Mining Social Media for Information for Your Practice

There is so much hype around social media and social networking, the former changing how we communicate and the latter extending our awareness of people with whom we might not have had much in common (and may still not).  The marketing aspects of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others, have received a lot of press in law-oriented blogs and publications (like the American Bar Association Law Practice magazine).  I touch on this a bit in an article in the Web Watch column in this month’s Law Technology News, and it relates to the text as well.  Social media and networking sites provide a wealth of information that can increasingly provide current awareness and context in ways that it could not in the past.

Unlike the Law Technology News article and a presentation I’m giving this Friday at the Law Society’s Solo and Small Firm conference on social media, I’d like to focus on the business information side of this research.  There’s an astounding amount of information available now and, as I suggest in the Law Technology News article, it goes far beyond Twitter.  But this is the starting point in most cases.  Search engines like Bing.com and Google have focused on it because it is the dominant life-streaming service and haven’t gone much past it.  Tools like Collecta.com – which I discuss in the text and which I think is a real stand out in real-time Web search – are aggregating far more diverse information.  In fact, when you compare a search on Twitter messages on Bing, Google, and Collecta, you realize that there is no one perfect source for finding this information.  Given a choice, I’d start with Collecta.

In many cases, you do not need to be a part of these services to take advantage of them.  Take TwapperKeeper.com, for example (based on the Trapper Keeper primary school binder, for those unfamiliar with the reference and who didn’t live in the U.S. in the ’70s).  You can create a personal archive of Twitter tweets that were shared on the Web, even though you weren’t a part of it.  Blog comments, which you can unearth in a number of places.

There are interesting new services coming out, like Backtype.com.  But they aren’t law-related or even really research sites.  If you vist Backtype, you can type in a Web site address (URL) and it will give you information about what kind of social engagement it is creating.  You can see tweets related to the site and see how it fares on crowd-aggregating sites like Digg, Reddit, and so on.  As sites like these aggregate results from other sites (like mining LinkedIn comments that are not exposed to the Twitterverse, for example, or highlighting blog comments that point to the same site or page, or identify aggregate Bit.ly links), there will be increasing possibilities for finding information about a business.

Finding legal information has moved away from just finding law or commentary about law in the traditional formats.  When you think about social media and networking, think about the flip side of the marketing benefits.  When you use it to market, you are typically pushing information out.  But you can mine it for your own research or client development purposes as well.

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