Poor use of Twitter could damage your professional brand

Yesterday, I talked about construction industry use of social media to the Institute of Directors Built Environment Discussion Group’s monthly breakfast meeting in Maidstone, Kent.*

As with other professional audiences I’ve spoken to recently, there was almost universal adoption of LinkedIn, more than half of those present had a Facebook profile, and just under half said they had a Twitter account.

And, again as with other events, the main concern of several people was about protecting their business’s reputation online. I explained the futility of trying to block social media access (Why social media bans won’t work), and talked about the need to work with colleagues and develop social media guidelines covering responsible use of the various social networking platforms (Let’s be positive on social media: issue guidelines not bans). But – in the limited time available – we didn’t have time to discuss more detailed “netiquette” on issues such as how to actually use Twitter conversationally as opposed to simply broadcasting or ‘selling’ (this is something I can cover in follow-up social media workshops where people want to learn more about how to use particular platforms).

It’s how you Tweet that matters

In this context, Sandy McKay, one of the delegates at yesterday’s event (and a long-standing friend through Constructing Excellence), forwarded me a great article from the Law Society Gazette, which emphasises that it’s not just what you Tweet but how you Tweet, and how often, that matters.

The article – Law firms’ poor use of Twitter risks ‘damaging their brand’ – reports on a survey (request copy here) from web consultancy Intendance which looked at how the Top 50 law firms used Twitter. The survey found that two thirds of firms had at least one Twitter account, but of the 48 accounts, 19 had issued zero tweets, despite some having hundreds of followers: “By neglecting potential followers, those with dormant accounts could even be damaging their brand,” the article said. It continued:

“Not only is this a wasted opportunity to connect with a range of stakeholders, it suggests laziness, lack of strategy and lack of initiative. In many cases it would be better not to have a Twitter account rather than have one that is dormant.”

And like my ad hoc opening questions, Intendance also found that firms did not take Twitter as seriously as LinkedIn (the “acceptable face of social networking in the B2B sector”).

In my experience, law firms share many of the conservative and cautious attitudes found among professionals in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and property sectors, and are also often reticent about marketing themselves properly. The Intendance study does point to some top law firms whose Twitter activity was highly-rated, which means that rivals whose Twitter activity is poor or non-existent are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to achieving a share of online conversation.

I'm BeautifulSimilarly, there are some well-known AEC brands which have a sophisticated approach to social media platforms such as Twitter, but there are others which still adopt a broadcast-only approach, perhaps just tweeting news releases and self-congratulatory links, etc, and not engaging with followers online. Yesterday, I asked rhetorically: “Would you go into a room and repeatedly shout “Read my press release”? No, it’s not a great conversation opener, and nor is silence. Not acknowledging or replying to followers can easily be interpreted as indifference; and if Twitter is like a breakfast meeting, then having an unbranded account is like hiding in the corner without a name badge and with a bag over your head!

The key is for professional services businesses to think strategically about why they should engage with people online and then, once they have started, to do it right and continue to do it right. Whether they are blogging or interacting on Twitter, no firm should pretend that it wants to talk and then go into hiding or ignore those who want to strike up a conversation. As Intendance suggest, failings here could fatally undermine your online reputation and your brand.

[* Thanks to Jules Quested-Williams of BuiltForMarketing for the IoD invitation; a version of the slide deck I used is on Slideshare here.]

1 comment

    • Tim Allen on 26 January 2011 at 8:42 am

    Good points, Paul – and I agree pretty much all of them. Would only take issue with comment about standing in a corner with a bag over your head and no name badge. A dormant twitter account is worse than this – because you ARE wearing a name badge, but effectively have a bag over your head! Everyone knows its you, but it looks like you would rather not be there, and in any case, having nothing to say.

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