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Should lawyers stop using Twitter?

June 16th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

“This just shows how mad it is for any firm of Solicitors to use Twitter.”

The above is a comment posted after the Law Society Gazette’s online report about a firm of solicitors that recently found itself in hot water as a result of a series of tweets appearing to celebrate a ‘win’ over a family seeking educational support for their child.

The firm – Baker Small – posted tweets such as “Crikey, had a great ‘win’ last week which sent some parents into a storm!” and “Great ABA Trib [tribunal] win this week … interesting to see how parents continue to persist with it. Funny thing is parents think they won ;)”

The latter tweet related to an attempt by parents to access funding for Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)– ABA is regarded as an intervention that can help autistic children to learn. There are debates around the effectiveness of ABA, but that’s not my area. I am cringing as you read these – aren’t you?

The tweeter didn’t seem to have walked a mile in the shoes of parents with a kid who needs extraordinary levels of support from them and their local authority.

Unfortunately for the firm, though, events didn’t stop here.

The MD of Baker Small – Mark Small – then carried on posting tweets (he has at least implied it was him in subsequent apologies and statements), such as a picture of a kitten laughing with the wording: “Some great tweets received today from people who just see a one-sided argument … just shared them with my cat …”

The firm has now deleted the offending tweets, made a public apology and also donated some cash to charity.

However, the damage done by these tweets is far more significant than being on the receiving end of some angry messages from parents. In a clear example of just how much online reputation can affect the bottom line, at least eight local authorities cancelled or promised to review contracts they had in place with Baker Small.

One – Norfolk County Council – had contracts of £600,000 with the firm. Its spokesperson stated: “While we have noted Baker Small’s apology on this matter, our view is that tweets posted over the weekend were wholly inappropriate and do not in any way reflect how this council wishes to work with families.”

It’s those words from Norfolk County Council that contain the nub of the issue here.

While the work that Baker Small did may have resulted in councils winning cases, the point is that Mark Small chose to gloat about it in public and then argue with those who disagreed – and that’s not how any public authority wants to define its relationship with families.

So, was the Law Gazette commenter correct that it’s ‘mad’ for a firm of solicitors to use Twitter?

No, I don’t believe so. We see plenty of examples of law firms using social media to spread positive messages and to enhance their reputations, both offline and online.

Most obviously, what we have here is a clear case of a misuse of Twitter creating catastrophic damage to reputation. What lay behind what he has called a temporary bit of “red mist”?

We’ll never know but, either way, he broke the cardinal rule of investing in business social media: never make it personal.

By gloating, making, well, more than one kind of ‘catty’ remark and getting involved in arguments, Baker Small lost its professional façade – and, as the ongoing attention the comments have received demonstrates – that’s not easy to come back from.

But let’s not forget the wider context here either – two points here.

First up, and from a comms perspective, in the pre-Twitter past, firms would have been well advised to behave around the press with caution, respect, politeness and intelligence – as if anything they said or did would end up in the public domain, where they could be judged.

In this regard, social media is not something new – it’s just that anyone, including the blog ‘Special Needs Jungle’ which republished the offending tweets, can now be a publisher. This means respect, politeness and intelligence should be the order of the day all the time.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it, as a brave new world, providing you can manage ‘nice’ and generally hold together the decency bit of this.

Which most people can, to be honest.

The next reputational challenge is for the councils. If they are properly shocked, nothing they do now can be allowed to echo what made those texts so bad. And I don’t just mean on Twitter.

Put starkly, can they behave towards parents with respect, politeness and intelligence? After all, they instructed Baker Small – ‘the client is king’ these days, and as the kitten in that ill-advised twitter post grows into a boring old mog, attention will turn back to the general behaviour of these councils.

I’m not sure parent-publishers are going to stop with one scalp if nothing changes.

Twitter news: photos and links to be excluded from 140 limit

June 1st, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

We like to keep you up to date with the latest social media developments here at MD Communications – and there’s certainly plenty to keep up with. Our news sources tell us that the latest change that may be incoming to Twitter is that the micro-blogging platform will stop including photos and links in the totting up of the character limit.

The 140 character challenge

If you’re working with Twitter you will no doubt have experienced the common frustrations that arise when you are trying to compose engaging, informative and illustrative tweets within a 140 character limit. Links, images, GIFs and videos are increasingly important in creating Twitter engagement but featuring them can really eat into the character total for each tweet. So, the news that this inclusion may no longer affect the number of characters that you’re racking up has been (mostly) met with widespread approval.

A recent report from Bloomberg has indicated that Twitter is planning to allow images to be included outside of the limit at some point very soon. So far, Twitter has failed to comment but founder Jack Dorsey did make it clear back in January that the platform was looking for ways to allow users to write longer tweets so perhaps this is the first step.

70% drop in market price

There are some people who think that the character limit on Twitter is a good thing – Dorsey himself has described it as a “beautiful constraint” and when Twitter was first launched it was one of the most distinctive features of the social platform. In fact, the idea behind it was to make tweets the same size as a text message and there’s no doubt that the challenge of conforming to the 140 limit has encouraged some pretty creative and inspired content. However, Twitter hasn’t been doing so well in recent months, losing out to other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram where character limits are much less restrictive. In fact, its value has declined by around 70% over the past year – in terms of market price – and it has dropped down the top rankings in terms of number of active users.

Twitter is not the only platform that has recognised that for many people these kinds of limits are off-putting. Earlier this year the vast Chinese social platform Weibo binned its own 140 character limit so there seems to be a movement in favour of allowing users to be more textually expressive.

The death of Twitter as we know it?

So, what are the effects of this relaxing of the character limit likely to be? Twitter has already announced an increase in the character limit for private messaging so the platform is clearly recognising the appeal of a larger number of characters than was previously the case (private messages can now be up to 10,000). However, will this make the platform less distinctive? Will it defeat the purpose of a short, succinct ‘tweet’ as opposed to a lengthy ‘post’ and will it mean Twitter gets lost between Facebook and Instagram as a result? We’ll be keeping an eye on things here and we’ll update you as soon as we know…

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

Melissa Davis

Did you know that if Albert Einstein had not chosen his path of physics wizardry he has said that he would have become a musician instead? What would the world have looked like if his genius had been applied, not to the theory of relativity, but to a Stradivarius I wonder. Einstein said that he experienced his daydreams in music and lived his life in musical terms and there is certainly something about music that makes it an easy parallel for many other interests and careers – such as law, for example.

8th June @ Central Hall, Westminster
The Legal Musical Gala is a perfect illustration of Einstein’s way of thinking, an event that will bring together faces from all across the legal sector to prove just how much music can soothe, inspire and save. It takes place this summer on 8th June at Central Hall, Westminster and MD Communications is very proud to be one of the sponsors. A massed choir of legal sector people, from support staff to partners, drawn from all our favourite national and international law firms and chambers will perform to raise money for three charities AvMA, London Legal Support Trust and Sparks Children’s Medical Research.

Big stars – Lesley Garrett MBE
Of course, it’s not just lawyers who can make beautiful music and the support of one of the opera world’s biggest stars – Lesley Garrett MBE – is providing considerable extra sparkle to the Legal Musical Gala. Ms Garrett will be the headline act for the night, supported by the National Symphony Orchestra no less, adding her voice to those raised by the legal sector to come together for these fantastic causes.

A legal first
The Legal Musical Gala is the first ever event of its kind and the 180-strong massed choir will be a unique way of witnessing another side of what the legal sector can do. An eclectic mix of tunes will ensure there’s something for everyone, from Verdi’s Triumphal Chorus to a version of Abba’s Dancing Queen – with audience participation, just to make sure that everyone who wants to belt out a tune has plenty of opportunity.

Singing for great charities
The three charities the night is supporting provide a fantastic motivation for the event: the London Legal Support Trust raises funds for free legal advice centres, the Sparks Children’s Medical Charity is a fundraiser for children’s medical research, and Action Against Medical Accidents promotes patient safety and offers advice to medical accident victims.

Already the hype is building around the night with coverage in both the legal sector and mainstream press. Jonathan Ames in the Times said: “Lawyers are not always in tune with each other or, in some cases, even with their clients – but for one day in June they will be making an effort at least to harmonise their voices.”

So, if you don’t yet have tickets for the Legal Musical Gala on 8th June then get them soon or risk missing out on what could well be the event of the summer.

Buy your tickets now

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

Your online reputation – there’s only One Direction to take

May 24th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

You may or may not have heard of Azealia Banks, an American rapper, singer and songwriter with more than a bit of a penchant for foul language and shocking lyrics. She’s a public figure with a reputation for being controversial and has recently said (or tweeted) some things that even her fans have found a little difficult to stomach. Banks has a history of getting into fights on Twitter and apparently has very little fear of tackling anyone, even the likes of Lady Gaga, but last week she went too far.

The fuss arose over a video created for a new release by former One Direction singer Zayn Malik. Banks believed that her own work had influenced the content of the video and that remarks that were then tweeted by Malik referred to her. So – as you do – she went on a bizarre, public tirade that didn’t just include offensive tweets but also ventured into racist and homophobic territory. It was really quite horrible. Others soon became involved – such as Disney actress Skai Jackson, who told Banks to ”simmer down” and was then subjected to a flurry of abusive tweets in return. Skai Jackson is 14 years old.

So, not a great time to be Azealia Banks, but rather than try to cool down the heated arguments that started happening across social media, Banks refused to apologise*. She claimed that her tweets against Malik were justified because she was angry and wanted to “remind him that we’re both in the same boat in this industry and people of colour” and she justified the way she spoke to Jackson by saying she believed she was speaking to the girl’s mother. Continuing to be totally unapologetic she then tweeted more egotistical and slightly crazy rubbish: “Resisting The Urge to say loads more terrible things to each and every one of u’s” and “But obviously I’m insanely *&^% talented and have already lowered myself to the levels of ppl who don’t even deserve to share the same air I breathe.” Charming.

Interestingly, Twitter then suspended her account, something that it usually reserves for trolls. So, Banks set up a new account a day later and started ranting at Twitter this time – pointing out that she wasn’t the only celebrity to have used Twitter to have spats and spread hate and asking why she was the only one to have her account suspended, making insinuations about race. Twitter promptly suspended her new account too but the whole sorry episode does raise some interesting questions about the power that Twitter has in situations like these.

Some of the content that Donald Trump promotes, for example, may not contain the same words that Banks used but it arguably has a similar effect on stirring up hate.

Actress Bette Midler accused Twitter of double standards and asked why it had banned Azealia Banks but not Donald Trump. Mr Trump has tweeted a number of controversial comments about women and race but has never had his account suspended.

So is this a prime example of the fact that social media isn’t impartial at all but somewhere that is being policed in accordance with the vision of the people who set it up? Whether you agree with the account suspension or not it’s an interesting consideration – and the way Banks has handled the whole thing is a great example of how not to use your Twitter account to build a positive brand.

Whether you’re a high-profile rapper or a lawyer, negativity and hatred is not the way to go… I can’t imagine many in the legal profession going quite as far off the rails as Azealia (although you never know!), however this is an extreme example of what happens when you allow the red mist to descend and post on social media in anger.

It is such an instant form of communication, and also so easy to get misread in the absence of the kind of visual and other social cues we pick up in normal life.

Anyone using Twitter should take great care not to get into arguments – they rarely make you look good. Always count to at least 10 before posting if you’re wound up; and never, ever post drunk… or when engaged in a public argument with a One Direction star.

*Azealia Banks has since taken to another social media platform, Instagram, to issue an apology for any offence caused by her tweets.

Putting the boot into your reputation

May 19th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

To enjoy being walked on in high heels is, apparently, a thing – though even among fetishists, I imagine we’re talking about a minority of dedicatees.

Certainly accountancy giant PwC didn’t seem to enjoy the experience over the last week.

If you missed the extensive coverage, a receptionist working at the firm was sent home, without pay, for refusing to conform to a dress code that a ‘2in to 4in heel’ needs to be worn – a rule which needless to say was for women only.

The temp – Nicola Thorp – asked if she could wear the flats that she had worn to get to the firm’s Embankment offices and was told absolutely not, shortly before her supervisor demanded that Ms Thorp go out and buy a pair of heels.

My view? It’s a bit bonkers to expect women to wear heels, particularly given how incredibly uncomfortable they can be, let alone the effect they have on spinal health – worn by choice, heels can make you feel great for… oooh, I’d say 20 minutes.

However the supervisor stuck to her guns, and when Thorp questioned whether they applied the same policy to male members of staff she was sent home without any pay.

This took place back in December but it’s only in the last week that the story has broken, making PwC look pretty silly, seeming to expose a ridiculous double standard in the workplace. I’ll come to that.

Interviewed by the BBC, Ms Thorp said “I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels’.” I salute her honesty because spending an entire day in heels is agony and there’s really no reason why any woman should feel they have to when it has no bearing at all on professional performance.

She sounded eloquent, sensible and was nicely presented in the coverage.

As the story gained momentum this week there has been plenty of support – one waitress tweeted a (pretty grim) image of her bleeding feet after a shift during which she too had been forced to wear heels.

There has also been a petition to ban office dress codes that require women to wear heels (this already has the 100,000 signatures required for it to be discussed in parliament).

PwC itself doesn’t have a policy on heels, and its own dress code seems professional but sensible. However, the company that it has outsourced its reception area management to does. That may be why its response – blaming the outsourcing company – sounded a little terse.

I reckon they can credibly run this line once, and it’s now been used.

What should be happening now is that someone (ideally in flats), is sitting comfortably somewhere checking that PwC’s considered policies on a whole range of things is aligned with suppliers’ policies – PwC are a big business, and as a customer can demand changes.

This isn’t bolting doors after the horse has bolted – this incident shows that you can’t outsource your reputation when it’s your brass plaque on the door and your branding above the desk.

The way outsourcers work is an ongoing risk in all kinds of ways. PwC spends serious effort on initiatives to promote social mobility and equality, and generally wants to be seen as a good place to work. ‘Heel-gate’ is a setback.

As a closing thought, it’s interesting that it’s not just in London that heels have been on the agenda as a shoe protest is also currently taking place during the Cannes film festival.

Take a look at the feet of celebrities this year and you might well see more flat shoes than you’re used to on a red carpet (even bare feet in Julia Roberts’ case). The reason? Last year a group of women in their 50s were turned away from a screening of Carol for not wearing heels because of the festival’s strict dress code.

So far a number of celebs have supported the cause against forcing women to walk on their toes. Everyone, I think, should be following the way the footprints point here – it looks like the start of a new footwear revolution.