Brett Trout, Brett Trout Law Firm, Des Moines, Iowa
Prospective clients want information quickly. Brett Trout knows this, and so Twitter has become his communication tool of choice. With a niche practice focused on intellectual property he uses Twitter, @bretttrout, to jump into targeted conversations, share his knowledge base, and ultimately find new clients—all in 140-character messages. Twitter is the centerpiece of his marketing plan; he’s skillful at it and savvy, but it didn’t happen over night.
As an intellectual property attorney based in Des Moines, Iowa, Brett has been in and around the Internet since the mid-1990s. In 1999 Brett published a book on Internet Law covering topics such as what are websites, confidentiality and email. He has since published two more books on Internet law, including “Internet Laws Effecting Your Company” and “CyberLaw: A Legal Arsenal for Online Business,” both available on Amazon. Like many early adopters of technologies, Brett admits he isn’t shy about experimenting and can pretty quickly tell what’s going to be useful and sustainable. So, in 2003, while many of his competitors were sleeping, he launched a blog, blawgit.com, and his instinct was right on the money.
Although still an important part of his social Web strategy today, Brett’s blog is no longer the centerpiece, finding the immediacy and scale of Twitter to be a greater force for connecting with prospects. As such he has significantly shifted the time he devotes to the social Web to the micro-blogging site. He certainly hasn’t abandoned his blog and believes blogs will always be BIG, if for nothing else than the “Google juice” they provide, but has found that its usefulness has evolved with time. When a topic or conversation on Twitter merits an additional discussion that doesn’t fit into the 140-character format, he puts that discussion in a longer form post at Blawgit.com.
As a communications channel, Twitter gives Brett a wide reach, significant exposure and an immediate way to respond and connect with his potential clients. In general, he has learned how to weave into posts and conversations the key areas of his experience and background, develop links and add to his pool of prospective clients.
Brett gets quite a bit of business from Twitter, but admits it’s not for everyone and it takes time to build effectiveness. He’s been working it for 3 years and now has over 10,000 followers who can read his posts and potentially Direct Message (DM) him with requests for assistance. These initial contacts via DM often develop into work. In fact, while being interviewed by Lance Godard of 22Tweets (@22twts), a Twitter project that does real time interviews of lawyers in twenty-two tweets (posts), someone in Brett’s network saw one of the posts in their Twitter stream and contacted him via direct message with a legal problem. As in everything Brett does on the social Web, he is very careful not to give legal advice. In this case he simply asked her for additional information, did a conflict check and then invited her to call him by providing a phone number. He was able to work out her issue in that initial phone consultation, so it didn’t result in anything beyond that, yet the immediacy of his availability is memorable and could result in a future matter or referral.
In addition to Brett’s Twitter presence and his blog, he uses Facebook for keeping in touch with family, friends and people he knows well. Those relationships are not overtly business, but knows that all have the potential to be referral sources. He also maintains a profile on LinkedIn and has over 500 connections, however he hasn’t yet seen any benefit. He believes that it is a viable tool for job seekers and might use it in the event he was looking to hire someone.
Brett’s advice for lawyers who want to use the social web for business development is to get in contact with someone who knows what they’re doing. He suggests that they ask questions and learn how NOT to make mistakes. “It takes time to get a feel for what is legal or illegal and what is acceptable etiquette or unacceptable. While social media leverages resources and multiplies efforts, if you mess it up the result will be the same, only tenfold.”He suggests that people are less tolerant of inexperienced users and mistakes are hard to correct. He also does not think it is wise to try to simply replicate what someone, such as himself, has been doing for over ten years, as one size does not fit all. He believes that each lawyer should take time to lurk, watch and get a feel for how things proceed, what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, then jump in when they’re ready.
Other lawyers have asked Brett to tell them why they should be in social media? His response is simple: “If you have to ask for a reason, then you probably shouldn’t be there.” He adds that, “Everyone can put up a billboard. It’s another thing to turn that into new business. If your idea is to post your billboard and sit back expecting a response, it’s probably better to do something else.”
Excerpted from the forthcoming book, social.lawyers | transforming business development, by Jayne Navarre to be published in Fall 2010 by Thomson.
Brett Trout, Esq. (Owner Brett Trout Law Firm, Des Moines, Iowa), in discussion with the author, May 2010.