A Firm 2.0 is one that utilizes Web 2.0 technology to create efficiency and improve productivity in all aspects of its operations.

In my last article, Strategic Growth Planning in a New Participatory Culture, I addressed the top five principles of a Web 2.0 application and how to apply those to your firm’s growth strategy. Now let’s stretch ourselves further out of our comfort zones and discuss the new generation of accounting firm, Firm 2.0.

A key driver for becoming a Firm 2.0 is this: Not only do you have auditors on the road trying to communicate with the home office, but you probably have part-time, flex-time and remote employees trying to collaborate with your in-house staff. If you’re not utilizing these (often free) technologies, you’re probably spinning your wheels and spending a great deal on overhead costs that could easily be reduced or removed from your budget.

Let’s first get back to the basics. Web 2.0 is this hot new buzzword and, while you may not know it, has completely revolutionized the way businesses are operating, selling, marketing and so on. While Web 1.0 was “information” or “commerce,” Web 2.0 is “participatory” or “people.” It’s read versus write. Web 2.0 counts on user-generated content; it’s the so-called experts versus the wisdom of the crowd.

How can you harness the power of Web 2.0 to become a Firm 2.0, and moreover, why should you even care? Now more than ever, the consumer is in control. Between pop-up ads, banner ads, telemarketers, TV and radio commercials, your clients are consumed every second of every day by interruptive marketing. Technology has put consumers in control and they’re searching for communities of like-minded individuals with which to escape the sales pitch and simply enjoy connecting with others. Savvy firms are paying attention and participating in these conversations.

There are many ways to get involved in the conversation. There are social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and media-oriented communities like YouTube and Flickr. You can even get into blogging. The interesting feature of a blog is that it has the ability to put a human face on your organization, balancing corporate social responsibility, corporate environmental sensitivity and consumer sensitivity to allow a “behind the corporate wall” insight into the firm.

What if you’re not ready? Jenny Hertzig from BCG & Company in Akron, Ohio, says, “Even if you don’t want to have a presence in the 2.0 communities yet, you should at the very least set up listening posts on different networks to monitor what people are saying about your brand.” That’s certainly not the case with BCG, as they are about as active as you can get in the social 2.0 space. “When you allow the client to be in control, they tell you what they want or need,” Hertzig emphasizes. “You can answer by creating the service or product to fit that need instead of speculating.”

You see, it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at marketing; what matters is your focus and intensity on marketing your brand. That’s the beauty of being a Firm 2.0; the technologies you are utilizing are 1) free and 2) in sync with the way your clients are connecting and communicating.

“Your audience is out there and ready to talk, you just have to ask,” says Hertzig. But remember the old adage, “You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.” That’s the key; remember this is a dialogue and not a monologue, or broadcast media.

If you are ready to make the leap to 2.0, you can expect to generate more exposure for your firm, increase traffic to your Web site and opt-in lists, open the door to new business partnerships, raise your ranking in search engines, generate qualified leads, reduce overall marketing expenses and help close business. Hertzig agrees. “We use 2.0 as a way to direct traffic to our Web site,” she says. “Our Web traffic has increased 54 percent since implementing Web 2.0 tactics, and we have had a significant increase in PR exposure from using these tools to push out press releases and other firm highlights. Additionally, our blog is a potpourri of all the things we do, and the most popular of the posts were the ones from our high school interns writing about their personal experiences with working at BCG. It is the fourth most viewed page on our Web site.”

But wait! Didn’t I say that a Firm 2.0 is about more than just using social media marketing? It is. There are a host of (free) Web 2.0 tools available to help a firm and its employees become more efficient and productive, especially if your staff is operating outside of the home office. I have two words for you: Google Apps. Before you go building a firm intranet or any other “firm-only” technology, check out Google Apps. I’ll bet you find what you’re looking for, and it’ll be free. It can save you thousands of dollars.

I could go on, but the bottom line is this: At your next partner retreat, set a goal to become a Firm 2.0. Utilize the free technology available to connect with your clients, employees, media contacts and recruits. Just think about your centers of influence and begin with them. Start small and incorporate 2.0 principles and social marketing into your strategic plan (you have one, right?).

The 2.0 revolution is here; are you in or out?

Kristin Gentry is a professional services strategic sales and marketing expert with a specialty in social media marketing (www.SavvySocialMediaMarketing.com).

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