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Vol. 36, No. 1

The tweeting president: How to boost your bar’s online presence

by Dan Kittay

As bars increase their use of social media to connect with members, their leaders should also develop an online presence.

So say Barry Kolar, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, and John Sirman, web manager at the State Bar of Texas.

Using services such as Twitter allows bar presidents to develop “direct connections” with members, Sirman says. Those connections help members to feel more connected to the association in general.

The pair spoke at a panel called “Less Is More—Getting Bar Leaders to Buy Into Social Media-speak and Other New Communication Styles,” at the NABE Annual Meeting in Toronto this August.

Sirman said that bar presidents should be encouraged to create and use accounts in Twitter and/or Facebook. The bar should provide training where needed on how to use the services, and also should develop guidelines regarding what is appropriate content for the leaders to post.

One thing the accounts should be used for is to help promote the bar’s other online activities. Sirman advised that presidents be asked to re-tweet or share posts from the bar’s main Twitter feed or Facebook page.

Personal updates are also good for these accounts. Those who read the posts may develop a personal connection with the president “that turns into a professional connection,” Sirman noted.

Learn from ‘All Stars’

The speakers cited several examples of “Social Media All Stars,” bar officials who used social media in effective ways. Kolar mentioned Nashville Bar Association President Bob Mendes, who “took it upon himself to build up his online presence.” He uses Twitter to talk about both his personal experiences and bar activities.

At the Bar Association of San Francisco, President Priya S. Sanger had a strong Twitter presence before she took office, Sirman said. When she began to talk about the bar in her Twitter feed, BASF decided to become more active on that service.

Social media accounts need not be limited to bar presidents. TBA Board of Governors member James Crumlin is very active in many community organizations and re-tweets many of the TBA’s tweets. “He reaches a lot of people we wouldn’t normally reach,” Kolar said.

Be casual—but not too casual

The panelists also talked about how to write for social media. “Relax. It’s not that hard,” Sirman said. “You already know how to do this; you’re just doing it in a different forum.” Writing for Twitter is not about the technology; it’s about the message, he explained.

The 140-character limit Twitter imposes on tweets means writers need to learn to think concisely. “If you can’t say it in 140 characters,” Sirman advised, “don’t say it.”

Twitter messages aren’t really a place to discuss bar policy, Kolar added. “It’s more of a headline,” he said. “Don’t try to do more than it is. It can be a link to take people someplace where there is more discussion.”

The feed should not be used only to broadcast messages, Sirman said: “You need to listen, share, and make connections.”

Writers should use active verbs, and write in a casual—but not too relaxed—style, Kolar said. “It’s more relaxed than a journal article,” he explained, “but you’re still writing for a professional organization.”

He cited studies showing that most Twitter users access the service on smartphones. Because of the device’s small screen, most people will see the first 11 characters of each tweet in the stream they see as they scan their account. “You need to say it quickly; do it quickly or you lose them,” he said.

Both speakers recommended that writers give attribution to anyone who originally posted the tweet or gave them the idea for their tweet. A simple “HT” (hat tip) with the person’s ID is sufficient.

In response to a question, Kolar said there is not a hard-and-fast rule for how often people should tweet, but that anything tweeted should be relevant to the audience that is following the writer. “I do five or six tweets a day,” he noted. “If there’s good stuff, people don’t mind getting it. I try to spread them out throughout the day.”

Some of the subjects for his tweets include re-tweets from law firms, white papers, and links to resources for lawyers. Sirman said news of bar CLE events, its annual meeting, and other bar-focused tweets are also appropriate. “It’s the same as what you do in print media,” he said, “just translated to online.”

Building—and keeping— momentum

Another audience member wanted to know how to deal with the uncertainty from administration to administration regarding the comfort level the president has. What if you have a president who’s active on Twitter one year, and then you get a president who doesn’t want to use it?

Sirman said that is one reason he recommends that the account be set up in the president’s name, rather than @barassociation. “It’s all about personal connections,” he added. “Tell them it’s not that hard to do, and encourage them to do it.”

An attendee asked how the president, or the bar, should build up an audience—or “followers,” in Twitter terminology.

Sirman suggested having a link to the bar’s Twitter account(s) on the bar’s website.

“You have to work at it,” Kolar said. One way, he noted, is to “find another source who deals with the same kinds of topics you do, and follow them. They will generally follow you in return, and if you post interesting information, more people will start to follow you. Once you reach critical mass, it builds organically.

“I follow more than 1,000 people. I put them into groups, such as law firms, bar groups, and media. I go in regularly to check out each group.”

Twitter Terms


For those just dipping into the Twitter waters, Sirman and Kolar provided an introduction to the service’s terminology. Here are some key terms:

  • Following. The process in which a user decides whose tweets to receive regularly.
  • Hashtag. A “#” in front of a term, indicating that the word is a keyword that will show up in Twitter searches. For example, #nabeto was the hashtag for tweets pertaining to the NABE Annual Meeting in Toronto. 
  • RT (re-tweet). Taking a tweet you’ve read and sending it to your followers.  
  • DM (direct message). A private message you can send to someone who is following you.  
  • #FF (Follow Friday). A way for Twitter users to suggest whom other people should follow. It’s often done on Friday.   
  • MT (modified tweet). An RT that you’ve modified before sending it along.  
  • HT (hat tip). Giving credit to the original author of a tweet or idea.