The email pops into my inbox, I click to open it, I begin reading, and the clock starts:
1 second: John Q. Lawyer (@johnqlawyer) is now following your tweets (@jordan_law21) on Twitter.
Doesn’t look like spam or porn — judging from the handle and photo, anyway — but I’ve never heard of John Q. Lawyer. Don’t know him from Adam. I should probably delete it without following back. But I’ll read some more.
3 seconds: 43 tweets; 1,416 following; 398 followers; 3 list
This isn’t a good sign — he follows more than a thousand people but has fewer than half as many followers. Not a good ratio, suggests someone who’s just trying to generate traffic. He also hasn’t said much — fewer than 50 tweets. This is almost certainly a non-follow. But I’ll give this a few more seconds, because I’m always inclined to cut lawyers some slack on social media.
8 seconds: Bio: Wills and estates lawyer in Illinois.
You’re kidding. That’s it? Not even a link to a website or blog? Even if I lived in the US midwest and didn’t have a will made out, there’s nothing here that suggests this person is worth following. Where’s that Delete key? Click.
And that’s it. Eight seconds is all it took me to size you up from your Twitter biography, decide that very little would be gained from investigating further, and dismissing your Follow. And the sample information above is, I’m sorry to report, not at all unusual among Twitter users. I might not be your typical Twitter devotee — I follow very few people relative to my readership, though I try to assess most of the Follows that come in — but I do think the sequence detailed above accurately describes the extremely rapid-fire process by which the decision is made to follow or not follow someone on Twitter.
If you’re serious about using Twitter as a profile promotion vehicle, then of course you need to have great content. But the way Twitter is currently structured means that most people won’t judge you on your content, because they’re not going to see your content right away. Instead, they’re going to get that email described above, which contains:
- your Twitter handle,
- your real name,
- your Twitter stats, and
- your biography.
There’s other information contained in that email as well, including people whom you and this new person both follow, but speaking for myself, I’m not especially impressed if we both happen to follow Conan O’Brien or John Hodgman. Those four main data points will drive most people’s decision to investigate further and perhaps grant you the thing you want most — a Follow Back. They’re the cover upon which your book will be judged. So you need to make sure that cover is extraordinary. Here are some suggestions:
- Make your handle count. Make sure it includes either your own name, the name of your firm, or the focus of your service in some way. Cute handles can be good up to a point, unless they become confusing (a Los Angeles expert witness who goes by @LAXpertPRESS or some such) or suggest a user from an inappropriate industry (any combination of a female first name and a string of numbers, for instance).
- Maximum-focus your location. At the very least, specify your city or town as well as its province or state. But if you can and want to zero in even more closely, all the better: “Suburban Denver, Colorado”; “High Park area, Toronto, Ontario” “Wall Street, NYC” and so forth. Your “location” should be your target market, and that market should be tightly focused.
- Follow and publish smartly. Your usage patterns speak volumes about you. Speaking personally, I take a dim view of extremely high Following counts and poor follows-to-followers ratio (I like to see at least 1-to-1 and below), and I worry about too few Tweets (not much to say) or too many (I don’t want to be swamped with 20+ updates daily). Moderate your behaviour and it will show up in a more attractive stat line.
- Make your biography count. I can’t tell you how many uninspired or poorly thought-out Twitter biographies show up in my inbox. Just in the last month, I’ve seen biographies like:
- “Business and legal educational programs”
- “All things legal”
- “I’m a lawyer and stuff”
- “Just another attorney”
- “Wouldn’t make a difference if I put up a bio or not.”
I think it should go without saying that descriptions like these are not going to inspire anyone to read further; these Twitterers might have great content, but they’re not selling it or giving people any reason to follow them. If you don’t want followers — and some people don’t; they only use Twitter as a one-way news service — this is a very good way to discourage them.
Contrast this approach to some very good biographies that have crossed my inbox, also in the last month:
- RachRodgersEsq: Bi-Coastal Small Biz Lawyer to Gen X & Gen Y, Dreamer, Entrepreneur, Blogger, New Yorker (born & bred), Developing Country Traveler, East African Coffee Drinker
- NJ_Litigator: NJ & NY attorney with broad litigation experience as both Assistant County Counsel for Bergen County, NJ and a trial prep attorney at Cravath Swaine & Moore
- StefanieDevery: NY Real Estate Attorney, Wife and Mother. Passionate baker. Addicted to the Food Network.
- JamieXML: OASIS general counsel: global open standards. Personal opinions. Internet lawyer, IPR guy, dad, husband, hacker, boater. Ex-Wall Street, ex-Minnesota, ex-skier.
- @AccurateWords: I own a transcription service. I have 16 yrs of experience in legal, general, medical & insurance. I love our grandkids & gardening! www.AccurateWords.com
The point isn’t whether you’d personally follow any of these folks back; the point is that they’re giving you multiple reasons to do so. What I like about these bios is that they’re packed with information, tell you what the person is and does, usually provide some element of geographic location, and usually feature some personal element to make the author more human, fully rounded, likeable or interesting. That’s pretty good for 140 characters or less, proving that what you need to say about yourself really can be said in a very short space of time.
If you’re going to use Twitter for professional development, make sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to get the most out of it. Start with a good handle, a great bio, and attractive usage patterns, and you’ll increase substantially the odds that Twitter will render some return on your investment.