Poke! Before the competition gets there first

ACCOUNTANTS don’t do social media – do they?”

This headline on the agenda of a recent business benefits of social media seminar run by the ICAEW may have been tongue in cheek, yet the reality is that many accountancy firms have yet to realise the business benefits of social media.

While networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook have the potential to make personal and business relationships more transparent, uptake in the professional services world has certainly been much slower than consumer-focused industries.

This apparent unwillingness to take full advantage of social media technologies is either due to a lack of understanding about how social media works, or because the amount of work required to get information out of these networks is quite intensive.

A conversation I had recently with a head of practice gives a good indication of attitudes towards social media among accountancy firms: “Social media, isn’t that just tweeting and shit?” “Clients prefer face-to-face time, they aren’t interested in communicating with us online.” “If a new client needs financial advice then they can get our number off our website and give us a call.” “Most of our new business comes through referrals.”

If any of this is familiar, you are not alone. However, in response I’d say the following: “Social media is tweeting, poking, tagging, lead generating, customer servicing, professional networking and forward thinking.” “Do you know how many of your customers are communicating with their customers online? To hazard a guess I’d say at least half of them.” “Great. Small problem. How do they find your website in the first place?” “So you are doing a good job. Why not get referred to a much wider audience?”

I’m not suggesting that there are no social media-savvy accountants out there. The Big Four do social media, whether intentionally or not, collectively amassing over 455,000 fans and followers.

In summary, Twitter is used more than Facebook. Pages on the latter, on the whole, are low quality in terms of content and activity. Although there are a few company pages that do score highly, the main problem is a lack of control over the proliferation of Facebook pages.

There a several challenges facing any firm looking to implement a social media strategy. How do you measure the impact and influence of your social media real estate or ‘sociverse’. How do you instill best social practice, brand compliance and governance? How do you align your social instances with your mainstream communication channels? How do you stop message dilution or detraction from other social media accounts? And of course how can you tap into your clients’ networks to win new business?

Another key consideration when thinking about social media is the diverse audiences that a professional firm can serve. While a 140-character tweet about corporation tax could be interesting for a corporate client, too much on this subject might alienate pension fund clients for example. As with traditional marketing methods, this could be solved by creating different ‘identities’; in turn, though, this solution could dilute the overall brand of the partnership.

Aligning messaging and establishing relevant identities as well as consolidating accounts that aren’t performing effectively is key to establishing trust with your followers. Social media might still be a relatively immature marketing medium for professional services firms but many are already using it: some better than others.

How effectively these channels are used to connect, inform and network will directly determine the return on investment a firm can expect to see from social media marketing. If you still think this sounds far too time-consuming for a busy accountancy firm, think again. Invest time in social media or watch your competitors reap the awards of marketing to a socially connected client base.

Chris Sykes, CEO Volume

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