Leading a law firm is often compared to being the chief herder at a cat ranch. On the communications front, the managing partners at a law firm are challenged not only with what to say to their colleagues and clients but when and how to say it.
Social media, and Twitter in particular, offers those in the top spots at law firms an outlet to reach and connect with people in a way that transcends the traditional memo and email blasts that fill up inboxes.
Several of these managing partners’ counterparts in the corporate world — notables like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Elon Musk — have been using Twitter for years with great success in building and engaging a following that ultimately helps promote their products and cement customer loyalty. Still, despite its high-profile benefits, only about 5 percent of the CEOs of America’s biggest companies are active on Twitter.
A thorough recent search of Twitter for leaders of large law firms uncovered about a half-dozen from the AmLaw 100 that have been regularly posting in the past year or two.
Why so few? For many, Twitter remains a mystery, for sure. And that’s a shame. Despite its more spartan user interface, especially when compared with LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter is ultimately about building and interacting with a community of people, companies and groups who share common interests or are looking to be entertained or informed, or any combination of those.
But like most marketing opportunities, there are pros and cons to having your law firm’s leader on Twitter.
Pro: Creating a Community of Colleagues and Clients
With 284 million people using Twitter, chances are more than a few of your clients are on it. There’s an even greater chance that many more people that could be your clients are using Twitter, too. Certainly, several lawyers at your firm likely are tweeting regularly (here’s a list of more than 250 lawyers at AmLaw 100 firms who are on Twitter, some with thousands of followers).
Lawyers at law firms struggle constantly to stay visible with clients and, more often, prospective clients. Email newsletters only get so much traction in overflowing inboxes. Posting regularly on Twitter offers a relatively painless and inexpensive way of connecting with clients and prospects. One way to think of using Twitter is as an electronic clipping service. Instead of cutting that article out of the newspapers and mailing it, which can take a few days, you can now instantly share interesting articles with clients with one tweet to your followers.
Andrew Humphrey (@aghumphrey), the managing partner of Faegre Baker Daniels, has only a small group of around 150 followers on Twitter, but they receive regular tweets from him that share articles on leadership issues, as well as interesting posts from historian Michael Beschloss. This type of consistent engagement is a key benefit of Twitter, no matter how many people are following.
Pro: Promoting Your Firm
If people are following your firm’s managing partner, they potentially have some interest in your firm. Why not share with them various news items and other tidbits about the firm? It’s perfectly acceptable, and even advisable, for a managing partner to be the head cheerleader for the firm.
As Global Co-Head of DLA Piper, Nigel Knowles (@sirnigelknowles) regularly posts news about the firm, one of the world’s largest. But his 500+ follows can see a pattern among his tweets of some of the areas he cares about promoting, including pro bono. Sometimes the most effective promotion comes from a person, not the institution itself. A personal tweet, even if linking to a press release, can show colleagues and clients alike that a person — not some monolithic “senior leadership” or committee — is leading the firm and actively engaging with others to promote the firm and its goals or causes.
Con: Just Being a Mouthpiece
Many users of social media, and lawyers in particular, can be a tough crowd. They seek authenticity. If the marketing department is going to run the managing partner’s Twitter account, then it’s probably not worth having that Twitter account in the first place.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with marketing folks helping post some items about the firm, or feeding suggestions about posts, managing partners’ Twitter feeds should be something they own. People will be able to tell pretty quickly whether the managing partner or one of the marketing staff members is tweeting.
If managing partners can operate a smartphone, they can post to Twitter. It’s that easy, and it’s getting easier with various tools like HootSuite and an improved Twitter user interface for mobile. As a result, regularly tweeting doesn’t have to consume much valuable billable time at all.
Pro: Connecting the Personal with the Professional
That old saw about “all work and no play” applies to Twitter as well. While it’s perfectly appropriate for law firm leaders to share any and all news about their firms, it can get a little dull and repetitive. Social media is supposed to be social, right?
If your managing partner went to a party and only talked about your firm’s latest lateral hire or how thrilling it was to be included on some random publication’s latest list of top service providers, or even how great it was going to be to attend that conference on tax-funded derivative financing in emerging markets for technology startups, the number of people interested in such conversation would soon dwindle to none.
Contrary to popular opinion, many lawyers are creative, thoughtful and downright interesting people. In building and interacting with their communities of followers, managing partners can use Twitter posts as an outlet to showcase their creativity (even their wit) or share their interests outside work. Lawyer-client relationships often start on the basis of a specific business-related need, but the most successful ones tend to develop and grow as a result of sharing interests outside of business.
Orrick’s Chairman, Mitch Zuklie (@mitchzuklie), is a good example of a Twitter user who effectively blends his personal and professional interests in his posting strategy. Not surprisingly, you’ll find many posts sharing news about his firm. But if you glanced at his Twitter bio that identifies him as a “novice boxer,” you also won’t be surprised to see the occasional post to his more than 1,000 followers about some boxing-related topic, like ESPN’s analysis of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s latest bout. As a venture capital lawyer, Zuklie also likes to tweet about subjects interesting to his client base, whether it’s a pie chart breaking down a startup’s expenses or links to articles offering advice to entrepreneurs.
Con: Making a Misstep
You can’t get much more public than a post on Twitter. Just ask #AlexFromTarget. While some marketers may dream about a social media post going viral, getting millions of views and advancing the cause of their firm, it’s just not reality. Unless, of course, something bad happens. Managing partners are human, too, and they can make errors in judgment when it comes to Twitter.
Large law firms do a wide variety of work, for a wide variety of clients, from a wide variety of industries. While sharing personal interests can usually be a good thing for managing partners and your firm, there are always risks to sharing personal opinions on any number of topics or news events. Sensitive clients or matters, as well as potential business conflicts, have a habit of rearing up when you least expect them.
Andrew Glincher (@andrewglincher), CEO and managing partner of Nixon Peabody, tends mostly to share news about his firm on Twitter. But he isn’t above offering the occasional personal opinion, weighing in last fall about whether Roger Goodell’s tenure as NFL Commissioner should be ending (Glincher felt it should be). Presumably neither the NFL nor Goodell were clients, and Glincher clearly wasn’t alone in his sentiment at the time.
Pro: Setting a Good Example
Despite all appearances, Twitter is intended to be a place for back-and-forth conversation, like an extended comments section of a blog or online article. The ability to converse — and converse civilly — is one of its greatest benefits, if not one of its least-used features.
How your managing partner interacts on Twitter with colleagues, clients and the community at large can have a tremendous impact on your firm. Fellow lawyers, young and old alike, can witness both good manners and quality interactions. One of the responsibilities of leadership is to set a good example for everyone in the organization, and Twitter offers a very attractive platform for managing partners in this area.
A law firm leader can also use Twitter to show greater transparency to clients and colleagues about how the firm operates, what type of people work there, what is important to the firm and its leadership and what the future holds for the firm. Allowing clients a window into the firm’s world can reap significant benefits in terms of strengthening and deepening relationships, a key part of any marketing and business development strategy for a law firm.
These pros and cons are just the highlights for why, or why not, your managing partner should consider using Twitter. For most, if not all, law firms, the pros of your leader using Twitter outweigh the cons. Engagement on Twitter (and other social media), while requiring some investment of thought and time, can pay back a variety of dividends, not just for the managing partners themselves, but for the firm as a whole.
What’s holding your managing partner back from using Twitter?
John M. Byrne (@johnmbyrne) is President of Glencoe Media Group Inc. He started his career as a journalist before attending law school and then practicing as a litigator with a large law firm. Realizing he could combine his media experience with his legal background and communications skills, John has worked for nearly 20 years with lawyers and other professionals, helping them handle the press, develop their brands and win new clients. After a stint as Chief Marketing Officer for Drinker Biddle & Reath, he recently opened Glencoe Media Group. He blogs at The Byrne Blog.
For more good tips on leveraging social media in your marketing, download our e-zine “Connected: A Lawyer’s Guide to Social Media Marketing.”
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