I am beginning to use Twitter more and more as a source of news and information from people and organizations I trust.

As part of doing so, I am whittling down the number of people I follow on Twitter to a more manageable number. By manageable I mean being able to open up my Twitter homepage and scroll thru the feed in a fashion in which I can find value.

Value, for me, is getting news and learning things, being able to share items I think of value to my followers (retweet or share with my comments) or being able to engage those sharing items.

I have taken down those I am following to about 550. At one time I was following close to 10,000 and I took that down to less than a 1,000 a number of years ago. But 1,000 followers was still too much for a worthwhile feed on the Twitter home page.

Following 1,000 I never used the Twitter home page for news and information. It was too much of a fire hose. Sure, I shared items on Twitter, engaged people who engaged my tweets, occasionally looked at my Twitter lists and did searches, but I never used Twitter as a news and information feed.

Twitter’s homepage works as a news and information feed when following 550.

Whether on my iPhone or iPad, more preferable than my MacBook for reading Twitter, I see some good stuff from some good people. I engaged a couple New York Times’ reporters this afternoon, a law school, a law firm and other individuals — all by following the Twitter home page for a bit. I picked up some good stuff to share and comment upon for my Twitter followers.

I see people with tens of thousands of followers and an equal number of people and organizations they are following.  I know some folks that use or have used software that generates followers for the sake of followers and follows back in return. Some follow in the hope of getting followed back.

Assuming you’re not so vain, what’s the point? You cannot use Twitter for news and information when following a ton of people.

I get that you want to be nice to the people you know who are following you. It’s been tough unfollowing people I know who follow me. But if what they are sharing is not of enough value, what should I do? I can still stay connected and get to them in other ways – Facebook, LinkedIn, face to face and when they engage me on Twitter by liking or retweeting items I share.

Looking at Twitter as a news and information feed, the news and information from my friends and colleagues may be very valuable to others, but not too me. Though Comcast gives me 800 channels I don’t watch them all.

When Twitter was new, people asked “Should I follow back everyone who follows me? Isn’t it the polite things to do.” Not if you have a ton of followers and following them back means an unreadable “fire hose.”

Traditionally, I got my news and information primarily from my news aggregator, Feedly. By following sources and subjects that I selected and organized into folders I stayed abreast of items like you would via a newspaper (tailored in this case) and had plenty to share with my Twitter followers.

I am looking forward to now also getting news and information from Twitter, the people’s network – for knowing what’s happening and what everyone is talking about, right now.

Twitter is seeing big growth as a result of its move last September from a 140 character cap to a 280 character cap. Growth both as to more engaged users and its market value.

BuzzFeed News reports, via SocialFlow findings, that tweets longer than the old 140-character limit are generating much more engagement than tweets that are under 140 characters.

While the number of clicks on a link in Twitter were comparable before and after the change, retweets and likes were nearly double for tweets over 140 characters,

The findings mirrored Twitter’s own test results. From a Twitter blog post announcing the increase:

In addition to more Tweeting, people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter. People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall.

In addition to increased engagement, Twitter’s stock price is up about 40% since the change to 280 characters.

Twitter stock price

Though Twitter’s ad business has not grown significantly, Motley Fool reports Twitter’s licensing of data, an alternative means monetization, is growing extremely well. And bottom line, increased engagement is the starting point for increased revenues — and the market may reflect this.

I am enjoying the 280 characters. Allows me to “micro-blog” if you will, greater showcase influencers and strategic partners and has significantly jumped engagement on my tweets. Looks like I am not alone.

For legal professionals, Twitter is going to grow in importance. Especially so for legal bloggers – to build a name in a niche, build relationships and grow a following to amplify your blog posts.

When I saw that Twitter was considering increasing its character limit from 140 characters, I saw it as a bad thing. A company struggling in the financial community’s eyes making changes for the sake of change – not vision.

I also saw an increase as making for a poor user experience.

People would start to use Twitter for more than it is, short quips with a link for getting more. People who don’t know how to use social media, often marketers and communication professionals, would broadcast more, believing more characters was more, not less. And with longer tweets, the ability to scroll would be harder as columns on Twitter’s home page and lists would be twice as long.

I was wrong. Twitter with the 280 character is a better experience — and more valuable for those looking to learn, share, engage, nurture relationships and build a name. All the stuff smart lawyers and other professionals are after.

Leading technologist and the inventor of the blog, Dave Winer (@davewiner) was right when he wrote two years ago that Twitter needed to increase its character limit. Not to change for the sake of change, but as a defensive move for self preservation.

Winer’s point was that people don’t click on links and keeping the 140 character limit would thus cripple Twitter.

1. Twitter has had real-time news more or less to itself since inception. Facebook was busy doing something else. Apple had the totally wrong idea of how news worked. Google had good products, Google News and Google Now, but they weren’t doing exactly what Twitter does.
2. But things have changed. Facebook and Apple are actively pursuing news, and at least in Facebook’s case, their product works better than Twitter’s. Flipboard has an excellent product, and while they don’t appear to be an immediate threat to Twitter, they could be acquired.
3. News products that are limited to 140 characters have to use pointers to guide the reader to the rest of the story.
4. Key point — the new entrants don’t have a 140-char limit.
5. If you think that clicking on a link to read a story is not a serious disadvantage, then go ahead and keep the 140-char limit. But Facebook claims to have done the research, and my anecdotal experience confirms this: people don’t click links.

Winer was also right that users who loved Twitter, like me, would not be put off by the change, they’d even like it.

It’s easy and non-disruptive for Twitter to ease the limit. The people who really love Twitter as-is will barely notice a difference. Except when they want to read more, they can just click a link, and the full story loads immediately, because the full article is already there, it’s in the Twitter feed, just hidden at first. This is very simple, imho totally non-controversial stuff. Don’t breeze by it, and think the limit is insignificant. It just cripples Twitter in relation to its new competition.

Twitter at 280 is all positive for me.

  • Twitter has become a quasi blogging medium. I love blogging as blogging is meant to be, a conversation. By referencing something someone else has written and offering my take, I am in effect entering into a conversation with them. At 140 characters that was tough to do. 280 makes it possible, while still making me get to the point.
  • I can now get the “money quote” out of a story or post, give the attribute to the source by including their Twitter handle and then sharing my point or take. A miniature blog post.
  • Longer tweets foster more engagement in the form of retweets, likes and replies. The reason is that people get your whole point in one tweet. I agree with Winer that no one clicks on a link to read a story elsewhere. That’s why I share an entire blog post on Facebook.
  • Retweets, likes and replies foster engagement. I end up exchanging notes and in conversation with these folks on Twitter and elsewhere. Content is not the end goal of a lawyer, content is just the currency for building relationships and a name, largely through engagement.
  • Longer tweets become part of the news cycle on Twitter. The stories you share move as more people share the items you’ve tweeted. People share what they know. They don’t know what’s behind a link. Now they can read the whole “story” on Twitter.
  • Whether you share your own blog posts or someone elses, doesn’t matter. Sharing other’s stories and posts is probably better. You are seen as well read, staying up to speed in your industry and an intelligence agent by funneling some of the best from the noise.
  • You build fans among those whose stories and posts you share. More people are seeing their name than ever because your tweets are getting viewed more as more people retweet them. Better yet, these fans get a notice via Twitter each time your tweet (with their Twitter handle included as a result of your attribute) is liked, retweeted or replied to.

Winer was right that early leaders, like Twitter, mistakenly think there’s something magical about their product, like 140 characters.

…[A] newcomer enters and takes the market because they were wrong about the magic. Users almost always go for new power, esp when it comes to them as performance not complexity. That’s all we’re talking about here. News stories that load instantly as opposed to news stories that require for a new page to load.

Twitter at 280 characters is only a month old. But I am liking everything about it.

As a lawyer, Twitter has now become more valuable for learning, engagement, relationships and building a name. With Twitter likely to grow from the increase, if you are not using Twitter, you’ll only find yourself more absent from the discussion and lacking an online presence.

Wasn’t the first time I was dead wrong and won’t be the last. Twitter at 280 characters is all good,

Too many lawyers do not realize they can’t land kudos and be easily cited without a Twitter account.

How so?

I regularly monitor sources and subjects for items of interest to me. I do it with my news aggregator, Feedly.

Many of the items I read I share on Twitter. Many of these tweets are shoutouts to the subject of the story. I am not alone in doing this.

In order to give a shutout I need the subject’s Twitter handle.

I go over to Google to look up the Twitter account by searching for the person or organization’s name and the word, ‘Twitter.’ I then include the Twitter handle in my tweet, ie, “Big kudos to @patriciasmith for…” and then include what they did.

Without a Twitter handle the person cannot see the recognition I gave them nor the recognition others gave them by retweeting or favoriting my tweet. With a Twitter account, the subject receives notice of the shoutout via an email and a Twitter notification.

This is a big deal with law firm and association leaders who do not have a Twitter account, but whose public relations people get them in headlines.

I do the same with reporters and bloggers I am citing. I am amazed when I cannot find a Twitter handle for a reporter, after all they are in the media.

Sadly far too many reporters and bloggers in the law lack Twitter handles, something that signals that they are out of touch with media today and aren’t looking to engage their readers.

I’m enjoying the addition of ALM’s (American Legal Media) publications in the feeds in my news aggregator, Feedly.

Through a subscription I just bought to ALM’s Law.com I receive feeds from the entire ALM network of 15 national and regional news publications, as well as commentary from leading voices in the legal field. I bought a subscription to Law.com for about $350/year, the rate given to small law firms. LexBlog, though not a law firm, qualified.

While most of the stories are about legal issues, law firms and the business of law, there are quite a few stories of interest to me and my followers on Twitter.

Stories on digital publishing, technology, business development, social media and the like. When I say quite a few, it’s probably about 5%, but that’s a higher percentage than my other feeds from sources and subjects I monitor in my aggregator. In addition, there are stories regarding law firms, companies and people of which I am interested.

The ALM is not one central feed through the law.com url, but comes via subscribing to each of the ALM legal publications. I went through the list of ALM’s featured legal publications and added them one at a time to Feedly (see above picture).

As many of you know, I share on Twitter a fair number of stories written by others – reporters, bloggers and columnists. I read stories in my aggregator for learning and staying abreast of news and developments, just as you’d read newspapers, periodicals and blogs.

From a business development standpoint for LexBlog and I, I meet and build relationships with the people (virtually to start with) whose stories, columns and blog posts I share. Who wouldn’t be curious who it is that’s sharing their story on Twitter?

They found out their story is being shared by me because I include their Twitter handle in my tweet. I also meet the people and companies who are the subject of the stories I share as I’ll include their Twitter handles.

In addition to potentially building relationships with reporters, bloggers, business people and companies, I serve as an “intelligence agent” for my followers on Twitter. I am combing the news in my aggregator on certain subjects and sharing the stories and blog posts with my followers. Not only does this build a name for me as being on top of my game on these subjects, but people come to rely on me as a source of helpful news and information.

ALM’s news feed is a good fit for me because of it’s legal bent, the reporters and subjects of the stories who I can meet, the quality of the journalism and my sharing of news and columns which folks would not otherwise see behind a paywall. I pay for my subscription to get the feeds, but non-subscribers can read the stories when shared by a subscriber on Twitter and other social media.

Sharing others’ content on Twitter seems to have built a lot of good will for me over the years. The more I share like this, the more people who follow me on Twitter, the more people like their stories shared by me and the more people share my blog posts. ALM’s feeds can only help.

Thanks much to ALM’s Shawn Harlan in business development and their chief sales officer, Allen Milloy, who helped me get the subscription.

Last week a friend asked on Facebook what we thought about President-elect Trump tweeting the possibility of a nuclear arms race with Russia. Was it appropriate for a world leader to be tweeting on such sensitive matters?

The reaction of most people was that it was reckless for the President-elect to weigh in on matters as serious as nuclear weapons in a tweet.  Rather than a reasoned discussion, we have world leaders guessing as to the President-elect’s intent.

Others responded that the President-elect was using Twitter as a press tool, much as corporate leaders are being coached to do. The President-elect was using Twitter to communicate directly to the people, as opposed to going through the traditional media.

I get the concerns about what is proper commentary by a president on Twitter. I was pretty alarmed hearing about the tweet on nuclear arms. But we may be looking at things as they were, not how they are today.

What would be better? Getting a podium, putting flags behind it and asking the media to come to the “Florida White House to be” for a statement or press conference?

Seems a bit outdated to then have reporters reduce what the president said to a sound bite of about 140 characacters when the president could have tweeted it.

The President-elect’s tweet on nuclear arms got the news out and generated discussion world-wide via social media. Vladimir Putin offered a tempered response that what Trump said was obvious and discussed in his campaign. Putin added that he looked forward to visiting the United States and President-elect upon invitation. This and we saw Putin’s Christmas card and message to the President-elect.

A U.S. position stated and reaction diffused all in one day because the President-elect relayed our position via Twitter. Ten years ago we would have been be waiting for the next day’s newspaper to begin two-weeks of news coverage on the subject.

Yesterday, on not nearly as sensitive a matter, we had Hall of Fame basketball coach and president of the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson,  and Jeanie Buss, part owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers, announce on Twitter the ending of their seventeen year relationship and four year engagement.

Rather than statements from their publicists, as we’d have had in the past, we had tweets from Jackson and Buss.

Law firms regularly issue press releases on firm or client related matters. Press conferences, though declining, are used by firms and their clients on high profile matters. Why not use Twitter instead?

Law firms and their leaders are neither celebrities nor politicians. Their news is not going to draw such immediate interest. The legal industry also runs a step or two behind when it comes to the innovative use of the Internet.

But their are some advantages to using Twitter.

  • Twitter does enable law firms to speak directly to their audience, including industry reporters.
  • Twitter enables law firms to control what the press reports on the firm’s position.
  • Twitter allows law firms to get out in front of a story such as a strong group of lawyers departing the firm.
  • Twitter enables law firms to immediately respond to reports they feel are unfair or unwarranted.
  • Social media, including news emanating from Twitter, is where a majority of people get news today.

Will Twitter replace press releases and press conferences for law firms? Overnight, no, but Twitter or another form of social media will replace the way law firms and their leaders release news and make statements — sooner or later.

With all the financial news about Google, Disney, Salesforce and Microsoft having no interest in buying Twitter, you’d think the social media network was a sinking ship.

Not so. Twitter remains valuable to society at large — and to lawyers in particular.

Jack Dorsey (@jack), the CEO and co-founder of Twitter, who rallied his team in an internal memo last week, obtained by Bloomberg, is spot on.

Twitter is what’s happening, and what everyone is talking about (literally!). News and talk. We’re the people’s news network.

People choose us for news because we’re the fastest. Fastest to get news, and fastest to share news with the whole world. Now let’s strive to be the first. The first place people check to see what’s happening…and the first place to break what’s happening. In the moment LIVE, or a fast recap of what we know so far…what matters.

The numbers support Dorsey. Twitter has three hundred million active users. 17 million tweets were sent during the last presidential debate alone. Twitter is what brings us the world — live.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki (@JamesSurowiecki) wrote last week that despite word that Twitter is floundering, Twitter, the service, remains as strong and influential as ever.

Indeed, if you look at Twitter in terms of social impact and user engagement, you would say that the company is doing quite well and adding a great deal of value.

Twitter gets a bum rap because of the financial community’s expectations that Twitter should be measured for success against its sister social network, Facebook, and its 1.7 billion users and $18 billion in annual revenues. No one is going to be Facebook except may be Google, Amazon and Microsoft before it.

Twitter, with $3 billion in revenue and driving news and information, person to person, across the world is a heck of a successful company — and would be viewed as so if it didn’t go public with unrealistic expectations.

Where does that leave Twitter today?

Can lawyers rely on Twitter being around as a source of receiving and sharing news and information? Can lawyers look to Twitter as medium by which to build relationships? Can lawyers continue to use Twitter to help build a name for themselves?

Absolutely. Twitter will be here for us and will likely see improvements — or it should, as compared to some of the eye candy enhancements made the last couple years in an effort to get its stock price up.

Twitter, as an independent company, is likely to work on adding value to its real users, rather than paying so much attention to its stock price. Long term value will become the key.

How can you use Twitter as a lawyer?

  • Serve as an intelligence agent on a niche. Set up a news aggregator, such as Feedly, to monitor relevant sources and subjects. By sharing posts and stories on Twitter you’ll build a following among those who recognize you as a trusted source to follow.
  • Source of news and information. Twitter can serve as an aggregator of legal news and developments. Identify names of people and media sources on Twitter who are sharing items relevant to your area of the law. Follow them and you’ll have your personal “AP feed.”
  • Twitter lists for relationships. Twitter lists, little known by lawyers, are powerful for building strategic relationships. Create a list of your best clients and prospective clients by company name. Add the principals and officers who are using Twitter. Retweet and/or like items they are Tweeting – especially items they might be proud of. You’ll hear back with a “thank you,” which can lead to a LinkedIn Connection and a face to face to face meeting.
  • Conferences – on and off site. Twitter is abuzz with legal and trade industry conferences today. By following the conference hashtag you can join the Twitter discussion by retweeting, liking or sharing items of your own. Doing so while at the conference or in the office is a good way to meet people and get known.

Twitter’s not going away. Sure, the experts will take pot shots at it. Everyone is a pundit today.

But as ‘The People’s News Network,” Twitter remains strong, influential and of value to the public — and lawyers in particular.

News broke on Twitter last week that the publisher of New York Times didn’t want the Times’ reporters using Twitter.

My response was that this was absolutely nuts – and I was not alone. The reason? The Times’ reporters develop trust with their readers through the online engagement which Twitter enables.

It’s trust which develops a loyal following of readers, and, more importantly, readers who share the reporters’ articles across social media – especially on Facebook and Twitter.

It turned out that the Times was not asking reporters to refrain from using Twitter. The Times was merely asking reporters to refrain from expressing strong political views, something which could call their impartiality into question and turn off some readers.

The reporters’ use of Twitter, generally, is critical in building a following and driving distribution.

  • People sharing a reporter’s articles on Twitter can include the reporter’s Twitter handle.
  • Reporters seeing people share their articles on Twitter like the Tweet.
  • It’s the “like” which engages the person sharing the article. This quick engagement is where the trust starts.
  • Those sharing items like this tend to be intelligence agents and influencers on niches with an awful lot or followers. Building a community of influencers sharing your content is critical today where social media drives distribution.
  • The engagement results in more people following the reporters on Twitter, and in turn sharing items the reporter shares on Twitter.
  • The ensuing relationship between readers using Twitter and the reporter makes it more likely that these readers will read the reporter’s stories in the Times. It’s only natural, when you come to “know” reporters and columnists, that you start to read their stuff.

As a blogging lawyer, you’re in the same shoes as reporters. You need to build trust with influencers online. It’s the influencers who’ll share your blog posts with people who’ve come to trust the influencers as sharing items of interest.

Without a Twitter handle, it’s impossible for you to know who is sharing your blog posts on Twitter. When someone atrrributes your post to you by including your Twitter handle, you’re notified by email and Twitter.

By giving an atta girl or atta boy by liking such a Tweet you begin to build the trust, the relationship. Sure it’s a loose relationship, you’ve likely never met before. But the relationship leads to the person sharing more of your posts, others sharing your posts. more people reading your blog, and more people recognizing you as a trusted authority.

In many cases this engagement leads to connecting on LinkedIn, and, in some cases, face to face meetings.

Understand, as a blogger, Twitter is not a one way street. You need to be sharing others content, blog posts and articles. Doing so builds trust, grows followers and gets more people. who see you as a giver, sharing your blog posts.

Back to the New York Times’ reporters. They were all but ordered to start using Twitter and other social media in the New York Times Innovation Report 2014. I don’t think you’ll see them stop using Twitter anytime soon.

I use Twitter primarily to share items I read via my RSS Reader or the New York Times. I share anywhere from a few to twenty some items a day. More when I am not traveling.

The engagement I experience via Twitter comes from people replying to, liking or retweeting items I share. This engagement comes from me getting to know these people better via Twitter or elsewhere online or offline. Trust is also built by each of us getting to know each other.

Twitter also represents a heck of a news feed from people with deep passion and expertise on countless niches. Whether reporter, blogger or anyone sharing their observations and what they read, Twitter represents a great news feed from trusted authorities with similar interests.

Such a feed is impossible to harness though if you’re following too many people. So yesterday I started refining my feed by whittling down the number of people I’m following.

First, I just started skimming through my Twitter feed to see what people were sharing. If the stuff a person was sharing didn’t offer much value to me (it may for others), I stopped following them.

I then started going through those I was following on Twitter. I wanted to see how much they used Twitter.  I found a free web based app, ManageFlitter, to help me identify those who did not tweet much, if at all.

Turns out there were a lot of folks not tweeting. Some stopped since I started following them — many I now see active on Facebook — and others I may have followed to meet them and it turned out they never much used Twitter.

I then looked at who ManageFlitter said was more influential. Whether someone is “influential” is highly charged. What does that really mean? While viewed as “un-influential,” in general, someone could be very influential to me because of the respect I have for them and the trust I have in the information they share.

So when it came to influential I was pretty discrete in who I stopped following. I am still following a lot of the “un-influential.”

When I was all done I skimmed through the entire list. Scary as it me be, I knew the six hundred plus I was still following. If not personally, at least by their station in life and how they add value to my life by what they share. I also wanted to mantain a “relationship” with most of those folks.

This morning, I started skimming through my feed. I found some good stuff and shared a couple things.

There is still a lot of stuff coming through. More than I can probably absorb. That’s probably because those I stopped following were not sharing much so the flow was not reduced much.

In addition, the Twitter feed represents news and information shared in a moment of time. An hour was all I could scroll back – and that took a bit of time. My RSS reader (Feedly or Mr Reeder) organizes info into folders and allows me to review news and information from an entire day.

But I am going to continue my experiment of reviewing Twitter’s home feed to see how I can a harness it. I may do some more whittling of those I follow, hoping I don’t pick up some resentment from folks who may follow who unfollows – not sure why you would care enough to do that.

I will also use Twitter lists for timely info for sporting events as well as lists to build relationships with strategic partners. The later I do by retweeting some of their things — when I can.

I know many of you follow thousands and thousands of people on Twitter. Some view it as the polite thing to do. To follow back those who follow you. Some even have software that goes and gets followers by targeting people to follow.

I see the greatest value in Twitter as a stream of news and information. Walter Cronkite had the UPI, Reuters and the AP. We have something arguably much more powerful in Twitter.

But to me, Twitter needs to be refined to work.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Pete Simon

Twitter co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, announced on the Today Show last Friday that Twitter’s 140-character limit is here to stay. (See video below)

It’s staying. It’s a good constraint for us. It allows for of-the-moment brevity.

With Wall Street clamoring for a higher stock price and the public thinking Twitter is trying to keep up with Facebook in the amount of users, rumors have run rampant that Twitter was going to increase its character limit. This way Twitter could supposedly compete with Medium, a third party blogging platform, and Facebook.

Dorsey,  who returned as CEO last Ocrober is comitted to making Twitter better. However getting away from the 140 character limit would have been a mistake.

Twitter is not long form social media ala Facebook or a blog-like platform such as Medium. Twitter is about ‘tweets.’ Short form sharing, responses and engagement.

140 characters work. The Chinese earthquake. The US Airways plane landing on the Hudson. The Thanksgiving Eve Mumbai guerilla attacks. The ISIS Paris attack. Sporting events and Hollywood stars. All news spread around the world in seconds via Twitter.

Sharing news stories we read with an attribute to the source. Unmatched social sharing and engagement.

Other changes may be coming, but I’m with Dorsey, Twitter works because of its brevity.