Twitter, bribery and 37 corporate counsel in a big virtual bar

All your highly-polished marketing materials are useless if you do not get them in front of your intended audience and engage with them about it. An article intended merely to point you to a source of messages about the Bribery Act became side tracked – in a good way – into a discussion about the media used to promote it. Dust off that Twitter account which your marketing people opened one Friday afternoon and have been too nervous to use.

You have a specialist subject which is of interest and importance to a wide range of people and which ought to be known to and understood by many more. It is a multi-faceted subject which can be approached from many different directions and is of interest internationally. People, both those already knowledgeable about the subject and those coming new to it, seem to appreciate what you write. You are competent in modern means of disseminating information and views, have plenty of energy and do not mind working seven days a week.

No, this is not about me but about Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons London who, with Richard Kovalesky QC, uses, to bring news and views on the UK Bribery Act which comes into force shortly. Actually, is it not really about Barry, who in this context merely serves as a hook for some thoughts on using modern media forms to promote ideas and demonstrate expertise. His approach is the same as mine, but I have been looking for an example which will not be confused with my promotion of me – I don’t mind doing that, of course, but it muddies the example if it has that parallel motive.

I have referred to already (see Some resources on the UK Bribery Act 2010). The crossover between e-disclosure / e-discovery and the Bribery Act is obvious (the clue, if you need one, lies in the Bribery Act defence of “adequate procedures”), and Barry and I are jointly presenting a breakfast session with Iron Mountain on 8 March.

I come back to the subject now, partly because you might otherwise miss the stream of useful articles appearing on or linked from its Twitter account, and partly because I met Barry last week at the suggestion of Malcolm Durant of Iron Mountain. We met at Barry’s club, the flavour of which can be gathered from the minimalist rules which seem to come down to “be polite”; the dress code reads “nudity is discouraged” and it positively welcomes both laptops and dogs, all of which make it my kind of place (I once belonged – briefly – to a London club which was so impolite as to send my wife back upstairs – the backstairs, not the one reserved for gentlemen which she had descended – to put on her ball dress for breakfast because women in trousers were banned, as was any evidence of business; I am sure that dogs were no more welcome than women, though you would probably have been allowed in on a horse).

Method matters as much as message

I digress, although there is commonality between your choice of club and your choice of marketing strategy. I am as interested in how one gets messages across as I am in the messages themselves, and the Bribery Act itself can wait (push off and read Barry’s site if you want undiluted corruption and compliance). The formal discipline is, of course, “marketing”, but marketing has become dull and formulaic. I am not suggesting that conventional marketing is unimportant, and e-discovery / e-disclosure marketing has some extremely good people in it (in contrast, if Charles Christian is to be believed, with the wider legal IT world – see Footnote 1). We do need tautly-written, bullet-pointed materials which deliver hard facts about products and their benefits, but we also need some more thoughtful stuff and faster ways of both delivering information and interacting with the audience. Conventional marketing deliberately avoids challenging the brain in the search for idiot-proof messages. I put it this way on my website:

Much legal technology marketing manages simultaneously to pass over the heads of its intended audience and to insult its intelligence – a remarkable double. There is certainly a place for snappy slogans and bullet-points and all those rather trite rules which marketing theory lives by, but a legal audience has a higher concentration of intelligence than almost any on earth, and can cope with having to think about what it reads.

My chosen method is to use a combination of blog and Twitter, the one to publish and the other to promote the publication – and, crucially, to follow it up with anyone interested enough to react. Conventional marketing requires painful drafting, agreement by committee, and submission to a webmaster for publication when he or she has time. It must fit the corporate ethos and, particularly for a public company, must satisfy criteria which are stifling to both creativity and immediacy. Do not misunderstand me here – I am well aware that large companies and firms must exercise control over what is said in their name, and there are few who manage successfully to toe the corporate line and engage an audience with material of immediacy, value and interest. It only really works where senior people do the blogging and/or tweeting themselves, and there are few law firms and perhaps half a dozen e-discovery vendors who can pull this off. Many others have grasped the mechanics but not the point, and dutifully put out a couple of tweets per day, safely pointing either to the company’s own closely-regulated marketing material or to a public article whose arguments can be disowned if they prove too challenging.

All those earnest committees in law firms and at technology providers who sit down with agendas headed “Using social media to promote our brand” are wasting their time if the upshot is just the same old stuff pushed down a different pipe. That is not what Richard Susskind meant when he said that the use of social media would be one of 2011’s crucial differentiators between law firms.

The best marketing material looks like something else

It will pain marketing people to read this, but the best marketing and advertising material looks like something else – I don’t mean it conceals itself, but this generation has learnt not to notice marketing when that is all there is to see. It has to come as part of something which people do want, and that is usually information which is relevant to their needs, interesting in its own right or, preferably, both. Down at the bottom end of the marketing pond, the telemarketeers discern this dimly (I choose the word advisedly); when a badly-spoken girl begins her unsolicited call with “It’s just a kurtesee korl reelly”, she is unconscious that over-use has turned her scripted opening into a flag which says “I am about to screw you, sucker, and not in the way you might hope”. The audience has matured, and marketing must grow past it.

I say this often, but it bears repeating: those who struggle to see what Richard Susskind means when he talks of the coming importance of social media are the heirs to those who scoffed at his predictions that lawyers would publish free legal information on the web and communicate by email. The world moves on very quickly, and we have just got our minds round the last developments when the game changes again. If by “publish” you mean the painstaking committee process described above, then you have missed the moment – that was last week, when the news was hot. If “communicate” means that you send an email out to your mailing list, then save yourself the trouble – what does not get filtered out as spam is doomed to slip below the important stuff (important to them, that is) which piles into the InBox behind it. I have Outlook rules to bin unread the stuff from repeat offenders whose output is not relevant to me.

Besides, whilst the primary meaning of “communicate” is to impart or transmit, the dictionary meanings which matter most are “share” or “hold intercourse with” (Footnote 2). Static slabs of law, or recitals of a product’s features and benefits, will not grab attention whether you post them on a web site or chuck them at an InBox. They are a necessary, but not a sufficient, way of communicating.

Have a look at some recent thebriberyact posts:

What amounts to carrying on business in the UK under the Bribery Act?
Complaints of the bribery act is anti-competitive UK plc do not tell the whole story,
The UK is now tough on white collar: a return to the “good old days” is not on the cards,
The Bribery Act & another call for change: Move on nothing to see here.

The material is timely and accurate, reacting to or anticipating something new; the views are trenchant; the external links are useful. Do not underestimate the value of a good title – it is that which attracts attention both in Google and in Twitter and, in the latter, dictates whether others re-tweet the link to their own followers.

Let us look at another one – same subject, different writer. Look at the post Disagreeing With, Well, Everyone which I found on a retweet in the course of researching this article (that is, it was put up by someone at least two degrees of separation from me, and retweeted by someone else who has read it and thought it good enough to pass on). I read it and liked it, retweeted it in my turn, and only then thought to see who wrote it. It is Howard Sklar whose blog and Twitter details show him to be at Recommind. Recommind (whom I know well, but Howard has only just joined them) happens to be one of the half-dozen e-discovery companies mentioned above as having grasped how to use modern media properly.

The view from the potential clients

Let’s spell this out. Pretend that I am in-house counsel at a large company. I first focus on the Bribery Act at IQPC’s conference in Munich, when Vivian Robinson, General Counsel to the SFO, talks about it and makes explicit the connection between the “adequate procedures” defence and information management – there were 37 general counsel at that conference, any of whom might have followed the same trail as I did. Someone (Iron Mountain in this case) refers me to Barry’s blog as an authoritative source of information – so far, so conventional, since many web sites have useful information on them. It is the next step which counts: the blog has a Twitter link, and I follow it. Over the next few days, tweets from @thebriberyact appear under my nose as they are typed, pointing either to further articles on the blog or to other sources. I pass on (by retweeting) those which I think will interest my followers; some of those in turn no doubt pass them to theirs, all the time adding to the number of people who follow @thebriberyact – this takes only one click, with no clunky registration forms which marketing people like to interpose between their material and people who want to read it (Footnote 3).

The Recommind example extends this – I found it, as I say, because someone retweeted a link to it. It does not trumpet its connection to a supplier – it does not conceal that, but its author relies on readers finding the article interesting and does not explicitly ram the commercial connection down their throats. It was sufficiently interesting for me to start following @HowardSklar on Twitter as well.

Wearing my putative in-house counsel hat, I think it likely that every provider of information management software, and many of the law firms on my panel, are alert to the significance of the Bribery Act and would be able to help me investigate my first Bribery Act problem (or, more usefully, help me anticipate and head off my first problem). If I bother to trawl their web sites regularly, I may find something about their expertise in this area. Not there? Perhaps it is on next month’s agenda for the marketing committee – oh look, there it is, “Item 14: Consideration of the pros and cons of using social media to promote our expertise (held over from last meeting)”.

Twitteratigate and the Telegraph

By chance, as I was writing this, a mini-storm broke over a league-table of UK law firms’ use of Twitter (see Brian Inkster’s TimeBlawg article Law Firm Twitteratigate – The Whole Story for, well, the whole story). At No 10 in this league-table is a firm which has made no use at all of its Twitter account. It is an extremely good firm which, I am sure, has the Bribery Act at its fingertips – indeed, it has 71 articles on the subject, as anyone would know who thinks of the firm, finds its web site, and types “Bribery Act” into the search box. But who would know to look there? Who would bother, when other forms of media are chucking the stuff at you?

As I wrote the preceding sentence, at 9.45 on a Sunday night, tweeted a link to a story about Directors’ Guidance published in the Telegraph today which talks about directors’ liabilities in relation to the Bribery Act. If it is in the Telegraph, then lots of old buffers who act as non-executive directors will read it – a sentence which has “directors” and “liabilities” next door to each other should take their minds off the picture of Nicole Kidman’s bare shoulder in the Culture section which is what they chose the Telegraph for. Someone can expect some calls tomorrow. Your marketing committee will get to it some time in March.


So which club is it for you – the one where women must use a special staircase and wear ball gowns for breakfast, or the one whose only rule is that you ought to wear something? Which marketing strategy do you prefer – worthy, approved articles published in a corner of the web site after due consideration by the marketing committee when the webmaster has time, or quick links pushed out on a Sunday night whilst the subject-matter is hot?

I stress again that you do have to have a strategy, and I am not suggesting that major firms or companies should unleash their bloggers and tweeters to do their worst, because their worst it will certainly be. The strategy, however, must include an approved route to quick publication of those things you know about whilst the subject is live and topical. That means identifying the right person or people within the organisation who know their subject and can write. It means defining their parameters firmly but flexibly and trusting them to stick within them. Above all, it means a cultural shift (yes, I know, “cultural shift” is heading for cliché-dom but it is useful) to a state in which the aim is conversations, as Brian Inkster says (though, with respect, he is wrong to say in the same sentence that Twitter is a two-way medium: email is a two-way medium, the telephone is a two-way medium, but Twitter is a big virtual bar where anyone can join in the discussion).

And you do not know who is listening in. Even if they do not join the discussion, those 37 corporate lawyers who were at IQPC in Munich could be eaves-dropping the discussion. That is a reason for caution, of course, but you can be interesting, challenging and provocative without being wrong, reckless or rude. Twitteratigate may shake the tree a little, but it will be a while before law firms have the guts to let go a little and devolve some of their marketing strategy to those who actually know enough about the subject to engage in public ad hoc discussion. For one thing, marketing departments will think of turkeys, votes and Christmas when anyone suggests giving power to the lawyers to promote their own expertise.

The e-discovery / e-disclosure technology providers, though, can look to the few of their number who do engage via Twitter (I emphasise Twitter because it is my own weapon of choice, and I use the word “engage” deliberately) and wonder if they are missing something. I say again – the use of social media is not a substitute for the formal material but a way of driving people towards it, as well as a way to engage in discussions which jump over the formal constraints of conventional marketing.


Footnote 1
See the videos here and here on the Orange Rag, plus Charles’s tweet of last week Sorry #PR apparatchick – if you so desperately want to meet me at #LTNY you might trying getting my name & publication right.  I was once sent an PR’s invitation to talk to a big-name supplier which was addressed to Charles and mis-spelt both his name and the name of the high-ranking executive who was being offered for interview.

Footnote 2
My dictionary was published in 1964 when, despite Philip Larkin’s discovery in the previous year, the word intercourse still connoted discussion rather than anything more exciting – ask Mr Google if I have lost you here, with “Larkin” and “1963” as your search terms.

Footnote 3
I refuse to complete such registration forms on principle – the last time I did it (for research on an article which the company wanted me to write) some prat of a salesman was on the phone less than a minute later; if he had taken two minutes, he could have discovered that I was unlikely to be a buyer; three minutes would have given him time to realise that people will not give their names if they anticipate calls like that as a result and – like me – would rather do without the material.


About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Bribery Act 2010, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, IQPC, Litigation Support, Marketing, Recommind, Twitter. Bookmark the permalink.

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