Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Twittering on the Brink

The day after I published my first blogpost, my 11-year-old daughter persuaded me to buy The Ultimate Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.  We pretended it was for her, but I knew better.  Shortly after she handed me the text, I noted Chapter Five was titled “Mean Streets:  Urban Survival,” which included an entry on “How to Clean Up Your Online Reputation.”  One post and I already felt compelled to do damage control.  The fact that the advice could be found somewhere between “How to Cross a Piranha-Infested River” and “How to Outrun a Pack of Zombies” pretty much cinched it for me. 

What titles better capture the anxiety of a 40-something law professor venturing into the realm of social media?  Don’t they know that law professors don’t do media?  Heck.  We don’t even do “social.”  That is why we are professors!  Many of us aren’t even trustworthy with a “Reply All” email function after a rancorous faculty meeting (http://www.uomatters.com/2014/04/uo-law-school-prof-angry-about-plan-to-use-his-raise-for-scholarships.html), let alone a digital platform that transports our late night ramblings instantly and permanently to 2.5 billion Internet users all over the globe.

But Worst-Case Scenarios can bring out the Indiana Jones in all of us, and right now, legal educators need to dig deep into our “Urban Survival” kits.  Moody’s recently downgraded several independent law schools (http://www.nationallawjournal.com/home/id=1202651992392/Independent+Law+Schools+Suffer+CreditRatings+Slips%3Fmcode=1202617074964&curindex=2); The New York Times reported this month that five law schools have closed in the past two years (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/business/bold-bid-to-combat-a-crisis-in-legal-education.html?_r=0), although legal educators struggle to identify them (http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/04/five-law-schools-have-closed-in-the-last-two-years.html); and all the while, enrollments continue to plummet (http://www.lsac.org/lsacresources/data/three-year-volume).  So we law professors are starting to do something truly radical (at least for us):  we are trying new verbs.  We are tweeting, blogging, posting, tumbling, linking, and more.  But do we know what we are doing or why?  Of course not!  Thus, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a series of articles in The Digital Campus this week helping all of us to better appreciate and understand the importance of social media in the academy (http://chronicle.com/section/The-Digital-Campus-2014/715/).

If a Luddite like me (who cannot figure out how to turn off iTunes on her iPhone after listening to a little Eddie Vedder) can figure out how to Tweet, so can you!  Here are some fast facts about social networking and survival tips for those of us who are Twittering on the brink.

Facing Facts

Ever wonder what your students are doing in class?  They are on Facebook posting or reading someone else’s posts or messaging, possibly about your suit, but let’s hope it is about the class discussion (in a good way, of course).  Don’t believe me?  Sit in the back of a large lecture hall and witness it yourself.  Eighty-four percent of 18-29 year-olds and 79 percent of 30-49 year-olds are on Facebook (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  Heck.  Even my 90-year-old grandma is on Facebook.  But my grandma is not why you need to be on Facebook, it is because our students are, as are our alumni, and our competitors…er, colleagues, at other law schools. 

Facebook is where our students engage, sometimes even when they are in class.  It is the digital town square where people go to socialize and engage, so if you are not in the town square, you are not part of the conversation.  But here’s the irony:  law school social media etiquette is that most professors and students do not become Facebook friends until after they graduate.  Why?  Professional boundaries.  You really don’t want to see that picture of your students with their buddies and a pile of empty PBR cans when they are supposed to be studying any more than they wants to see you vacationing at your cabin with your family when you are supposed to be grading.

So why do it?  Once our students graduate, there is a little more distance and Facebook provides a wonderful way to keep in touch with our former students.  We get to witness weddings, new babies, moves to new cities, travel, and more.  It allows our professor-student relationships to be transformed into lifelong friendships, and that is worth learning new tricks, at least for this old dog.

 Linking In

So what social media can you use with your students while they are still your students?  LinkedIn.  Of all the mainstream social media platforms, LinkedIn is consistently the most formal and professional.   Currently, LinkedIn is used by 15 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 27 percent of 30-49 year-olds (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  It is the only social networking site surveyed that is used more by people in the $75k+ salary range than in any other salary category (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  Given that most of our students will enter this demographic shortly after graduation, we need to model for them how to use LinkedIn and so I routinely “link” with potential new law school students whom I meet as well as students enrolled in my courses every semester.  It helps them develop a professional profile and network and allows you to become updated quickly on the professional activities and positions of your students and alumni.  This is especially important when you are asked to serve as a reference or write a letter of recommendation or simply help your law school compile placement data. 

Dare to Tweet

Another social media platform to consider using to engage with your students (and potential students) prior to graduation is Twitter.  A 2013 Pew Research center survey found that 31 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 19 percent of 30-49 year-olds use Twitter (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-5351). Twitter's use among adults under 40 years of age (law schools’ key demographic) has more than doubled since 2010 (http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Twitter-Use-Rises-Across-US-Age-Groups/1010119), and the latest data shows that 71 percent of
Twitter users are 29 years of age and younger (https://www.sysomos.com/docs/Inside-Twitter-BySysomos.pdf); in other words, the age of our students and potential students.

The beauty of Twitter is that it is a one-way street (unless you decide to reciprocate).  You simply put your ideas and observations out there for any of the 300+ million Twitter users to read, and if you are interesting (at least to some) or a celebrity, you might develop a following.  The pain of Twitter, especially for law professors, is that you are limited to 140 characters per Tweet.  Some say it makes Tweeters better writers, but others would argue that any communication forum that encourages the dropping of vowels and the use of contractions should be shunned forever.  

In any event, Twitter allows you to share links to recommended readings for your students (or other followers), post links to your publications, update your followers on lectures, and more without getting as personal as one might on Facebook, for example.  At the same time, The Chronicle published an opinion this week suggesting that getting at least a little personal on Twitter might make you appear more authentic (http://chronicle.com/article/In-Defense-of-Getting-Personal/145945/).  And don’t worry, as painful as limiting your thoughts to 140 characters might sound, there are plenty of resources (see, e.g., http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387516,00.asp) to teach you how to tweet in a way that won’t make you look too much like, well, a law professor Twittering on the brink….   

 

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