Fewer than 5% of partners in big law firms use Twitter. I say to them, with 500,000,000 users, are you waiting for it to take off?
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
This classic line has been used for years to let a soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend down easy. For the last few years, law firm use of LinkedIn has absolutely exploded. Yet Twitter usage is still in the doldrums.
Who’s fault is this?
Is it the lawyers or is it the Twitter platform? Bruce MacEwen over at Adam Smith Esq recently suggested the problem with Twitter isn’t lawyers’ inability to wrap their heads around Twitter, but Twitter itself. In his latest article entitled simply #Twitter MacEwen suggests that if Twitter was really any good at all, that utility would have become clear to lawyers by now. In fact, he suggests the problem isn’t that lawyers don’t understand Twitter, but that there really isn’t much to it.
He makes three other points, and each one is concise enough that it could be presented in a Tweet:
First, he suggests that the real benefit of Twitter needs to be explained with a wink and a nod, the quote he claimed to have heard many times was, “once you get it, you get it.”
This is a lazy way of presenting Twitter’s value proposition; The real value of Twitter is obvious and easy to describe. The genius of Twitter is that unlike the closed networks of Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is an open network with a searchable API. There are no barriers to entry other than the quality of your thoughts and ideas. The traditional gatekeepers can be side-stepped instantly because everything shared on Twitter is searchable.
Twitter is a marketplace of ideas, and I would think that with a site name like Adam Smith Esq that MacEwen would love watching the invisible hand at work on Twitter. In this marketplace, the brightest minds stand out. The good ideas are passed on, while those who post nonsense or worse are ignored or ridiculed. Twitter users aren’t posting for the enlightenment of society, they are posting to move forward some idea and they succeed only if there are other individuals using Twitter to hear those ideas. No money changes hands, but there is a transaction occurring: One person writes an article to share on Twitter, but the only way she can succeed is if there is an audience out there for what she has written.
Twitter’s basic value is clear, and it is not that complicated.
Second, MacEwen claims to have heard of occasional stories of friendships made through Twitter and that these are exceptional events. He argues that “When one is discussing the overall social value of a technology or a service, you are obligated to focus on its general, center of the bell curve, impact, and not on outlier special cases.” In essence, he posits that we can’t claim serendipitous connections are reason enough to use Twitter because these events are so rare.
Here’s the thing: Nobody is claiming that meeting amazing people through Twitter is the meat of technology. I have gained amazing friendships through Twitter, all over the world. Yet still, it isn’t what makes Twitter so useful; It’s just another positive externality of Twitter. There are myriad externalities of Twitter that alone may seem trivial but combine to make a powerful case for the use of Twitter. What happens when disaster, revolution, or war-hit any country in the world? What is the one platform that continues to serve as an information source both to those in the zones of danger and those at home? #Twitter.
Twitter didn’t play a key role in the Arab Spring because it is trendy; It helped topple multiple wicked regimes because it is useful.
Third and finally, MacEwen brings up that 140 characters are not enough to say anything of substance. This is the same argument that Scott Greenfield was making back when Twitter had only 10 Million users, but now that Twitter has over 500,000,000 users, the argument falls on deaf ears. Reporters have been using short snappy hooks and headlines for years to sell news programs and papers. Twitter does the same. Limiting your thinking on Twitter to 140 characters ignores the fact that over 50% of Tweets include links to source content. The tweets aren’t meant to stand on their own, but to point to other more in-depth writing as well as critical thinking.
I respect MacEwen and have really enjoyed his blog over the years. I think he is a very intelligent person. But, I think he makes a mistake when he extrapolates that it has zero validity as a marketing tool in law firms because Twitter wasn’t much good for him. Twitter makes conversations and the flow of information searchable in a way that will always be useful.
I don’t expect to change anybody’s mind on the topic of Twitter, but I think those who continue to love and use Twitter don’t need to feel like outliers. They still have over half a billion Twitter users to keep them company.
If it makes MacEwen feel better, I’d like to speak on Twitter’s behalf and tell him that it sounds like it just isn’t working out between us. It’s not you, it’s me.
I agree that these are not reasons for lawyers to shy away from Twitter. That being said, the service’s user growth has completely stalled for sometime now even though the user base is still relatively small. That should be a huge red flag in my opinion.
Good points on the decline in the growth rate of Twitter, yet you still see all the celebrities and professional athletes using it all the time. It may die in 5-10 years, maybe 20. We are a long way off from that in my opinion, based on the way it is used by such a large population.
Adrian: I agree with you, explained why in a comment to the post you critique.
Adrian I agree. I posted a long comment in response at the Adam Smith Esq blog. Part of it set out my estimates below of where I get useful and engaging news as a lawyer. I’d be interested in the percentages which other lawyers find for themselves.
20% email newsletters (overlaps with online journals)
17% books (might be oldish news, but news nonetheless)
12% online newspapers and journals
5% YouTube (works best if you subscribe to channels)
5% print newspapers
4% RSS feed
1% or less each for radio, Google+ and offline magazines