traceysinclairconsulting

Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Twitter for business made simple

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned – but it’s also one of the most powerful, and used properly can promote your business and attract traffic to your website. So here are some tips on how to get started, and how to make the most of Twitter for business. (There’s even a glossary at the end…)

Short is sweet, so keep it snappy! You only have 140 characters, and ideally you want to use less, so that if someone wants to “retweet” your message (ie, repost it so that their followers can see it) this leaves room for them to add a comment. (Eg – “Great post from @yournamehere )

Shorten your links: Twitter will often shorten links in posts, but if you need to shorten your URL to make space you can use a ‘link shortener’ such as http://bit.ly . Simply paste your link into the site and it will create a new short link for you. This also has the advantage that if you set up a (free) account, you can see on bit.ly how many times your link has been opened.

Be clear: don’t try and be too clever or opaque in your tweet, or people simply won’t click through to the link. Remember that most people on Twitter will be following literally hundreds – or even thousands – of people, so you need to catch their attention in a split second. That said, a little bit of humour or character will make people warm to you and can help you stand out.

Use keywords and hashtags: people search on Twitter using keywords – so if everyone is talking about “phone hacking”, you don’t want to be talking about “telephone espionage”. You can use a hashtag to emphasise this, eg #phonehacking (no space after the # or between words, but put a space after the hashtag if you’re using punctuation – eg ‘Murdoch denies knowledge of #phonehacking ! – if you don’t leave a space, the punctuation negates the hashtag as Twitter doesn’t recognise it).

This aids with searching so that people can easily see a group of tweets on the same subject. Hashtags can be used to highlight your topic even if the specific word isn’t in the tweet. (eg, Murdoch interviewed about emails #medialaw). If you’re not sure of whether a hashtag is appropriate, you can do a quick search to see if the one you want to use is being used already. But don’t worry – there’s no such thing as an “incorrect” hashtag, so there’s no penalty for getting it wrong. Though note: never add a ‘trending’ hashtag to a post where it’s not appropriate just to get attention (eg #ladygaga The FSA today announced new fines…) – this can lead to being ‘flamed’.

Understanding hashtags, part 2: although this is less relevant for a business account, it’s worth knowing that hashtags have now developed to become humour: it’s common for people to add them as a punchline to a joke. So not all hashtags are actually subject specific or relevant (eg, ‘I am working late and everyone is out of the office #mightaswelleatallthebiscuits ‘).

Caution required: Twitter is PUBLIC: every one of your tweets is public and can be seen by everyone on Twitter – even if they don’t follow you – and can come up in a Google search. Even if you delete tweets, people can find them – just think of some of the news stories about people being arrested for what they post online. This includes replies sent to other people’s tweets (but not private messages). Use sensible precautions. Don’t be abusive or offensive, and be careful using humour – it may not translate. Remember that if you’re tweeting a series of messages, followers may only notice one: so don’t rely on context to clarify your tweet. Also, if you’re tweeting to promote a business, poor spelling and grammar and an over reliance on ‘text’ speak can look unprofessional. Never tweet anything confidential and be careful about being controversial. If in doubt, don’t tweet it.

But, don’t be scared: it’s highly unlikely you’ll break the internet. Providing you don’t tweet anything abusive, confidential or offensive, it’s not a disaster if you accidentally have a typo or a broken link in your tweet, or send something out half typed. Just send a “Sorry, here’s the correct link” type tweet.

You have to engage! Those who use social media a lot are rightly suspicious of people they see using it JUST to broadcast about themselves. Don’t just use Twitter as a way of advertising your blogs, products or newsletters, but to build relationships with contacts, potential clients and other thought leaders. There are a number of easy, low maintenance ways to engage with Twitter:

  • Build a “following” list, and keep adding to it: every so often look at the list of Twitter suggestions and add a couple who seem relevant. Following only a tiny handful of people makes it look like you really don’t care that much.
  • Look at who’s following you and consider following them back: you don’t have to follow everyone who follows you (and you will get a fair number of ‘spam’ followers) but if it’s appropriate, it helps build a relationship.
  • Retweet other people’s tweets: again, only where appropriate, but it’s a good way of a) showing you read your feed, and therefore engage and b) building relationships, because people can see who has retweeted their tweets.
  • Check your messages: Twitter has a ‘@mention’ button on the main screen. By clicking this you can see if people have retweeted your tweets or sent you messages. Always reply to any direct messages, unless they are clearly spam.
  • Follow Friday“: Follow Friday is a way of recommending other feeds to your own followers. This is done by posting #FF then the address: so #FF @rpcprivacylaw . You can add commentary also: “For up to date news on privacy law, #FF @rpcprivacylaw.” It’s considered good ‘netiquette’ to thank people who have suggested you as an #FF – simply by tweeting “Thanks for the #FF @name” or similar. (You can see who has done this by checking the @mention button).

Glossary

Twitter – a social media “microblogging” platform

Tweet – each post or message that you put on Twitter

Retweet – reposting someone else’s tweet

Hashtag – # symbol that helps when searching for topics (see below)

Trending – what people on Twitter are talking about which shows up as a list when  you search topics (eg, at the moment, you will often see #Leveson trending as people follow the inquiry).

Followers – the people who are following your Twitter feed

Following – the people whose Twitter feeds you follow

@mentions – tweets where your twitter address has been used

Flaming – abusive tweets or messages, often multiple

Spam – useless tweets often aimed at getting you to click into dodgy websites; direct messages from people you don’t know inviting you to click onto links.

Bots – automatically generated spam messages. Ignore.

URL: the unique web address of a webpage, blog post, news story etc: eg http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17867537

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Blogging and writing for the web made easy

With the vast increase of online content, it’s never been more important to be able to write clear, concise and compelling copy. Here are some tips for writing blog posts or web content – aimed particularly at those more used to writing legal documents!

‘Front-load’ your article: you should be spelling out at the start what the article is about, and why your audience should read it. Make the title clear, and the first paragraph should outline what the article is about – or people may not read any further. Remember that on many sites, only the title and first 1-3 lines will be visible on the landing (main) page, so you need to encourage people to click through to the full article. (This will also give your article more weight in a Google search).

Make it easy to ‘skim’: many readers online will only briefly scan text, so it’s important to make your text easy to read on screen so that they can pick up the important points easily and quickly. Use short paragraphs, subheadings and bullet points to break text up – few things are more daunting to read on screen than reams of unbroken text. If appropriate, use images to break up the writing and add visual appeal.

Keep it simple and jargon-free: it can be difficult for lawyers and other professionals to put themselves in the mindset of non-expert readers, but unless you’re actually writing a legal/technical document, you should avoid, as far as possible, jargon and unexplained technical terms. This isn’t ‘dumbing down’, it’s being reader friendly. Blogging especially is about communicating with your audience, not intimidating them with your intelligence.

Write to match the way people read: again, this can be a challenge for lawyers or technical professionals, who are used to drafting documents in such a way that the most devious of souls can’t find a loophole in them. But this isn’t how normal people read. So while it’s fine to write in a legal document, “The contractor in place (“the Contractor”) sued the Baxter and Sons Delivery Company (“Baxter”)”, in more informal reading, this sounds over-mannered and stilted. If you refer to a contractor in the first sentence, a reader will naturally assume any future reference to the contractor is to the same one unless you introduce a new one; you don’t need to spell it out.

Use hyperlinks (though not too many): readers online now expect to be able to move easily from one article to another, so if you refer to a blog post or article – your own or someone else’s – link back to the original so that the reader can visit it; you shouldn’t make your reader head off to Google to find out what you are talking about. Links should be added to the body of the text (this is easy to do in most blogging or content systems), but using too many hyperlinks can be messy and distracting, as you risk sending your reader off in so many directions they don’t come back to you. If a lot of links are necessary, consider adding a ‘for further reading’ at the end. (Handy tip: you may prefer set your hyperlinks to open in a new screen, so that you’re not sending people away from your site as they may not come back). DON’T underline words for emphasis when writing online content – readers will assume they are broken links.

BUT be careful with links! Remember the links you use reflect back on you – so you might happily link to the FSA, BBC news or HMRC, but you probably don’t want to link to www.stupidstoriesforcrazypeople.com. Also remember that directing readers to a site with a pay wall can annoy them, so it’s usually best to link to free access sites. Use specific URLs (web addresses) so that you direct people to the actual story, not to a general site – for example, if you are linking to a story on the Roll on Friday site, you need to link to the actual story (the long URL at the top of the screen when you click on the title of the story), not just the news page, as that will be updated regularly, so by the time your reader visits it, the story you were talking about has moved off the main page.

Use tags: tags are extremely useful on blogs, helping readers easily find articles on the subjects they are interested in. These may appear in a list on the front page, or a ‘tag cloud’ which shows the most popular topics. If you are starting a blog, it’s worth creating a list of common tag words in advance, so as to be consistent: if you are contributing to an existing blog, be sure you use the same tag words the site already uses. (So, for instance, you don’t want to be tagging an article ‘Bribery Act’, if all of the other authors on the site simply use ‘Bribery’, or vice versa.) Tags are also a useful way of adding weight to your pages for a Google search.

Key words and phrases: ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (SEO) can be a tricky business (and there are whole industries out there aimed at helping people maximize traffic to their blogs and websites, so I won’t pretend to be any great expert) but as a general rule, make sure you help Google and other search engines identify your article or blog correctly by using the appropriate key words, especially in your title, first paragraph, tags and labelling of links (and, if you’re feeling particularly techie, in the ‘metadata’ sections of your blog or site – which again can sound scary, but is generally very easy to do). You don’t need to go crazy – it will look weird if you do – but it really doesn’t hurt to spell out what you are writing about. It can be tempting to write a cleverly oblique title, but bear in mind that people will search Google using clear, direct terms – so they may not see your article unless you title it in the same way!

If you have any questions about how blogging can help your business, feel free to contact me at traceysinclair23@gmail.com

A version of this article first appeared on www.deferolaw.com

What is a legal directories consultant – and do you need to hire one?

Love them or loathe them, legal directories like Chambers and Legal 500 are an influential part of the modern legal landscape. And, as they become more ubiquitous, so a new brand of professional has emerged: the legal directories consultant. So what is a legal directories consultant – and do you need to hire one?

What does a legal directories consultant actually do?
This answer to this is, generally, whatever you need them to do. It’s a field populated by individuals and (very) small businesses, most of whom offer a service that is bespoke to their clients’ needs – this could be as extensive as handling the entire directories process, from writing the submissions to sitting in on interviews and coaching lawyers, or as little as giving your final submissions a review and ‘tweak’, or even doing a one-off talk to your partners or BD staff on how to make the process more efficient. There are also services that offer a less bespoke but more affordable package aimed at making it easier to handle the process in-house (for example the Defero Law Directory Tune Up Group – of which I am a member – offers a one-off submission review and a series of articles and tip sheets clarifying the process).

Is it expensive?
As the above answer will indicate, that is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question: it depends on the level of service you need. You may be billed for individual submissions, by the hour or a flat ‘package’ rate: this will depend on the consultant and the level of support you require. But most consultants will aim at significantly reducing the amount of time fee-earners have to spend on submissions, which can mean they virtually pay for themselves.

Who is a typical consultant – and why should I listen to them?
Most consultants will have considerable experience of working on submissions, and many will have worked in-house in positions of authority in the major directories. My own experience – which is not atypical – is several years at Chambers, working across their books and including editorship of the UK book, followed up by a stint in-house at a Top 50 law firm. This kind of background means that a consultant will know – from bitter experience! – what it’s like to be a researcher, what the guides are looking for in terms of information, and how best to present it.

They also bring an objective eye and an authoritative voice to proceedings: because they are free from the kind of internal politics that even the best law firm will have, they can look at your submissions clearly and tell you whether you are presenting your strengths to the best effect, and can also give you a realistic view of your chances. Because they are experts – and you are paying them for their expertise – their opinions will often carry more weight with fee-earners.

Can they definitely improve my rankings?
Absolutely not. There is no magic wand here, and hiring someone who used to work at one of the directories doesn’t buy you special favours. What they can do is maximise your chances of getting a better ranking by improving the way you communicate with the guides – and in my experience, better submissions and clearer information help the researchers learn more about your firm and can lead to more recognition, but this is in no way guaranteed.

So do I really need to hire a consultant, or is this just a sales pitch?
Obviously, if you feel you need a consultant, please do get in touch! But to be serious, only you and your firm know the answer to that: the first step is identifying what your issues are. If it’s resource, then hiring a temp to handle the admin might be a better idea, or looking at improving your internal systems so that information is collated over the year rather than pulled together in a desperate rush.  Check you are not making obvious, easy to fix mistakes, such as sending submissions in very late, or not telling your referees you have put them forward.  Join free forums such as Defero Law and LinkedIn, where professionals discuss these things; you might find you have not being doing something that is very obvious! If you want feedback from the directories themselves, try contacting the editors direct or, for Chambers, attending one of their Meet The Editor sessions. Chambers Confidential – while not cheap – can also be a useful way of identifying what the market and your clients are saying about you, and finding out if there are issues that you need to address.

There are lots of options out there: a directory consultant can be invaluable to some firms, but might be the wrong fit for others, so it is worth considering what you need and shopping around. One thing is for certain though – the directories aren’t going anywhere. I know from my own in-house experience that clients are increasingly asking for rankings in pitches, and independent verification from the directories can be a powerful marketing tool.  Dealing with them in the most effective and cost-efficient way possible should now be part of every law firm’s marketing and business development plan.

Further reading

Can you opt out of the directories process?
What to do if you don’t get the results you want.

Defero Law social network for legal professionals – what is it and why should you join?

There are now a plethora of social media sites to choose from, and keeping up with the ones which are best for your business can be time consuming and confusing. So could using smaller, more targeted sites be the answer? I spoke to Richard Pettet, founder of Defero Law, a social networking site aimed specifically at legal professionals, to find out what he thought.

What is your professional background? I spent 11 years working as an advertising manager at Chambers and Partners legal directories.

When and why did you start the site? The site was officially launched in its current form in March 2011. The original concept was simply a legal marketing blog but when others started to join in and asked to post content then the site started to develop into more of a community. What took me by surprise was that law firms were asking to use it as a publishing tool. And so a legal social network was born.

What makes it different from other social networking sites like LinkedIn? Content. LinkedIn is great for connecting, but do you ever ask yourself why you connect with half the people you link up with? I do. The mantra for Defero Law is ‘be found for what you say’. Content is still king when it comes to online marketing and with Defero Law’s great SEO and publishing options, it’s simply a better platform on which to promote your content and win clients or meaningful connections.

What has the market reaction been? Positive, given the risk averse nature of the legal industry. It’s aimed at SMEs really because ‘Big Law’, broadly speaking, have not really cottoned on to any form of social media yet. They will, but not yet. For now the smaller law firms who are looking for additional online exposure are loving it. Members also tell me it’s a friendly place to connect and share, which is something I’m proud of.

Who is a typical member?  A healthy mix of lawyers at small to medium sized law firms and business development staff at a range of firms, from small High Street firms to Top 50 corporates. The Top 50 guys are the site ‘lurkers’, sussing out if and when to dive in with a blog or similar once the committee has approved it. You know how it is.

Where do you see the site going next? World domination of the legal social media landscape! Or just providing a safe, friendly environment for the legal industry to promote itself in the face of changing market conditions. I’m not sure which sounds better…

So, does Defero Law sound like a good fit for your business goals? Check out the site here to find out more.

 

Chambers launches Women in Law page

UK-based legal directory Chambers and Partners last week launched its Women In Law webpage, to bring together information about its successful Women In Law initiative. The page features a video from the recent awards ceremony in New York, which celebrated the best female lawyers in-house and in private practice, and is planning to expand with articles and opinion pieces about women in the legal world, as well as profiles of leading lawyers.

At the moment the site is fairly US-centric (perhaps understandably given that the initiative was launched there), but apparently there are plans to extend this to further jurisdictions, so watch this space. If you want to be included in the interviews, contact: womeninlaw@chambersandpartners.com