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I conducted a little experiment.
I looked at the Twitter accounts of the UK's top 10 law firms and scrolled down the list of 'tweets and replies' to see which firms engage directly with other users.
All 10 accounts offered a combined total of just two tweet replies in 2016. Why?
Content good. Dissemination bad?
The top 10 UK law firms were defined by 2014/2015 turnover. Here are the two tweet replies I found.
@stefancaliaro Sydney Switchboard on +61 2 9330 8000 are able to put you in contact with relevant partners and staff for any urgent requests— NortonRoseFulbright (@NLawGlobal) January 1, 2016
@BartsCirculate thanks for coming in, great session!— Linklaters LLP (@LinklatersLLP) February 23, 2016
Of course, replies are not the only form of engagement on Twitter. Of the 10 Twitter accounts, some did include varied comms and a fair amount of retweets and live tweeting from events.
But the overall perception is of an industry that is great at creating content, just not so good at discussing it.
All of the firms in question are addressing issues of the day, such as Brexit and the state of the economy.
Their lawyers are active in print and broadcast journalism, but the idea of a law firm 'brand' or even 'tone of voice' in B2B still appears to be anathema.
Tweets to content can be as frustratingly anodyne as the one below from Hogan Lovells.
Poor content distribution
Budget 2016 https://t.co/6rNRnWRet5— Hogan Lovells (@HoganLovells) February 24, 2016
Does it have to be this way?
Most of these law firms have more than one Twitter account, and indeed this means there are accounts (such as graduate comms) that use a more engaging tone and interact more.
See the following from Clifford Chance Grads.
It seems that most law firms believe the mantra of 'you've got to be on Twitter' but aren't really sure why.
Email is arguably a much better way of distributing longform content, so what extra does Twitter offer other than a slim amount of visibility (most firms have fairly low levels of followers, even for B2B).
Could it arguably be said to also be a problem of investment?
Econsultancy's Digital Marketing in the Legal Sector report from 2015 surveyed around 150 marketers in law firms. The chart below shows that the majority were investing 1-20% of their marketing budgets in digital.
Perhaps without the man power, engagement is difficult to attain?
After all, a Twitter feed can be automated if all that's required is the publication of content.
The cult of the individual is strong
Of course, unengaging Twitter feeds are more likely to be a result of risk averse comms policies than investment problems.
It's hard to blame big law firms, with so many interests to protect and the need to remain independent and professional.
However, firms say they are changing. In the open-ended questions asked as part of last year's Digital Marketing in the Legal Sector survey, many firms did admit that clients were more accepting of social media, and that engaging with clients on social was increasingly common.
This interaction, though, is happening chiefly at an individual level (between lawyers and clients or other parties) and that certainly makes sense given lawyer specialisms and profiles.
Indeed, much of company Twitter account posting by law firms is to draw attention to comment by individual lawyers.
In one sense this is part of the purpose of law firm Twitter accounts - to collate and corral social presence.
The law firm brand is much more the preserve of B2C firms. See Slater Gordon and its attempts to conjure some engagement below.
So which firms are different?
Mishcon De Reya is notable (tagline: It's business but it's personal). Its tweets have a much lighter tone of voice (see below).
Olswang is slightly lighter in tone, too, suggesting a more capable social media manager is involved.
Whilst it may be horses for courses at the moment, I think more law firms will have to abandon the drier approach to Twitter in time, simply because it appears to be ineffective and not befitting the platform.
If you have experience working in marketing at a law firm, let us know your views below.