Friday, May 9, 2014

People occasionally ask me if I tweet (I don’t) and what role I think Twitter has in law firm marketing (none).

I probably owe an explanation.

I believe Twitter has always been a niche service and always will be; it will never go mainstream in the way that (say) Facebook or LinkedIn has. Lately I’ll take that a step further: I believe Twitter’s mindshare has peaked, that it’s on a path to marginalizaion. and that (if I’m right) all this is one of the healthiest recent developments in the online Zeitgeist.

These thoughts have crystallized in the past week or 10 days as Twitter announced its most recent earnings, disclosimg that new user growth has slowed dramatically and that its existing member base is using and engaging with it less. Adding insult to injury, when the IPO "lockup" period expired earlier this week, insiders dumped shares in massive numbers, driving the stock down nearly 20% in a single trading session. This vote of no confidence has also been reinforced by widespread departures of key members of the original team.

The latest marketing strategist just brought in to turn this around—a very capable and accomplished fellow, judging by his background, who at a young age impressed even the notoriously harsh and judgmental Steve Jobs—was interviewed in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago and with perhaps unintentional acuity diagnosed Twitter’s problem very simply: "People don’t get it."

Actually, I think they totally get it. That’s the problem.

When Twitter was new, bright, and shiny, I attended a presentation (more than one, I’m embarrassed to say) by Twitterati apostles designed to explain all the wonderful things Twitter enabled you to do. I never understood exactly what they were ("information" is not a scarce or novel benefit) or, worse, why I should care.

Don’t get me wrong: I immediately created an account (more than one actually), offered up a few desultory Tweets to the ether, found a few people to follow, and grasped the vernacular of @ and #. Those things weren’t the issue. The issue was that at the conclusion of each of these presentations I would ask the speaker what the real benefit of Twitter is and the reply always amounted to, "Once you get it, you’ll get it."

Now, I have spent a fair amount of time inside new companies and around them and this distillation of the message to potential new customers—"when you see the benefit you’ll see the benefit"—is not a promising way to start. It’s a worse way to end.

As I said earlier, I think Twitter’s problem is precisely that people do get it. It’s a medium for tossing hastily formed brain exhaust over the transom into the vicinity of who knows where. No wonder celebrities keep blowing themselves up on it.

To be sure, I have also heard occasional stories of friendships, or at least connections, made through Twitter across ideological divides based on mutual serendipitous discovery. This is to be celebrated, but it’s the exceptional event.

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. And it’s in that connection that I mentioned that I thought the marginalization of Twitter would be "a good thing."

That’s not because I celebrate high-profile (or low-profile) failures to meet expectatios, but because Twitter coarsens public discourse. 140 characters may be enough room for a fortune cookie, a bumpersticker, or a taunt in a political debate, entirely unfit for accumulating evidence, developing an argument, or considering pros and cons (much less nuance). The one thing we’re desperately in need of more of—in our political, socioeconomic, business, and artistic discourse—is critical thinking. If the apathetic mainstream response to Twitter reflects that realization at some unexpressed level, so much the better.

With malice towards none: It may be that Twitter has met the enemy.

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Trackbacks For This Post

  1. […] MacEwen, lawyer and consultant to the legal profession, and author of Adam Smith Esq. blog – has written a piece this week about why he’s not on Twitter.  As MacEwen outlines, he believes Twitter has “always […]

  2. […] 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 […]


  1. Mark, 1 year ago Reply

    I don’t disagree on the whole, but I think Twitter has some value in “directional” messages. In other words, if done well, someone with a Twitter account whom I trust or who has interesting things to say directs me to more in depth information like this blog, an online magazine, etc., that’s worth the 140 characters. Sure, I can set up RSS feeds and bookmark all kinds of sites, but in the increasingly mobile web, that directional activity is useful.

  2. Frank Strong, 1 year ago Reply

    Bruce, I’d have to disagree. Twitter has incredible potential.

    First, its often the 3rd highest source of referral traffic now — and that has been true since roughly 2010.

    Second, the number of people I’ve met first on Twitter and later in real life (sorry, #IRL) has grown exponentially. It is an amazing source of connection and better still with people we might not ordinarily meet.

    Third, for Twitters future, what’s important to note is its applicability to mobile, which has exceeded desktop usage.

    Fourth, it is media rich, which is to say a digital trend that is increasingly becoming a requirement.

    Fifth, what the analysts did not highlight following the last earnings announcement, was revenue per active user, which for analyst covering LinkedIn seems to be a reference point for a headline.

    Sixth, Twitter advertising is highly targeted and amazingly effective. Better still, unlike Facebook, Twitter lends the capacity to blend “earned” media with “paid” media. For marketers this is a desirable and key point of differentiation.

    Finally I’d add by my own observation, the legal community is precisely where the marketing community was five years ago, in terms of a digital maturity model. For me, it’s like deja vu.

    Having said all that, I don’t mind the absence of competition on Twitter. Let’s make a note to chat again this time next year?

    Happy Friday!

    • Bruce, 1 year ago Reply

      Barely six hours after I published this column, it has already lived up to my expectation that it might be one of the more controversial–or certainly comment-worthy–pieces in awhile. Publishers deserve the prerogative of occasionally, but not habitually, saying something that might provoke readers.

      In other words, I couldn’t be more delighted; and I’m learning things I didn’t know.

      First, all three of us agree that “#IRL” connections are priceless and can be enduring. For me, the primary medium that has and continues to accomplish that is of course
      Adam Smith, Esq.

      Frank adds some noteworthy facts. Let me respond in order:

      1. Referral traffic is a gift; I can warmly assure you that “forward to a friend” has been a blessing for me. I did not know Twitter scored so high on this metric.
      2. #IRL: see above.
      3. Mobile has posed a great challenge to many “desktop” incumbents. Facebook has apparently made some genuine strides in this direction recently and Google acknowledges it needs to figure it out.
      4. As the ‘net increasingly finds its own voice and matures (remember “brochureware” a million years ago?), media are indeed a growing share of content. Wider broadband penetration hasn’t hurt.
      5. I did not know this. Nice metric.
      6. Finally, new technology uptake rates usually vary from industry to industry. Fact of life.

      Let’s indeed reconvene on this down the road.



  3. John Grimley, 1 year ago Reply


    I wrote a piece in response to your post. There’s a pingback link to it above. Essentially, I do understand your critique about a desire for greater substantive, informed discussion on Twitter. But I believe it does indeed exist on Twitter among many in the legal sector. Users control the medium and the opportunity to get to know and interact with people around the world is there. Some of leading commentators on law are very active on Twitter. I think there would be uniform delight if you too became active. Even on just an occasional basis.

    All the best,


  4. Noric Dilanchian, 1 year ago Reply

    I work as a lawyer in Sydney and as a legal IT entrepreneur. Here’s my experience with Twitter. I certainly did not get it years ago. I find it now my most useful source of news and views and indeed analysis.

    Yesterday I explained to a lawyer colleague how I convert Twitter news or posts into actionable knowledge. I said that it was an outcome of daily:
    1. following thinking people with insights that matters to you and reading the links they make,
    2. following conversations in Twitter about their thinking and the links, including numbers of retweets and favouriting of tweets,
    3. forming your own views on things such as why the topic raised might be of interest to the thinker and how you too might leverage from the information, and
    4. engaging in tweeting aiming to attract thinkers, retweeters and followers that matter.

    I noted to my friend PEW Research – State of the News Media 2014 – source – http://gigaom.com/2014/03/25/state-of-the-media-not-out-of-the-woods-by-any-means-but-some-reasons-for-cautious-optimism/.

    Then I shared this estimated of percentages of where I personally get news I find useful or engaging:

    30% Twitter
    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
    3% TV
    2% LinkedIn
    1% Facebook
    1% or less each for radio, Google+ and offline magazines

  5. Bruce, 1 year ago Reply

    Here’s a pro and con I can hardly top: From the WSJ:


  6. Richard Chambers, 1 year ago Reply

    I understand your concerns about Twitter, but I don’t agree with them. I will break down my argument in to three sections. Firstly, I think

  7. John Grimley, 1 year ago Reply

    the WSJ article is interesting. I do think Twitter is hard to use, even harder to master (if it ever can be mastered). I think for businesspeople it can be an excellent communications tool, particularly for those involved in cross-border business. On Twitter you’re connecting primarily with people (yes Twitter apparently has fake accounts), not just companies. It’s faster than say, LinkedIn. And it opens up access to people like traditional personal networking can’t – geography being a big impediment. Years ago a DC lawyer seeking to build an EU client base would need to fly across the Pond to even learn who key actors are in say, the Brussels lobbying world. Now, it can be done online, and Twitter makes it a personal (albeit virtual) connection. There are pros and cons. And Twitter may not be the specific long-term medium for this sort of communicating. But I doubt this sort of instantaneous interaction will go away in the future.

  8. Anon, 1 year ago Reply

    If I understood the point of this article, may I just say that I wouldn’t have come across this article save for Twitter?

    Effectively & wisely using Twitter is what most people don’t understand. And, if one can’t construct a thought/sentence (i.e. get to the point quickly) in 140 characters, then something is wrong. We’re not in a courtroom.

    If you’re a lawyer with a particular field of practice, then make sure 95% of your content is relevant to your area of practice. That is most likely why 99% of people follow you. You’re seen as a thought leader or a source of info on that subject.

    When you start confusing people, for example, by tweeting about social issues or irrelevant news from your country or another, then you lose the point of your Twitter account.

    Finally, those who regularly write about the law on websites or blogs need Twitter to spread the word further. Needless to mention the connections you can make on Twitter – which I can testify in comparison to Linkedin.

  9. Tom Mighell, 1 year ago Reply

    What is interesting to me is where younger users are choosing to spend their social media time. I’m reading (and seeing) that younger generations are leaving Facebook for more immediate communications tools like Twitter, Vine, and SnapChat. So the marketing question will really be “where does your target audience prefer to hear from you?”

  10. Alixe, 1 year ago Reply

    I have obtained approximately $250,000 in business from new clients who found me through Twitter since I started using Twitter in late September 2011.

    I started using Twitter as a way to curate links to articles I was interested in reading posted by others and myself. I still love that aspect of Twitter. I do not use Twitter as a infomercial about me and my practice.

    My law firm website and former clients still generate the majority of my new client leads, but Twitter’s addition to my bottom line is welcome.

  11. Neil J. Squillante, 1 year ago Reply

    Bruce is half right. The free Twitter is inscrutable. On the other hand, Twitter Advertising is easier to implement than AdWords, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and improves with new features every week. Twitter’s growth may have stalled but advertising revenue per user is on the rise thanks to Twitter Advertising.

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