Tuesday, February 03, 2009

LegalTech Panel Report: "What is Twitter and How Can I Use It?"

I attended an excellent LegalTech panel discussion yesterday titled “What is Twitter and How Can I Use it?” Bob Ambrogi introduced the panel (each introduction done in 140 characters or less), which consisted of Kevin O’Keefe (@kevinokeefe), Matthew W. Homann (@matthoman), Chris Winfield (@chriswinfield), and Monica Bay (@commonscold).

Monica, who is the editor-in-chief of Law Technology News, moderated the panel and opened by noting that she was a very reluctant social networker who finally gave up (particularly when she took the post at Law Technology News), and was instantly hooked. She is actively participating on a number of social networking sites, and has three Twitter accounts. She offered an example of using Twitter to troll for story pitches for her publication, and was impressed with how quickly she received substantive proposals from contributors.

Chris Winfield, president of 10e20, a social media marketing consultancy, spoke next. He provided a thorough overview of what Twitter is, starting with the signup page and moving through the various user features that the basic Twitter site offers.

He noted that Twitter is essentially a communications tool – it’s about talking and communicating. I think that this is a great point that is sometimes lost in the back-and-forth questioning of what Twitter is. Just as the telephone can be used to deliver messages ranging from the most trivial to the most important, so can Twitter. It’s up to the user to decide whether and how to use Twitter.

Chris highlighted Twitter’s search function – which has improved over the past couple of months – to highlight how flexible it is. Users can search for specific terms within tweets, or for specific user names.

As a demonstration of Twitter’s utility, Chris showed how he used it to help him create his presentation. A few days before the panel discussion, he tweeted three questions for the presentation and in short order received 135 responses, saving him a lot of work. The questions, and my favorite responses, follow:

- How would you explain Twitter in 140 characters or less? “A social conversation tool that allows people to connect within communities.”

- What is your MUST have Twitter tool? Answers ranged, but included the search feature; Tweetdeck; the Twitterfon application for iPhone; and EasyTweets.

- How could a lawyer or someone in the legal field use Twitter effectively? Answers included using it for education; to answer client or potential client questions; for personal branding; to help with relationship building; to interact with a community; to make connections, to keep up with people in a particular field or industry; to gain insight by using polls.

Matt Homann is the founder of LexThink LLC and writes the [non]billable hour blog. His experience with Twitter is similar to mine, in that he had been on Twitter for a couple of years, but only started using it regularly during last 6 months. He made the following excellent points about the Twitter tool:

- Twitter is easy to learn to use.

- It can be hard to understand why Twitter should be used– why do I want to follow people, why would they follow me?

- Twitter is a “kool-aid technology;” once you get it, you can’t stop telling other people about it.

- Twitter’s greatest value comes from knowing what people are thinking (not what they’re doing). It’s a form of “instant anthropology,” allowing you to plug in to what people are discussing all over the world. He highlighted the “Trending Topics” posted on the Twitter search page as an indication of what Twitter users were talking about at any given point in time. This can provide Twitter users with faster news, particularly about breaking stories.

- To effectively use Twitter in a work context, it’s important to be yourself. Use your name, or your company’s name, if you want to build relationships.

- If you fear that Twitter will interfere with your ability to get your work done, you’re not afraid of Twitter, you’re afraid of doing your work. He made an excellent point that you don’t have to use Twitter all the time, but can “dip in” to the Twitter “stream” whenever you have the time to do so. This makes most sense when you use enhanced search tools such as those available on Tweetdeck that allow you to view multiple search results on one screen.

- To use Twitter most effectively, you should integrate it with you phone. This doesn’t necessarily mean tweeting from your phone; it means bridging the gap between communicating with people via Twitter and then picking up the phone and calling them in person. This is the best way to use Twitter to build client and personal relationships. The successful Twitter user is one who turn Twitter friends into real-life friends.

- Matt described Twitter as being like a networking meeting on steroids – though the conversation’s better and there’s a lot fewer insurance salesmen in the room. From my perspective, the unfiltered feeds can sometimes resemble an Internet chat room, with multiple cross-conversations going on simultaneously. This is why effective use of search tools is so important.

- Finally, Matt noted that the number of followers you have is far less important than the number of followers you deserve. You should always work to deserve more, by contributing to the conversation and building your community.

Kevin O’Keefe is the CEO of LexBlog, Inc., and the author of Real Lawyers Have Blogs. His points were as follows:

- From a big picture perspective, Twitter is a great tool, but sometimes dangerous.

- Kevin provided a number of examples of ways that he could trace new business to his use of Twitter. What I liked about these examples is that they each involved a personal tweet – a comment about a ball game, or a poll-type question about whether a golfer was going to make a putt – that connected with a client or potential client and generated a follow-up. The takeaway from this – and it was a point that Matt raised as well – is that at least some of your tweets should reflect your personality.

- Kevin firmly believes that social media, such as Twitter, is more important than maximizing the hits on your blog or website. Twitter is a tool that allows your message to spread not only to those who follow you directly, but virally as well. People who re-tweet messages help spread your word beyond your immediate network.

- Twitter is not a kids’ tool; its demographics are strong. There are a lot of well-educated, forward-thinking adults using Twitter.

- In Kevin’s personal experience, nothing has had the impact on his company LexBlog quite like Twitter. He’s seen this happen just in past six months. He quoted Guy Kawasaki: Twitter is the single biggest branding tool since TV. Kevin is convinced that Twitter is here to stay.

- He suggests using Twitter to discover people you’d like to get to know and would like to have a conversation with.

- Kevin tweets things that his target audience is interested in; he tries to make his tweets relevant to his target audience, and includes some personal items (within reason).

- He pointed out how his company is helping law firms use Twitter to develop micro-blogging site pages that show what firm lawyers are doing or have to say on a particular topic.

There were a number of questions after the presentations; one that stuck with me was about fair use copyright issues. Presumably this relates to re-tweeting of tweets. My immediate take on this is that one of the things you consent to when you submit a tweet via Twitter is to the re-tweeting of that tweet. While I could see there being an issue if someone were to aggregate multiple tweets in a book or article. I’ve commented on this in the blog post context elsewhere.

Takeaway points:

1. Take advantage of Twitter's search features, particularly those available on Tweetdeck, to receive up-to-date news and information on topics that matter to you from people all over the world.

2. Contribute some of your personality to your tweets. Don't be a corporate drone all the time; occasionally reveal your interests and show that you are a real person.

3. Twitter relationships are a start. It's up to you to take them to the next level.