Accountants must switch on to social media

IT IS AXIOMATIC in accountancy (and the professions generally) that your best source of business is referrals from people you have worked with – former colleagues, together with clients past and present.

Given the continued gloomy state of the economy, you would think that if someone created a free tool allowing you to keep in touch, easily, with your valuable contacts that it would be hugely popular.

LinkedIn is such a tool and is now the 14th most used website in Britain (and the most visited business website). It is indeed popular – but not with accountants, many of whom need to wake up to its benefits.

For those still unfamiliar with it, LinkedIn is a business website that effectively combines a contact management system, an online profile of users and their businesses, and discussion forums. It is analogous to, and much more useful than, the much-hyped Facebook. There are similar services available such as Spoke, Plaxo and Xing – although these are really also-rans in the UK and US compared to LinkedIn.

Its core benefit is that it allows you to track down and stay in touch with your network of contacts. It also allows you to promote yourself and find out information about prospects (including which of your contacts also knows them). My experience is also that messages sent through it are also much more likely to be answered than ordinary emails.

Yet our research into usage by accountancy firms found that many only use it sparingly. In the mid-tier, PKF, Baker Tilly and BDO lead the way in terms of personnel registered. Many smaller firms are also prolific users – with smaller firms, such as Rawlinson & Hunter (number 25 in the Accountancy Age Top 50 + 50) and Reeves + Neylan (number 40), having very high proportions of employees using it.

This contrasts with many firms that have low engagement from employees on the site. DTE Group (number 29) has not even created its own page on LinkedIn (which is free and takes minutes). Even larger firms are not getting it right – Grant Thornton has a particularly confusing presence and only 160 personnel linked to its UK page (far fewer than its 225 partners, let alone its thousands of employees).

In fact, accountancy firms should be encouraging their employees to use LinkedIn – it is a hugely powerful business development and recruitment tool. However, registering on it is a start but not sufficient to get its benefits- you need to invest time and work your network through sending messages and links. An investment in time, but not huge amounts – 30 minutes a week should easily see you start to reap benefits.

Tim Prizeman is director at PR firm Kelso Consulting


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