A REVIEW of how professionals in the Accountancy Age Top 50 use LinkedIn, highlights that social media is a mainstream tool.
For instance, research by Kelso Consulting shows it is used by tens of thousands of accountants at the Top 50 firms, while a recent survey by accountancy software business CaseWare found that a third of accountants use it regularly, and a further 37% use it occasionally. However, 30% don't use it at all and a similarly large number have no idea what their own firm does on social media (if anything).
Our research also indicates that of its accountancy users, most are pootling along in first or second gear. This is strange as most accountants know their best leads come from their own network - and sites such as LinkedIn (and other business social media like Forum and SlideShare) are all about keeping in touch with your contacts, enlarging your network and interacting with them.
Does it matter that most accountants and their firms do not use LinkedIn particularly well and are in the slow lane on other social media? Well yes.
Whether it is identifying suppliers, networking or recruiting, far more of the selecting and buying process is conducted online by clients than in other avenues - whether entrepreneurs, businesses, the self-employed or private individuals. This includes using social media, which is already an established and widely used way of communicating for whole swathes of the population, especially many business owners, finance directors, executives and fellow professionals.
Don't believe the hype
Social media was over-hyped in its early days - just as ecommerce was during the dotcom boom and bust of 15 years ago: but now ecommerce is mainstream and online stores are steamrollering the shops on our high streets.
The same is happening to the many accountancy firms who are anonymous online, through low Google search rankings and their poor use of social media. They are finding it harder and harder to attract enough suitable leads, because 1990s marketing is no longer as effective as 2013-style marketing. Of course, talented rainmakers will always be able to find leads "down the golfclub" and through their network - although these people are also the partners most likely to be utilising LinkedIn properly.
There are still many accountants hoping that social media will "go away". Sadly that will not happen any time soon. The way we communicate has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Fax machines have come and gone, handwritten letters have become a novelty, and many households now have no landline - instead preferring to rely on mobiles. These changes won't be wound back - fax machines, rotary dial phones, and quill pens are now nearly obsolete, as better technologies have taken their place. The same applies to business communication with the rise of social media.
While your firm won't close tomorrow through not being social media-savvy, it is chronic condition cutting you off from many sources of work and sending a negative message to prospects, clients and recruits that you are hardly the place for leading-edge business advice.
The names of the biggest are well known - Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are well known to accountants. Other common parts of the online landscape, such as YouTube, are also social. Many accountants use them, whether for business development, recruitment, job-hunting or client interaction, but there are still a significant minority who feel they can stand against innovation and improvement.
That is good news for the many accountancy firms which are getting to grips with social media and starting to use it effectively - they will be well positioned to be the most attractive to clients and recruits.
Size doesn't matter
The KlinK Index [Kelso LinkedIn Index] ranks firms by how effectively they are using LinkedIn, and the accompanying chart highlights that you don't have to be a big firm to use LinkedIn well, in fact some of the small firms and sole practitioners are the better utilisers.
However, Big Four firm EY is undoubtedly the leading Top 50 accountancy firms when it comes to LinkedIn. Many of its people have large networks, its company page looks great, and the four services it lists on their LinkedIn page have a staggering 108 recommendations.
To put that in perspective that is double the recommendations across every other Top 50 firm. In fact 36 of the Top 50 accountancy firms couldn't muster a single recommendation for their services.
Martin Cook, managing partner commercial at EY in the UK, says: "Social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, allow for more immediate access to key influencers, industry leaders and competitors than ever before.
"At EY we actively encourage and provide support and guidance to our partners and people to engage with their stakeholders via social media, and to become recognisable voices. To be passive users of social media would only mean that we would simply be missing out on those conversations and the chance to influence them.
"Of course not everyone wants to use social media - it is an individual choice. I am personally a more active user of Twitter. But there are some real benefits to engaging on LinkedIn specifically - through the use of personal profiles and LinkedIn groups."
I would urge that a strategic priority for firms in 2014 should be to get more social - it isn't difficult and needn't involve lots of wasted time. It is particularly important for building valuable business networks and for the process of building familiarity of your brand amongst prospects, something that is very important for securing them as a client. If you don't, you can be sure many of your competitors already are. It is amazing what can be achieved if you unleash the energy and relationships of your people, as with EY receiving their 108 recommendations (and growing) in less than a year.
Tim Prizeman is a director at public relations business Kelso Consulting
Accountancy Age will soon begin collating data for the 2014 Top 50+50 tables. To receive a form please send your firm's details to firstname.lastname@example.org later this month.
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