If A Tree Falls in the Woods, But There’s No One There to Tweet About It ….

Debra Pickett is President of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training services to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

In a report out this week, the Pew Research Center takes a look at What Facebook and Twitter Mean for News.  Their findings offer important insights for lawyers and firms dealing with high profile matters.

 By now, we’ve become accustomed to the searchability of items that once existed largely outside of public view: a reporter or blogger with a particular interest can search for and post documents with ease and, once the post is “out there,” on the Web, anyone who happens to enter the right keywords – like, say, your client’s name – into a search engine will see it.

 In “The State of the News Media 2012,” researchers took on the question of how the incredible growth of social media led to an evolution from information searchability to information shareability.  People talk, of course.  And, in many ways, Facebook simply amplifies and streamlines the old office grapevines and neighborhood gossip networks of the past: I hear something about your client and I pass it on to a friend, who passes it on to a customer, and so on and so on and so forth.  The Pew study notes that folks who learn about a news story or an event via Facebook tend to assume that if they hadn’t heard it there, they would have found out about it anyway through another source.  After all, their Facebook friends largely mirror their real-life social connections. 

 Interestingly, though, Twitter seems to be viewed quite differently.  Nearly half of those who learn something first via Twitter say that they were unlikely to have found about it from any other source.

 For Twitter users, the decision to follow someone tends to be driven by interest, rather than by relationship.  A Twitter user might, for example, follow the tweets of a journalist who covers a particular topic or an activist who is concerned with a specific issue, even without knowing either person in real life or having any personal connection to them.  So, while Twitter has far fewer users than Facebook, those who do use the microblogging service tend to view it as a source with some real subject matter authority.  And, because users often retweet items from users they follow, sharing links with their own network of followers, a single tweet, sent to a relatively small group of folks can grow exponentially in its readership as it is shared and re-shared across multiple groups.

 When your client’s reputation is on the line, this is a big deal.

 An attorney handling a high profile matter – whether it’s a trial that has captured the attention of the mainstream media or an environmental regulatory settlement that has a vocal group of neighbors up in arms – will, as a matter of course, make sure that a team member is monitoring coverage of the case.  That typically includes using search engines – what did we do before Google Alerts? – and, sometimes, clipping services.  We know how to manage the flow of information in the age of searchability, or, at the very least, we know how to hire PR firms who do.

 But we’ve not yet come to terms with the consequences of shareability.  Social media, and especially Twitter, often go unmonitored.  This week’s report is a wake up call: if you’re concerned about people talking, you need to know what people are tweeting.

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