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Tweet Dreams: How Preparers Can Use Twitter

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Like most American businesses, tax preparers have been wrestling with how to market themselves with social media -- and Twitter is a particular mystery.

Unlike sites like Facebook or YouTube, Twitter offers no blogs or video capability but instead the ability to send -- and send and send and send -- messages. Twitter resembles a Morse telegraph more than it does a giant of modern personal communication: Messages, or Tweets, are limited to 140 characters, including spaces.

A Twitter account allows you to post and receive messages to a network of contacts, or followers. Theoretically, the free service eliminates sending dozens of e-mails or texts. You can also directly message your followers. Chances are good that many of your clients and prospects have Twitter accounts and can elect to receive your messages.

A Twitter connection is “in my Web site, e-mail, and my electronic newsletter eTaxNews. said Enrolled Agent Gary Lundgren of Tax Debt Solutions in Johnstown, Pa. “I have a recurring task in Outlook to place an update periodically.”

Florida-based preparer and EA Jeffrey Schneider markets on both Twitter and Facebook with a third-party service. “A lot easier than doing it myself,” Schneider said, “since I don’t have that kind of time. And it’s very inexpensive, about $97 a month.”

Other Twitter tools include:

  • Hashtags: helps track topics by using the number sign (#) and a word that defines the Tweet's topic.
  • Shrinking URLs: Free online tools such as Tinyurl crunch long Web addresses into much shorter codes for the URL, saving precious Tweet space.
  • Scheduling sites: You can book times and days for your Tweets to flow to your followers, minutes, hours, days or even weeks ahead. One popular Tweet-scheduling tool is hootsuite, which also offers analytics among advanced features. Other popular Twitter dashboards, including for mobile devices, are Tweetdeck and Seesmic.

EA Stephen Jordan in Salem, N.H., said that his company Tweets “more as an educational tool.”

Educating and otherwise arresting followers’ attention is key, according to Julian Summerhayes, social media writer and lecturer who offers a Twitter tip sheet.

“Don’t default to using it to syndicate your firm news only. It is dull,” writes Summerhayes, whose tips target law firms but apply well to tax prep and other professional service firms. “Use Twitter to promote something remarkable. Give your audience something of value.”

Among her other tips:

  • Secure all the Twitter names (handles) that you think you will ever need. Don’t start down the road with one feed for everything -- news, client wins, recruitment and PR -- only to discover that you need to refine your engagement across multiple channels but the names are already taken.
  • Twitter is 24/7. You cannot expect to grow your presence and get results if you don’t monitor what is going on. Very often … firms don’t even bother to respond when they get a reasonable comment. Why? Probably because nobody is checking the stream regularly enough or they have been told not to engage. Engagement is key.
  • Reach out and connect. Start using the direct message function. Start a conversation. Invite them to talk on the telephone. Ask how you can help and start using Twitter as a way of winning new clients.

Not all preparers have a Tweet tooth. “I’ve never even opened Twitter,” said Michele Knight, a CPA at Knight Accounting & Technology in Dillon, Colo. “I use e-mail, phone and Facebook in my daily life, although I stress to my clients to only e-mail or call me. Over the past two months, I have received messages via e-mail, phone, text, Facebook, Facetime, and Google chat and it’s just overwhelming. If someone texts me, I can’t save that text in their file or print it out, both of which become a problem if I need to review the text later. I work from home, so I already lack boundaries between business and personal life.”

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