Mark Bonington talks to Matt Torrens about online rules of engagement…
“A journalist from The Guardian once came onto our blog. She didn’t like something we’d written. Happily, she was proved fundamentally wrong, but all publicity is good publicity, isn’t it?
Spoken, one might say, like a true lawyer. But as Mr. Torren’s business, Sprout IT, is one of the largest suppliers of legal tech to the bar in London, this should come as no surprise.
“She made some mention of us on Twitter” he continues “it wasn’t particularly flattering.” But, he highlights, it is a perfect example of the difficulty so inherent in the online open forum .
Social media, by its very essence, is blurring the already-hazed lines between the personal and professional. Yet while some will applaud the breaking down of old barriers as a triumph of modernity, the question must be asked – what exactly are the rules?
The old business boardroom mantra of “tit for tat” does not apply to Twitter, says Torrens, who ensured that SproutIT did their best to keep things professional in the aforementioned case.
Social media, for better or worse, now plays a key part in the marketing machine behind almost every successful company. If you have something to say, you’re on Twitter. Right?
“It certainly gives us something to talk about other than tech” emphasises Torrens. “The technical aspects of our company are actually very straightforward; it’s the level of service and client care which set you apart. Social media is a great platform to get your ethos, personality and culture across. Things posted on the blog will be posted to Twitter and Facebook, which will then lead back to the blog. We use that platform for things like data capture as well. If people are interested, they will leave their details. It’s a good way to build up your contact database without using a hard sell or mass-mailer, which typically people just delete”.
Humour, says Torrens, is something which people will always respond to. It can also be used to avoid boring your audience by always posting about topics solely related to your business. As a platform, social media presents a number of new, exciting and creative ways to engage your audience. An aspect which SproutIT strives to embrace.
“We try to incorporate the odd joke and plenty of pictures. Pictures of the guys going to client parties in fancy dress, that sort of thing. It all helps people to gain an understanding of us and how we work.”
But while presenting an upbeat and fun image is fundamental, Torrens is also quick to point out some of the issues that any business will face when embracing the digital revolution – when more and more private information is made public.
“You have to take precautions not to bridge that gap,” he advises. “You need to be careful, first and foremost, who you give access to in your business. Who represents your business. But as discussed you have to break down a few barriers and not just be corporate all the time. It all goes back to this question of personality. People like to know there are some humans behind the screen. There are people we’ll work with, alongside or even against, who we will happily endorse on Twitter. It’s important to interact and get people involved. Pointing the finger at others is something we try to avoid completely. The game shouldn’t be about bad mouthing other people, it should be about getting people to look at you.”
One issue coming into the public eye is how legal issues and the idea of data security should be applied to social media. Something very much under Torren’s radar.
“It’s out there at the moment isn’t it? Should you be commenting about on-going court cases? It’s very much an issue – this idea of lawyers commenting on live cases – but everyone has had their warning and been told it is not allowed. But at the same time how it will ever be policed I don’t know. It’s so vast and so big.
“I mean, you can lose yourself for an hour on Twitter and not even realise can’t you? At the end for the day it’s all about reaching out to people. That person may not become a client right away, but you build that relationship and then a year from now, maybe five years from now, they will need your services and come to you.
“Through your personality, your ethos, you have gotten under the hood and sown that seed of trust. That gains you a major head start on the competition.”