There’s not much I can add to this Weinergate thing that hasn’t already been covered on these pages and everywhere else. Congressman Anthony Weiner has said that he’s not going to resign over the scandal that he tweeted various body parts to women other than his wife. I believe that he will have to resign, although not because of the tweeting, but because of the lying about it afterward. (Previously, he claimed that his social-media accounts had been hacked. He then admitted that that wasn’t strictly true. Or even a little bit true. He also conceded that the dog had actually not eaten his homework.)
This online imbroglio has made many wonder why he would even consider posting compromising photos and language on Twitter. Or for that matter, why he would even be on Twitter in the first place. Or why anyone would be.
Lawyers in particular often have trouble understanding why they should be on Twitter. Even my esteemed colleague Mark Herrmann has “proved” that Twitter doesn’t work. Well, I’ve got news for people who doubt that they should be tweeting:
Many of them probably shouldn’t be.
In fact, I’ve tried to identify the types of people (in addition to shirtless politicians in various degrees of arousal) who should stay away from Twitter. Here, then, are five people who should never tweet….
1. People who have nothing to say.
By that I mean people who feel like they don’t have anything to add to the general online conversation. Ironically, they probably have plenty to add and share; you certainly don’t have to be much of a writer to tweet. And the Twitterverse (yes, I know: Twitterers tend to like annoying portmanteaus — sorry if it annoys you) has enough people (over 200 million accounts) that there’s bound to be someone out there who is interested in similar things to you.
I mean, really: In the last day, haven’t you read or watched or heard something that you found interesting? About your particular field? About your personal interests? About the fact that the Red Sox are now in a virtual tie for first place? (Remember when they were 2–10? Yeah, me neither.)
The thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be writing articles. Instead, you can easily share all these interesting things that you’ve encountered. And if you do happen to write things, like an article or a blog or whatever, you can share those, too. But if you really feel like you have nothing to say, don’t bother with the Twitter. (Tip: Adding a superfluous “the” to online things like Twitter and Google is a fun way to tease people who don’t get it. Just saying.)
2. People who only want to hear themselves speak.
At the other end of the spectrum are the people who won’t shut up. Their idea of tweeting is the constant, unfiltered stream of whatever neural firings that occur between their ears. Do us all a favor, folks. Stay off Twitter and spend your time where you belong: at the far corner of a seedy bar, muttering into your beer.
How do you know if you tweet too much? Well, there’s no generally accepted standard; in fact most people tweet too little. But some people have an outsized number of tweets sent, especially compared to the number of followers they have. Top blogger Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), for example, has tweeted more than 90,000 times; he even has staffers to tweet for him. On the other hand, he has more than 360,000 followers. In other words, one tweet for every four followers. Obviously, people think he has worthwhile things to share, so his tweets are quite effective. By my estimate, if you have more followers than tweets, you’re doing pretty well.
But then there are the people who tweet all the time and have few followers by comparison. I know some lawyers who seem to have nothing better to do than to tweet. They’ve tweeted ten or twenty thousand times — eight to ten times more than their follower totals. If you have eight times more tweets than you do followers, then here’s a tip: Stop! You’re not saying anything that people want to hear. If a tweet falls in a forest and there’s no one there to follow it … you get the idea. (By the way: This advice doesn’t apply to people with new accounts.)
3. People who have nothing good to say.
In my experience, Twitter folks tend to be surprisingly positive, friendly, and supportive. It’s a real pleasure to write a blog post or give a speech and instantly have people around the world say nice things about it. Part of the reason for this is that Twitter is not anonymous; you can’t comment without your name attached to it. That might keep the haters holding their forked tongues. But I like to think that the world of Twittering professionals (and especially lawyers, believe it or not) are a pretty kind bunch of people. If you’re more interested in taking people down, stay away from Twitter. You have plenty of other places to vent, like on the highway. Or in your mother’s basement.
4. People who are afraid of offending someone.
This is probably the biggest obstacle for lawyers. They’re constantly asking, “What if a client (or prospect or judge or opposing counsel or circus clown or whatever) reads what I post and doesn’t agree with what I’m saying?” What if indeed. Who cares? If a potential client reads something you wrote and that drives him away from doing business with you, then he was probably not a client you would have clicked with anyway. And a judge isn’t going to hold something that you tweeted against you in court (unless it was actually about her, I guess). But if you’re that worried about being public, you should stay the hell away. Likewise, people who “protect” their tweets (meaning that the general public can’t see them): Look, you’re doing it wrong.
5. People who are selling.
Finally, some people think that the point of social media in general and Twitter in particular is to sell your services. It’s not. No one likes to feel like they’re being sold to. And no one on Twitter wants to read tweets that seem like advertising. Instead, post interesting things to try to raise people’s awareness of you. That will be much more effective marketing than overt selling. If you think you’re going to use Twitter for sales purposes, just don’t. Go find a mattress store instead.
Let me add one thing here, because this often comes up. I’m no kind of self-proclaimed social-media expert. The field of social media is really too new to have genuine experts. Instead, many of us observe and experiment and try to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. (No junk shots? Check. Thanks, @RepWeiner.) Some of us then try to share what we’ve learned with others. Let me know what you think. Comment below, or @reply me on Twitter (send a tweet that starts with my Twitter handle) at @jayshep.
Trust me: I won’t send you any pictures in return.
Jay runs Prefix, LLC, a firm that helps lawyers learn how to value and price legal services. Jay Shepherd also spent 13 years running the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at email@example.com.