Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Digital Lawyer: How Can You be Influential on Twitter and Social Media?

The Tweeting lawyer takes a look at the BBC Radio 4 series "The Digital Human," a show that looks into, and pulls apart the digital world in order to better understand how ever-increasing digitalisation is changing the way we live and interact.



As I was driving to rugby training the other night I was captivated by "The Digital Human," a series produced by BBC Radio 4 that discusses how the digital world is changing our world. And thanks to the wonder of technology, you too can listen here.

But what was so great about the broadcast, what was it about and why do I feel the urge to share it with the legal community?


Well the Radio 4 series, “The Digital Human,” aims to explore the digital world to find out what social media actually tells us about our modern selves.

So, lawyers and law firms being a little digital-averse, I thought it would be good to present some of the questions posed, ideas floated and responses reposited during the show to the legal community. Don’t you agree?

Anyway in this particular episode proceedings came under a simple title: “Influence.” Here the presenter Alex Krotoski asked an interesting question: has the digital world changed the way opinions are voiced? Later she would ask how do people use their new digital voice to gain influence?

So, has digital changed the way opinions are voiced? Not an easy question but think of it like this: take yourself back ten years in the past and you have a story you want to tell others about, badly. But of course there’s no Twitter or social media back then, so the only people you can tell are you immediate friends, family and work colleagues. If you want to tell the wider local community you’d probably have to invest in a soap box and a mega phone!  My guess however would be that not many would heed your wails and in the end you’d come off with a very sore throat!

Ten years ago the other option for being heard and gaining a voice was to put in years of graft and networking. Then you might become a respected and listened to journalist, academic, headmaster, or business leader. But even then, getting heard would still have taken a lot of hard work. Ten years ago and further back the only route to influence was to gain the approval of cultural gate keepers. Win these high placed people over and you could gain recognition and a listened to voice.

So yes, ostensibly the digital world has changed the way opinions are voiced.

Alex Krotoski then asked: is the role of the cultural gatekeeper still relevant in the digital age, since thanks to social media, everyone nowadays has a soap box and a megaphone? After all if you feel strongly about something you have the tools to be heard: youtube can be your speaker’s corner, Twitter can be your prime time TV channel and the whole social media package allows you to speak and influence people from all over the world.

So yes you can bypass the cultural gatekeepers, but are they still relevant?

Robert Schauble, then came on the show. He was born in Silicon Valley and having won the approval of the tech community through his blog he is now a mid-level influencer. He put it simply: blogging gets you around the media gatekeepers. So they're still here, but gatekeepers definately aren't as critical as they used to be.

Alek Krotovski then asked Robert Schauble: what is influence in the digital era?

He put it in pretty simple terms: if you send a Tweet, blog, facebook message or vlog into the online world, do other people take action on it? Do they click ‘like’ on it? Do they share it? Do they reTweet it? Do they comment on it? Do they buy products? Do they click a link on it?

In other words he said the critical question is: DO YOU DRIVE ACTION? And if you do drive action, how much action do you drive?

But realistically Twitter, Facebook, youtube and other social media channels are important only to certain people. So does driving action online really represent influence? Well, there are large scale metrics that have been established just to measure this.

PeerIndex is a London tech start up whose very modus operandi  is to discover and measure the level of influence that each of us has among our friends in the real world.

PeerIndex founder Azeem Azhar puts influence this way: recommending a good book to a friend and then them going out and buying it, or making a suggestion that a certain film is good and your friend then going and watching it – that’s the manifestation of influence. Put simply: you’ve persuaded people to believe and take action.

Yea that's good but we want to know how to measure influence. Well he then said that the social media infrastructure has handed them a lens into the large scale patterns of influence; patterns that were, until recently, unknown. So with a little work, they've started to pull back the layers of influence and spot who's driving what.

You may be a mid-level influencer, and if not, quite possibly someone you know could be an influencer. After all, people who are well educated and who have built an expertise in a particular subject area can influence others. And certainly if people of mid-standing expertise are Tweeting or blogging it’s quite possible they have a considerable number of followers; followers whose day to day thoughts and actions you could well be influencing.

With that in mind PeerIndex wants to find out who these people are. They want to identify the layer of people below the traditional influencers such as professors, journalists and commentators. These lower level influencers are what PeerIndex and the industry calls the MAGIC MIDDLE.

Azim added: in the old days we had a locus of influence where there may have been 20 to a 100 or so big influencers in a space - journalists, actors, academics and captains of industry. They would get access to all the leading news and information and invited to all the high brow parties, dinners and events. The rest of us would have to put up with gathering information from bill boards, the sides of buses or, if you had the wherewithal, from the news, magazines and books. But in the digital age the internet has democratised access to news and information - you're a Google search click away from a wealth of information and breaking news.

But what social media does, says Azim, is that it exposures you to the formerly hidden patterns of influence that used to happen in private conversations. So social media has not only democratised access to information - SOCIAL MEDIA HAS ALSO DEMOCRATISED INFLUENCE.

Social media has allowed people to bypass the gatekeepers and spread their influence. Social media has also unveiled the magic middle for others to see; and now PeerIndex is identifying and measuring this magic middle. The magic recipe for magic middle types Azim says is expertise and authenticity, credibility and trust.

So knowing all this how do you build influence?

Well in short: if you write a blog post about something very interesting, it may get forwarded on by lots of people. In that case it would be an influential blog post. However that does not equate to you being influential. For you to be an influential person, a magic middle person, you have to write a bunch of influential blog posts, Tweets or vlogs.

Finally, how does PeerIndex actually measure influence?

Well Azim says they ask: what kind of response did you get? From how many people? Who were those people? What subject?  And how much effort did you have to put in to get that response?

What is a good response? It’s if followers and browsers reTweet your Tweet, ‘@mention’ you, give you an ‘@reply’ or like you on Facebook, that’s a good response. Number of responses? It’s less the number of people you can touch in the online space and more about the number of people who you engage with, who they are, and who engages with them.

The Digital Human team then looked at teenage blogging sensation, Tavi Gevinson. She started blogging at 11 on fashion, style, feelings and the struggles of young girls, then at 13 her blog caught on and then not long after she became a hit in the fashion industry and even became a familiar presence at the New York Fashion Week. And now at 16 she can boast lady GaGa as a fan - that’s the power of the blog!

But not everyone can just start a blog and have Lady GaGa become a fan, so what’s Tavi's secret? Quite simply she writes in a way that her readership can identify with; she herself identifies with them and she speaks with them and not at them. She speaks in her own voice, she is herself and her appeal lies in her authenticity and the fact that she is absolutely grounded in the issues which she and the others concentrate on.

Critic Kenneth Tynen came on and put good blogging this way: “I like the individualist who says I am not going to shout for your attention, but out of contemplation and spontaneity comes an effortless hitting of the target.” That’s just a way of saying don't force a blog, just talk about what you enjoy and other want to hear about - relax and be yourself! 

So what have lawyers learnt from this radio show? Social media has democratised influence by allowing practitioners to connect with fellow lawyers from around the world, the wider public and other influencers without the permission of the traditional gatekeepers. YOU CAN BECOME AN INFLUENCER. The digital world and social media allows you to become an expert on a particular subject, an opinion former, a thought leader and a go to authority, so long as you have the right online presence, social media and blogging content; so long as you speak with others and don't lecture them; and so long as you are absolutely grounded in what your firm concentrates on.

The web has given lawyers a voice and a platform. However, many chose not to use their digital voice; others do and do it incorrectly. BUT, if you find your digital place, pitch, resonance and timing you could soon start to influence. It’s just up to you how you chose to use your digital voice.

1 comment:

  1. "To tweet or not to tweet," that is the dilemma that many law firms face. It's not a surprise that many have yet to use these social media tools being that law is rooted in being very professional represented by those wearing expensive business attires and briefcases. Those who use social media face the stigma of being considered professional. Those who do embrace social media will experience a multitude of benefits, including enhanced interaction among current clients while gaining new clients as well. This has been the case for many other businesses. A comprehensive Law Firm Search Engine Optimization plan will help firms develop better strategies to leverage their visibility online.

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