your law practice.

Update: A November 4th, 2013 Pew Research study found that only about half of the people who use Twitter are doing so for information about something other than their friends and family. So in other words, of the small niche of people who regularly use Twitter, roughly half would not be interested in tweets from a law firm.

February 6th, 2014 update: Twitter announced its first quarterly earnings report on February 5th, 2014. The report showed that the service had only added 9 million users in the previous quarter. This lack of growth further calls into question the usefulness of the service as a law firm marketing platform. The small number of people actively using the service, combined with the slowing growth, means that attorneys should not expect Twitter to evolve into a platform from which their firm will attract clients.

[i] http://blogs.forrester.com/reineke_reitsma/13-03-15-the_data_digest_usage_of_rss_feeds

[ii] http://blogs.forrester.com/reineke_reitsma/13-03-15-the_data_digest_usage_of_rss_feeds

[iii] http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57603133-93/twitter-to-target-the-masses-with-ios-overhaul-says- report/?tag=nl.t720&s_cid=t720&ttag=t720&ftag=