Social Media and Access to Quality Legal InformationColin Lachance, President and CEO, The Canadian Legal Information Institute
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Many Canadians now search online for information when they have a legal problem. Because of this, organizations facilitating access to civil justice have recognized the value of having a website, especially because it is cost-effective. But how much attention are website viewers paying to content? Does good quality content matter?
It is well known that promotion of a website requires an active social media presence. Without a social media presence on networks such as Facebook and Twitter, fewer people will know about, let alone access, the organization’s website. CanLII is a non-profit organization managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. CanLII’s goal is to make Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet. This website provides access to nearly 1.3 million court judgments, tribunal decisions, statutes and regulations from all Canadian jurisdictions. Based on an analysis of social media engagement with CanLII, I have tried to better understand the three-fold relationship between visiting a website for legal information, the content of the website, and the visibility of the website on social media.
Consider the following: CanLII has over 5,700 Twitter followers, and on any given week CanLII can expect to receive hundreds of visits to its website from people clicking a link found in a tweet. As the chart below demonstrates, social media is a significant and growing source of traffic to CanLII.
I found, however, that CanLII’s own tweets were likely responsible for no more than 4% of CanLII’s Twitter-generated page views. As nearly all the traffic was attributable links generated by the public, clearly it is the content on the website that will determine whether it is tweeted, liked or otherwise socially circulated. A content provider’s participation in the network and promotional efforts through that network, while beneficial, are not the driving factor.
My research led me to this conclusion when I compared the social sharing via Twitter of the same court decision – one version from CanLII’s site (on which a “tweet this” button can be found) and one version from the Lexum-run Supreme Court of Canada decision site. The October 2011 decision, Crookes v. Newton, 2011 SCC 47, concerned hyperlinking, making it a particularly apt ruling to examine. The decision was viewed 2,368 times on CanLII in 2011, with a mere 55 page views attributable to Twitter links. By comparison, on Lexum’s Supreme Court of Canada decision site, Twitter links accounted for 614 page views (stats of total views were not provided). Motivation to share the content from the SCC decisions site needed no encouragement from the SCC webpage. The community itself decided the link was worth sharing and following without a prompt to share.
The latest aspect of my research into social media interaction with legal information deals with the “quality” of a social visit. The website activity of inbound social media traffic on CanLII contrasts significantly from that of visitors who access the site directly.
What insights flow from this research? Quality legal information content on websites increases visits. Social media presents an excellent opportunity for civil justice organizations to promote traffic on their website and facilitate access to justice. But social media is effective in the context of legal information when people are interested in what is being circulated, not how many people are viewing what has been posted. In effect, social media draws attention to postings on websites, but web-users will visit longer when the content on the website provides quality legal information.Part of the explanation for the appearance of lower engagement from a social media visitor is technological. On average, less than 10% of CanLII’s visitors access the site from a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). In contrast, 35-40% of social media traffic to CanLII comes from a mobile device. One reason for this is that statutes and long court judgments are not always easily digested on the smaller screen. The second major reason is that a person visiting a website directly does so with the specific intent to find information, whereas a social media visitor is more likely to be surfing or following links without any pre-existing interest in reviewing the material or subject matter.