We do three things on Twitterengage, broadcast and promote. Lawyers, legal professionals, law firms, we all do. It takes time, effort and consistency to maintain a vibrant presence, and analytics provides an insight into the effectiveness of that effort and an understanding of use and growth across the network.

There are myriad metrics to track and hundreds of tools available to help you monitor your Twitter use, some free, and others, very expensive. Here is breakdown of a few core metrics to gather and some of the more useful and free analytic tools to help you do so.

Engage

This is where social media is more accurately represented as social networking—initiating and dropping in on conversations, strengthening existing relationships and forming new ones. Native retweets and RTs with commentary fall into this category. This is one of the more difficult analytics to accurately retrieve with free tools.

What to track: Retweets and mentions.

Tools: Tools such as Topsy and Social Mention are great for overviews but not for accurate month to month statistics. Instead, spend a few minutes at the start of each month and go through the previous month’s mentions. Plug the numbers into a spreadsheet (do this for all numbers—I use Google Spreadsheets) to track and graph activity from month to month.

Broadcast

Twitter has evolved into a premier, cutting edge news channel, often beating traditional news sources at breaking stories and identifying trends. It provides lawyers a platform to establish themselves as leading voices in their niche area of practice by tweeting related information that is helpful and interesting.

What to track: The number of tweets and clicks.

Tools: Buffer App is a great way to set up your tweets to go out at certain times during the day. It comes with basic analytics that track the impact of your tweets, including clicks and reach. For a historical overview on the number of tweets you send out each month, it doesn’t get any better than TweetStats.

Promote

Let’s face it, Twitter is a great online marketing tool. Even the naysayers who wail about legal marketing (some of it not without merit), use the medium to promote themselves and their writings. Most firms and enterprising solos have websites and blogs. If you don’t, get started now. Social media — Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn particularly – is a great way to drive traffic to your website.

Wrote a blog post? Sent out a press release? Tweet about it, but for goodness sake, not 10 times a day! If it resonates others will evangelize for you by retweeting it. Accept the reality that blog posts have a limited shelf life and move on. Other promotional efforts that you can tweet about include speaking engagements, webinar presentations, meetups and more.

What to track: Twitter traffic back to your website or blog. Twitter just made it a heck of a lot easier to track by wapping all urls in the t.co link shortener. The controversial “number of followers” can be a factor here as well, since the more followers you have the farther the reach. So by all means, track the number of followers you have and who they are. You can then look for patterns after a few months of gathering data to determine who followed you and why they did.

Tools: Google Analytics. If you have a blog or website, you should have Google Analytics. Period. It provides comprehensive analysis and it’s free! Retrieve analytics by week, month or a range of dates. Then choose “traffic sources” and look for t.co. I’ve been involved with a few sites over the years and have seen Twitter creep up the list to where it’s consistently among the top 10 and often among the top 5 referral sources. Twitter Counter is a great tool to track your followers and those you’re following.

Raw numbers are useful but not terribly meaningful without context. There are all kinds of comparisons you can make – competitors, industry, geographic, time, etc, but with these simple tools and a bit of diligence, you can track your own Twitter numbers and content and review monthly or quarterly to track growth and look for patterns and insight to determine how to maintain a useful and meaningful Twitter presence.

I’m testing the free (premium subscription also available) Twenty Feet. It looks promising. If anyone is using this or other Twitter metrics and tools we should know about, please share in the comments below.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laughingsquid/2158761647/)