Donald Trump’s notoriously prolific tweeting hasn’t diminished since taking office as US President - his advisers no doubt throwing their arms up in despair at the taunts he directs at those who disagree with him. Even the US judiciary has not escaped his scorn after it ruled that his original Executive Order barring certain immigrants from entry into the US was unlawful.
Whether any tweets will come back to haunt him, time will tell. What is apparent is that tweets have the potential to garner a huge amount of publicity and can make or break a reputation. The solicitors’ profession would do well to learn a few lessons from President Trump on how not to use Twitter, if they want to be effective and protect their reputation.
A large proportion of law firms now use Twitter – and do so effectively, raising their profile whilst engaging in meaningful, intelligent conversation with their audience. But ill-advised tweets can taint a law firm for a long time, as Baker Small discovered last summer. The firm’s tweets included: “Crikey, had a great ‘win’ last week which sent some parents into a storm!”, prompting the anger of parents of disabled children who had lost their claim to win funding for special needs provision. The firm apologised but the damage was done: the firm lost a number of contracts with local authorities as a result – not to mention the wider reputational damage, and a rebuke from the SRA for the MD. No doubt many firms took stock of their Twitter use following the incident.
It is unwise to allow an individual to have carte blanche to tweet on behalf of a firm, without any checks in place. The risk of allowing unfettered permission to tweet is clear: one thoughtless tweet can cost a firm dearly. Publicising a winning case is all well and good, but needs to be done sensitively – or not at all. Trump boasts of his successes – but scorns and insults his critics.
A distinct hallmark of Trump’s tweets is his focus on self: he brags of his successes, scorns those who thwart him, and relishes the praise heaped on him by his followers (he regularly re-tweets adoring tweets from his fans). In fact, he is his own biggest fan.
What does this teach law firms? Don’t restrict your tweets to boasting of your own successes, and resist a focus on the firm itself. Avoid coming across as your firm’s biggest fan – or your followers will be irritated. Many firms make the mistake of using their Twitter accounts only to promote themselves: their latest wins, articles, and what they are doing next. They fail to invite discussion and engagement.
Law firms who tweet should look at their reasons for tweeting, and their intended purpose. An effective law firm twitter account seeks to be authoritative, intelligent and insightful; engaging with its audience; willing to interact and create conversation; and linking back to relevant content on the firm’s website where possible.
And when your firm tweets – make sure your grammar and spelling are spot on. Trump is notorious for failing in this regard (remember his references to "unpresidented [sic] act"?). He gets away with it – but law firms will not.