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The anti-social network







There are many advantages to a firm embracing twitter as part of their corporate strategy, and these have been discussed elsewhere extensively, including by @BrianInkster, @kilroyt, @bhamiltonbruce, @legalbrat, @colmmu, @NewLeafLaw, @LindaCheungUK and @LegalBizzle (= top (legal) commentator). @Miss_TS_Tweets has recently been given the go-ahead to take part in a corporate blogging exercise, and her recent experiences can be seen in her blog post as of yesterday. I am not going to talk about aspects of the ‘lawyers enjoying the tweet taste of success‘ described by Alex Aldridge, in his recent Guardian article. The tweeting community benefits from all contributors, ranging from @charonqc to @AshleyConnick, with differing but complementary perspectives. This all may be a far cry from what Mark Zuckenberg had originally conceived of in development and implementation of his ‘social network‘.









A medium-sized firm might be able to secure generic competitive advantages through their unique relationships in diverse practice areas and sectors (some of which might be extremely community-friendly such as social enterprises), but there always remains the ‘glocal‘ challenge – i.e. how to make such a fundamentally national or international approach work level at an individual basis within a particular town in England, Scotland or Wales, for example. My story here revolves around twitter, but it could equally apply to blogs such as this one. Equally, the strategy could be one focused on imparting knowledge including press releases and relevant publications (see, for example, the excellent @SJ_Weekly account which acts as a handle for the main journal/magazine). A robust synthesis of how to approach twitter in the corporate law was offered by them in a excellent thought-provoking post, “Tweet Forth And Multiply“, earlier this year.  Jean-Yves Gilg, the Editor of Solicitors Journal, is well-known to be interested in this emerging area in corporate law.

Such educational initiatives via the social media can be extremely effective, even if the initial communication appears unidirectional but quickly allow prompt recriprocity (see for example the brand new educational initiative for law students, @TSL_Tweets and their rapidly-updated website). For example, Brian Inkster and Linda Cheung of the Institute of Directors, noticeably through @cubesocial, had emphasised the crucial importance of high quality people-relationship building, for example. However even the CubeSocial analysis has recently evolved into something further, with personal conversation management an achievable goal (as explained in Kim’s blog on 7 September 2011). This is essential for the ‘carryover’ effect for profitability of transactions, beyond the corporate billing of a single transaction, arguably.

The blog post of @Miss_TS_Tweets reinforces the view that corporate social media does not involve a network that is entirely “social”: it involves what I feel is an “anti-social network“. In her blogpost, Miss_TS_Tweets provides an example that you wouldn’t be necessarily be expected to wear a name badge at a social event outside work hours, so why should you be so identifiable if doing corporate twitter or acting as a corporate blogger? There are certainly issues about the infrastructure of the firm, its management and leadership, its customers/clients/competitors, its supply chain and network, its quality management, its process and quality management and its resource allocation which will influence the operational efficacy of implementation of a new corporate strategy within an organisation, whether in an incremental or revolutionary way.

It’s probably advisable for the anti-social network to developed, created and implemented according to well-known principles in management and leadership to maximise the chances of success. This is critically dependent on all members of the organisation, but this is dependent on realisation that the employee of the corporate firm cannot necessary be expected to do twitter 24/7 and needs some time to be in anti-social network (anti-social to work but social to ‘real immediates’, i.e. with personal friends and families only. Lawyers, like architects, journalists, physicians or surgeons, need their quality “me-time” too. Resource allocation and funding demonstrate a commitment to any particular innovation in a corporate, but paying somebody to be available 24/7 might unfortunately introduce some contractual obligation to be ‘on-call’ on twitter when the top priority should clearly be the nuts-and-bolts of practising the law like the drafting of contracts. Expecting somebody to tweet on a single merged work/personal account means that tweets become prominently designed to ‘play safe’, diminishing the breadth of substance to the tweets.

However, in the culture of the corporate firm embracing twitter, it is vital that corporate tweeters forge powerful relationships with all other stakeholders, which might include lay members of the general public, marketing and media analysts, lawyers, managers, others, or themselves. For this innovative approach to succeed, everybody’s input could be welcomed but in such a way where diversity is respected – this includes for different physical abilities, or hierarchy (e.g. trainee up to partner). The atmosphere has to be open.

The inherent issue with Twitter is that it is vehemenently innovative, such that participants must be able to feel they can make mistakes, and can take some risks. Corporate tweeters should not be penalised financially or otherwise if they make innocent mistakes, as a lot of damage can be done towards the enormous goodwill for the corporate tweeting to be a success. Giving improper advice would be wholly inadvisable for corporate tweeters, as they do indeed deserve to be disciplined by @sra_solicitors (and correspondingly @barstandards for the ‘other half’) for imparting incorrect advice which undermines the reputation of and confidence within the legal profession as a whole. The code of conduct for the routine operation of lawyers who are solicitors, including confidentiality issues, integrity or conflicts of interest (say), can be immediately applied to Twitter, which  is merely just a genre of media. Corporate tweeters will perhaps need the help of senior people or specialists to advise constructively on this, in the same way a trainee would not be able to cough without someone noticing. That’s where a supportive education and training division, under the clever guidance of HR, might kick in to guarantee training  (there possibly might be some actual skill to doing twitter effectively?), and robust encouragement is given for social media engagement.

The risk of such risky comments might indeed be mitigated by the corporate tweeter explaining that views are not necessarily thoe of the firm, and the corporate tweeters could be interspersed throughout the firm that an organisational change which is pro-twitter is not threatened by obstructive barriers within the organisation, the so-called “silo effect“. As there is much tacit knowledge potentially to be shared, such as the shared experiences of personal corporate tweeters in their personal accounts, it’s essential that these experiences are freely shared by established corporate tweeters and newcomers.

Risk-taking is a very tricky for those implementing a corporate twitter change to get their head around. If corporate tweeters, it’s pivotal that a ‘blame culture’ does not swoop down on the few member trying to make it work, and there is a balanced assessment of any successes (like @LegalTrainee actually achieving in improving quality and/or quantity of trainee recruitment through measurable analytics).  There has to be clear authority, time scape and authority-to-act in the implementation of resources to make such a corporate twitter strategy work.

It might be helpful for ‘corporate twitter leaders‘ to be dispersed within the organisation, to ensure that the embracing of Twitter is a genuine one, and not a cosmetic one for purely marketing purposes (as can go wrong in disability accsss or corporate social responsibility). Individual motivation is clearly important but it is perhaps likely to work best if aligned with the overall goals of the organisation. This might be for example for a firm to have an excellent reputation and license-to-operate in something technologically -related, or prove that the firm can offer something different in traditional areas such as insolvency or company law.

Lawyers may want to take it in turns in covering their corporate tweeting commitments, and will not individually be available 24/7, particularly if they are in their 20-40s with young families; however clients, particularly in this brave new world including alternative business structures, may wish to feel that there is someone there, and Twitter could be powerful in establishing this even if it is actually merely an illusion. The trick would then to be to make a partly anti-social network look wholly social at a superficial glance, at the very least.

So, having taken the plunge to make a law firm succeed in the brave new world of Twitter, as indeed Inksters and Silverman Sherliker (@London_Law_Firm), the firm of Chris Sherliker and Jennie Kreser (@pensionlawyeruk), have proved, it would be tragic to see such an innovative strategy literally implode through lack of direction of management. This is unfortunately where lawyers, including partners, may have to concede that they can’t do everything; in much in the same way social media gurus will go nowhere without the help of their corporate tweeting colleagues.

  • ILEX Headoffice

    An interesting point of view, that raises some good advice to those wanting to explore social media.

    Something we are very keen to encourage too:

  • legalawarenesssoc

    thanks very much for the feedback – especially the need for a law firm to acknowledge the 'first mover advantage' (and similar) in their adoption of a corporate social media strategy, as clearly described in your own article

  • Jean-Yves Gilg

    The challenge for the legal profession is to integrate Twitter and social media in a way which is not overtly marketing and remains in keeping with the ethos of social network. Lawyers are pretty good at informal professional networking. Twitter isn't radically different. The conundrum is for marketing and business development departments: do they let their lawyers freely frolic on Twitter or do they set strict guidelines? Is there an official firm account alongside personal ones? What are the benefits of these various options? My position at this stage is that firms shouldn't be too rigid in the way they use Twitter and let people explore. If they are confident that their lawyers can behave responsibly at a party and be trusted ambassadors for the firm, then they should be equally comfortable with the same lawyers having conversations on Twitter. If they really want to track business conversion rates from social media, they can use similar tools to the ones they use for offline marketing. But if they do, it could change the nature of the game. Some PR agencies have developed some interesting matrices which will be worth reviewing in say six month or a year.

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