Technology Practice Tips: Twitter (Transcript)

This is a transcript of a podcast discussing Twitter, issues relating to confidentiality, research, civility and direct supervision.

Speaker Key: PB Phil Brown, DW David Whelan

PB        Hi. It's Phil Brown and I'm here with David Whelan, and today we're going to talk about Twitter.

DW      Hey, Phil. Twitter is one of the communications or social media applications that you can use to share information or learn about information from other people. Twitter is known as micro-blogging because when you send a message or receive a message, it usually has just 140 characters including the spaces.

PB        There are a couple of different ways that you can expand it so that it can be longer than 140 characters, but that's, pretty much the standard message on Twitter. One of the questions I have is why might a lawyer be interested in using Twitter?

DW      One of the obvious reasons is to promote themselves or information that they want to share. The obvious flip-side is that if people are sharing information, then you can use Twitter to receive information. Some of the messages will be statements about something that a person has done, but many of the messages that come out on Twitter that are really valuable will have a link to information that you may not have known about so it can be good for learning about companies, potential clients and research topics or other information related to your practice.

PB        So a research tool is one aspect of Twitter and another might be increasing their profile and engaging clients.

DW      Absolutely. Certainly the increasing profile part. One of the challenges with Twitter is that you don't really get to decide who follows you or finds you. As you start to use Twitter or other micro-blogging platforms and sharing messages, the people will start to follow you based on the content that you send out. The more authentic you are and the more information that you share that is valuable to others, the greater your likelihood of having people follow you.

PB        And one of the things we should mention about Twitter is the ability to access or read everyone's Tweets if they're unprotected - you don't have to be a follower.

DW      That’s correct.

PB        It's a wide-open platform in that sense. You can read anyone's, not just current Tweets, but you can also go back through an archive and read anything they've ever sent out.

DW      A follower on Twitter is similar with a Like or a Friend on Facebook. Once you start to follow someone on Twitter, or someone starts to follow you, they receive every message that you send out, or if you're following them you receive everything that they share. So as you start to follow people you'll need to select the people who send the number of messages that you can handle because obviously people who are sharing heavily during the day might swamp your ability to actually follow all of the information coming through on Twitter.

PB        So maybe one of the things we can talk about is the potential for information overload with Twitter.

DW      I think it's very easy to do and part of it comes down to your approach to using social media. Some people prefer to follow thousands of people and be followed by thousands of people without the intent of seeing every message that comes by. So if your intent is to see all of the information that is being sent out by people you're following then you really need to follow a relatively small number of people to make that manageable.

PB        And another way to manage that would also be the creation of lists.

DW      Right. Twitter allows you to use lists from within their software but you can also use third-party applications like HootSuite. A list allows you to aggregate or identify a number of people who are talking about a particular topic. It might be your practice area or a particular case, and then you can set up a list of those people so that all of that traffic is essentially sidelined out of your main Twitter stream - your main flow of messages so that when you have time, you can go and look at all of the posts that are specifically from those people or on a given topic if you're creating a list based on a keyword or some other search term.

PB        There's a number of different ways you can search the Internet for Twitter messages or Tweets as they call them; something like Topsy, or any if the Internet archives or Tweet Archivist. They all would work in terms of being able to bring up archival Tweets.

DW      Another great way that Twitter allows you to aggregate is that if you're searching on Google for a keyword it will obviously return all sorts of content and then if you go to Topsy.com, which is a social search engine, you can narrow it down to particular elements of social media. But if you want to find information on Twitter or Twitter posts that are all related, people who are sending out messages often use what's called a hash tag, and they use the little pound sign followed by a term, and then if you search on that hash tag later, you can bring back all the messages that have used that same piece of information. This allows you to follow a conversation without actually following all the people who are having the conversation.

PB        So let's pick a hash tag, for instance, ethics because Twitter might raise some of the issues related to ethics, and I'm thinking because it's such an immediate platform and more lawyers might be using it than sitting down to create a blog which is going to take a considerable amount of time in comparison. What are some of the ethical issues?

DW      I think the very first one is when you decide to sign up for Twitter or some other site and you create your handle; your online name, you need to make sure that it is a name that identifies you and not necessarily “best lawyer in Ontario” or whatever the other handle might be, so I think your name choice is your very first step.

PB        Hopefully people aren’t using Twitter to give legal advice, so perhaps building in a proviso into their identity might be a good idea as well.

DW      I think that you need to be very careful about following clients or sharing information about who your clients are in the same way that you wouldn't share the information outside your office in a coffee shop or at the courthouse.

PB        So confidentiality is a key concept to remember using Twitter. I can say that I have seen some Tweets out there where lawyers have identified the client that they're acting for, that very morning.

DW      Absolutely. Twitter has the same issue that your documents do. There is metadata in your Tweets, so if you're using an iPhone or another device that says where you are when you send your Twitter message, that location information might actually be passed on. So say, for example, you're at your client's office, and you've just acquired the client; they've retained you, and you send out that Twitter message, you may actually be sending out that information without it actually being in the message that you send out to Twitter.

PB        That's the same with any, kind of, social media or using smartphones these days. A lot of time you have your location turned on, and people know where you are and might know you're not at home.

DW      One of the things you can do is to protect yourself. Obviously, if you're using Twitter as a marketing tool then you need to make your account as open as possible, so that people who are interested in following your messages, whether they are actually your followers or not, can do so. But if you're not interested in using it for marketing but just want to share information or to create an online environment you can protect your account so that only people who you authorise to access your Twitter messages can then see the messages that you're sharing.

PB        Right. There's a little checkbox when you start your Twitter account, or it's in your preferences, and you can actually check off that box to protect your Tweets. And you could use it just as an internal social media communication tool as well.

DW      Just set it up for you and your staff or other colleagues that you want to interact with.

PB        And I was just going to say, you'd have to approve each one and you could look at each other's streams and share things within the office. Sort of a small Intranet, I guess.

DW      Yes, and be aware that just like with e-mail and other platforms where you communicate, once you sent out that Twitter message, whether it's public or in a locked account, that Twitter message can then be passed on to others outside that protected environment. So, say you share a message or send out a message to your Twitter followers, but it's a protected group, if they then re-Tweet it, which is essentially a forwarding message, that message then goes out beyond the protected environment.

PB        Another thing I'd mention in regard to that is the concept of civility. If you are sending out messages or re-Tweeting; passing on other people's messages you still have to keep an eye on civility as a concept.

DW      Yes. One of the interesting challenges for lawyers is that since they're supervising others, if they have staff who are using Twitter whether it's in a locked environment or open, and particularly for marketing purposes, they still have a responsibility for supervising the Tweets that that person sends out.

PB        So direct supervision; another one of the rules; a good one to mention. And, I suppose, one of the other things that you might consider in your office, as part of a social media policy, would be who owns all of these accounts when your employees leave, if they're using them?

DW      Right. That's been an interesting development, which is employers then looking at their employees private accounts or what started as private accounts but then have morphed into valuable resources for the company because the person who is connected both to the company and to the concept and the followers now has a valuable portfolio of information, and whether that goes with the employee if they leave the firm, or if the firm can somehow hold onto that?

PB        So that's more than 140 characters, but that's our snapshot of Twitter. Thanks David.

DW      Thanks Phil.