Let me tell you a story. Cast your mind back to the first lockdown in spring 2020. Everything was a bit grim, weird and scary, most shops and schools closed, and no vaccines yet in sight. I was going slightly mad with three kids at home, a constantly overloaded WiFi connection and a biscuit habit that was rapidly spinning out of control.
You might remember that the good people at The Lawyer were doing a fine job with Law Against Loneliness, a series of positive initiatives to keep the legal sector’s collective spirits up. One such fun initiative was a Twitter World Cup of Law Firms. This is the story of how I got rather carried away with the whole thing and what I learned about social media in the process.
You know the format from Twitter World Cups of more tangible things like biscuits, which started with TV personality Richard Osman’s World Cup of Crisps in 2012. Pick a bunch of brands, put them into groups and a tournament format and Tweet each group or game with voting options and a liberal dollop of humour, like this.
I was in a comms role at Baker McKenzie at the time and didn’t take much notice to start with other than enjoying the light humour while trying to fit work in between the universal parental experience of trying to organise kids for Zoom lessons, cooking endless stir-frys and becoming an armchair epidemiologist. After the firm made it through the first couple of rounds I took more of an interest. I say interest but it rapidly became more of an all-consuming obsession, as any of my colleagues from that time will tell you. This was probably not helped by the fact that I had quit drinking not long before and still hadn’t quite mastered the art of switching off without a few glasses of wine…
Anyway, my thought process was basically that this Twitter World Cup thing was a numbers game and as pretty much the biggest firm around by headcount we could win the tournament if we just engaged enough of our people. Only a few hundred people seemed to be voting each time, so surely this would be easy? My very clever plan was to engage/annoy more and more colleagues around the firm as we progressed towards the final by getting them to send notes round their offices asking people to vote. This seemed at the time a valid cause worth sacrificing increasing amounts of credibility as a serious professional for.
The plan was to be working as we easily cast aside Slaughter and May in the quarter-finals and then the mighty Allen & Overy in the semis. Next up, Bird & Bird in the finals. Hah – easy, I thought. Much smaller firm, I thought. All I had to do was get the Australians and the Americans voting and it was in the bag, I thought.
By this point it’s fair to say I had lost all sense of perspective and wanted “us” to win this more than I had ever wanted to win anything since England vs Germany at Italia ‘90, even though my own influence in the whole thing was probably in reality marginal at best. Home schooling was no longer a priority, the kids missed a Zoom lesson. Sandwiches were made for dinner. Perhaps wine would have been a good thing at this point.
Anyway, The Lawyer team opened voting in the final. Initially it was neck-and-neck, but I was confident we would pull away overnight, which we did. With just a few hours of voting left, elated, I hopped onto a work call for an hour and briefly thought about something else. Coming off the call, I refreshed the vote count expecting only good news. But to my horror Bird & Bird had not only closed what was a several hundred vote lead but had pulled far, far into the lead and were pulling away further!
I could not understand how we were losing. But a bit of research showed me what had happened. It was a tough lesson in the realities of social media and influence. Someone at Bird & Bird with a large following on Twitter had simply asked their followers to vote for the firm. A small percentage had done so, but a small percentage of a big number is still a pretty big number. I had it all wrong. The real battle here was not numbers in terms of employees, but individual influence in terms of followers. A corporate comms approach was never going to win out on Twitter.
I was desolate. As well as showing how easy it was for something to hijack your emotions at this point in the pandemic, it was also a salutary lesson about influence and the limitations of corporate communications on social media. I’m over it now. Definitely. I just hope no one ever runs a Twitter World Cup of PR agencies…