By Tom McLain
Depending on who you listen to, a presence on Twitter is either an absolute must for businesses and law firms or it is a complete bust and waste of time. Twitter, along with other Web 2.0 and "social networking" tools, has been a big part of the buzz in among marketing experts for quite some time and businesses and law firms have been struggling to determine if it makes sense for them to jump in. Not long ago, I embraced Twitter wholeheartedly in an effort to understand if and how it might help me develop new clients. At least for now, I am backing off from my commitment to Twitter and, operating on the assumption that my experiences may be helpful to others, I decided to write this blog entry.
The importance and usefulness of Twitter as a method for marketing legal services is hotly contested as of this writing. In May, 2009, Larry Bodine, a respected law firm marketing expert, articulated the case against Twitter in his article, Twitter Not Effective for Law Firm Marketing, and concluded: "For business development purposes, it’s time to give Twitter the bird." Interestingly enough, just a few months earlier, in his January 2009 article Attorneys Flocking to Twitter for Marketing, Bodine predicted, "From where I’m sitting, 2009 will be the year Twitter becomes the major business development trend" and articulated the case for the use of Twitter. Not surprisingly, Bodine's sudden position reversal on Twitter had its immediate detractors and many quickly stood up to defend Twitter including, Peter H. Berge,Web education director of Minnesota CLE, who wrote Response to Larry Bodine on Twitter. A well reasoned point by point analysis of Bodine's article which agrees in part and disputes in part Bodine's conclusions can be found at Twitter for Law Firm Business Development and features comments from a number of people I know and respect like David A. Barrett and Stephen Fairley. Finally, Legal tweeters respond to recent barbs at Twitter, comments on the controversy and points out that Twitter has proven to be successful for certain lawyers, singling out solo practitioners as an example.
Before recounting my own Twitter experience, I must confess that I have my own serious reservations about Internet-based marketing of legal services which I suspect are not dissimilar from the reservations held by many others. The first reservation is best summarized as a general disbelief in the notion that anyone would actually make a decision to hire an attorney based on something found on the Internet. The second reservation is best summarized as a concern that anybody willing to hire an attorney based upon what they find on the Internet may not be the sort of client that I want to represent. While these reservations may have some merit, my suspicion is that my resistance to social networking as a business development tool is quite similar to the distrust that all of us who are old enough to remember had of the concept of having a webpage at all. In short, I think the day is probably coming when a lawyer who has no presence in social networking will be viewed as somehow irrelevant in much the same way as we currently feel about law firms with no webpage today. So it is simply a matter of choosing when and not if to climb on board. (Since I believe that Web 2.0 and social networking tools are here to stay, look for a future blog entry from me on policies that businesses should adopt).
Insofar as my own use of Twitter is concerned, I suspect that my experiences on Twitter could be viewed as many observers as a success, which may make my decision to pull back even odder. I opened my Twitter account on April 24, 2009 and have been fortunate enough to have attracted many of the sorts of followers that I hoped for (and, ironically, over half as many followers as Larry Bodine). More importantly, earlier this month, I was privileged to be the subject of a live interview on Twitter (known as a "twitterview") conducted by Lance Godard, a legal marketing expert with whom I have since had productive conversations. I have also been featured as a "poster child" in an blog entry called The Anatomy of a Twitter Tweet - Twitter Basics for Lawyers. Many of my tweets seem to have caught the eye of other members of the legal community and of people that could be viewed as prospective clients who have, in turn, republished my tweets (called a retweet) so that my tweets have been literally viewed by over 20,000 people.
So why is it that, after less than two months with apparent Twitter success, I have decided to back off on my commitment to Twitter. The answer is time. The beginning of the end for me can be traced to some of the questions that I answered in my twitterview. Those questions caused me to focus on my overall marketing plan and just how things like Twitter fit into it. Both sides of the debate over Twitter for lawyers recognize that it is vitally important to remain true to proven core marketing principles such as face-to-face meetings and other forms of personal interaction with people and that Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools are a poor substitute for "good, old-fashioned" client development. I do not think that I am alone in my belief that the marketing efforts should be focused on, in order, face-to-face interaction, maintaining a good website that is visible in Internet searches, maintaining a good blog that generates attention, and Web 2.0 tools. Of the Web 2.0 tools, my personal preference is LinkedIn, followed by Twitter. A fair assessment of my own marketing practices is that my priorities have been wrong and I was spending too much time on Twitter and not enough on higher ranking methods. In short, my balance was off or, in the words of Larry Bodine, I had allowed Twitter to become a "powerful distraction from getting real marketing work done." I simply need to create more time to focus on face-to-face marketing and blogging. In the words of my dear friend Chris Kimbel, sales director at Womble Carlyle, my marketing plan lacked proper balance and was skewed in an unhealthy degree in the direction of the least productive marketing methods.
So, while I work to achieve marketing balance, Twitter must necessarily take a backseat to the other best practices mentioned above. This does not mean that I consider Twitter to be a lost cause - particularly if three new matters show up on my doorstep from clients who say, "I found you on Twitter." My partner John Watkins will remain on Twitter and my law firm will maintain its twitter account. In fact, I suspect that some of the things I find important and my blog posts will wind up as tweets by John or my law firm.
In closing, I want to continue one of the wonderful Twitter traditions that occurs on Fridays. On Fridays, it is customary to provide the names of people on Twitter that you believe are worth following. In that spirit, I will provide my #FollowFriday list and include many of the lawyers, paralegals, legal marketing experts and other consultants whose tweets I have found to be interesting and/or helpful over the last two months. Everyone of them is worth a follow and none of them will disappoint.