And so firms of all sizes are engaging in some form of social media efforts, which can range anywhere from gaining basic knowledge of all the available tools and sites, to hiring specific personnel or even having everyone in the firm contribute to social media initiatives.

The reality is that most firms are still feeling their way around with social media and don't have a clear plan yet. The few that are making some strides are seeing notable results from their efforts. Below are several case studies on how firms are utilizing social media for specific purposes and their experiences in doing so.

 

Building blogs

Firm: BCG & Co. / Akron, Ohio

Size: 100 staff

Product/service(s): Facebook and Twitter

Commencement date: 2010

On record: Marketing manager Jenny Hertzig

Challenge/objective: To get traffic back to blogs written by "expert sources" via social media, further positioning thought leadership in the firm. Target was existing clients and potential referrals.

Amount spent: Nothing.

Process: The firm started some recruiting efforts via Facebook in 2009 and evolved it over time, adding photos and videos to show the "fun" side of the firm to potential hires, according to Hertzig. Social media in general also grew in importance, with each new hire being trained on Twitter and LinkedIn. The firm also hired a marketing coordinator to assist with its social media efforts.

More important, several of the firm's partners had been selected to blog articles on their respective areas of expertise, and the firm wanted to drive more traffic to them, effectively "sharing thought leadership," explained Hertzig. In 2010, the firm began efforts to share these articles via Facebook and Twitter on the firm's site, as well as the sites of the partners. Hertzig, along with the marketing coordinator and the blog writers, would share their articles with their respective fan bases and followers, and engage them further where appropriate.

"We are all about selling our brand, who we are [as a firm], and wanted to establish ourselves as thought leaders," she said. "It's very cool for [our writers] to have something published and they share with their own friends and followers as well. In accounting, the personal and business worlds do cross over; you do get referrals from friends and it helps people connect with the firm."

Results: Many of the results of the social media sharing of blog articles were positive - albeit anecdotal, according to Hertzig. "People here will say so-and-so found me via LinkedIn or Facebook and they e-mailed about a quote on business, or they would say they read an article one of our experts wrote," she explained. "When we prospect a company, we do try to see who knows who, but people do contact us from the blog posts we get. We are definitely noticing an uptick in business and attendance to events we have, as well."

Next steps: The firm is currently reworking its Web site so that the home page aggregates blogs, Twitter and Facebook feeds, effectively "bringing the personality of the blogs to the home page," said Hertzig, who stressed that social media efforts are a long-term commitment, and that the results of some plans may not be immediately evident.

"It takes a couple of years to gain traction and credibility through social media; it's not always an immediate result and you have to keep it going and keep sharing," she said. "The next generation of business owners are researching information online; this is who is finding us and following us. You really have to know what you are using [social media] for before you get started."

 

Taking on Twitter

Firm: Fuoco Group / Hauppauge, N.Y.

Size: 80 staff

Product/service(s): Twitter

Commencement date: Early 2011

On record: Marketing director Krysta Marie Lyon

Challenge/objective: To educate the firm on the power of Twitter, how to use it, and become active in using it for news, firm updates and information of interest to clients.

Amount spent: Nothing.

Process: The firm's foray into social media was a decision, in part, by its marketing director, who wanted the process to be "simple." She found Twitter fit their purposes, as it has a limited number of characters, and many of the firm's vendors and clients were already on that social media site. Lyon helped oversee a series of "lunch and learns" at all of the firm's offices to educate and explain the objectives with Twitter, as well as what each partner and staffer could contribute.

In the fall of 2010, the firm established a social media policy and made it effective, shortly before officially rolling out its efforts on Twitter Jan. 1, 2011. "We are a brand and have to make sure the information we put out there is shared by our employees and reflects the quality of the brand. If you want your own account you can have one, but if you tie in the Fuoco Group name, we have rules," explained Lyon.

She also manages the firm's tweets through HootSuite, so she can schedule and edit what is broadcast over Twitter from Fuoco Group. In addition, Lyon will speak to directors who have Twitter accounts and inform them of what she is sending out so there is no over-saturation of information.

Results: The Fuoco Group's social media efforts may not yet have directly impacted its earnings, but Lyon indicated that the firm currently has over a dozen of its staff members active on Twitter, which translates to posting anywhere from a few times a week to a few times an hour. The firm's e-newsletter readership has also increased as a result of its Twitter activity.

"We're able to track every time someone clicks on an article, but that's just the start of it," said Lyon. "There is nothing greater than being out at a conference and people wish you congratulations on what you are doing because they read it on Twitter."

Next steps: The firm is currently refining its Facebook page to make it more "client/prospect-specific." They will also be producing informative videos on YouTube and exploring blogging opportunities for firm experts.

"Twitter is working great for us, so expect more there, as well," said Lyon. "It's a tool and you have to participate for it to work for you. It really doesn't have to take much of your day, but you do give it thought and keep it regular. You build relationships too, not only with clients but the community. "

 

Loving LinkedIn

Firm: ClarkNuber / Bellevue, Wash.

Size: 160

Product/service(s): LinkedIn

Commencement date: 2010

On record: Senior human resources generalist Lizzie Rahm

Challenge/objective: Wanted to expand the firm's presence on LinkedIn and recruit. The firm had also been struggling to find suitable job applicants with a public accounting background.

Amount spent: Membership fees paid for LinkedIn's recruiting service; price varies.

Process: The firm had paid for recruiting services in the past, and utilized recruiting Web sites as well, but was not finding what it deemed to be suitable applicants for the jobs it had. The firm had a LinkedIn account, but had not seriously engaged in using it for recruiting until Rahm was contacted by a LinkedIn representative regarding its fee-based recruiting services. She also said that LinkedIn had enhanced the product so firms can post all the jobs they want to fill and, upon logging in to her account, Rahm can see the results of job submissions. A LinkedIn representative was also assigned to the firm to assist with any user needs.

"I'm not a full-time recruiter and I can't spend all day on LinkedIn, either. This service is far less than you would pay a professional recruiter, too," said Rahm. "This [LinkedIn recruiting service] is easy for those who don't have a lot of time. Recruiters constantly post on job boards and LinkedIn isn't like that. I can search on what I want and contact candidates directly, instead of hoping they find us, so when I search for a tax manager, it pulls up tax managers who are already in public accounting or have that experience."

Results: The firm has already hired several people successfully through its use of the LinkedIn recruiting service, and has made connections with college students interested in a career in public accounting. "I'm sure if I had more time I could find more people, but it has been a great network-building experience," said Rahm. "With the connections we've made [through LinkedIn], even if we don't have an opening, we may at some point and they do check in with us."

Next steps: The firm has a senior management-level position to fill and is already making connections with potential candidates via LinkedIn. Rahm is also planning to spend more time utilizing LinkedIn based on the results she has already seen.

 

Going all in

Firm: Kaufman, Rossin & Co. / Miami

Size: 300 staff

Product/service(s): Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Commencement date: Summer/Fall 2010

On record: Social media coordinator Aubrey Swanson

Challenge/objective: Branding the firm as active in social media with a larger goal of recruiting and gaining interest among students and those looking for a career in public accounting.

Amount spent: $100 for gift card, "a few hundred dollars" on giveaways for recruiting events.

Process: Until fairly recently, the firm had not been active in social media. In early February 2010, Swanson - then still a student - joined the staff as an intern with the purpose of researching social media possibilities for the firm. She was hired full time in June of that year to devote her efforts completely to establishing an appropriate and useful social media presence for the firm and coordinating any activities on social media sites.

That summer, Swanson helped design a contest utilizing Facebook as well as Twitter and YouTube. Titled the "Are You Social?" Sweepstakes, the effort launched in late August and lasted until mid-October 2010. As part of the contest, the firm asked Facebook site visitors to describe potentially fun or unique ways in which they were social or utilized social media. The winner received a $100 gift card from TicketMaster to the social event of their choosing.

The firm also utilized a YouTube video, which could be featured on their Facebook page, that featured a 13-minute documentary of individuals around Miami and the South Florida area answering questions regarding what they thought about accountants and if they themselves utilized social media. The end of the video attempted to showcase how accountants at the firm did not fit the professional stereotype.

In addition, the firm utilized Twitter to keep followers informed of the contest and its progress. Efforts to promote the contest and the firm's social media presence were also made offline at career fairs throughout South Florida, whereby firm representatives gave out talking bottle openers with the Kaufman Rossin Facebook URL, as well as note pads with the Twitter logo and the URLs of all of the firm's social media sites.

Results: The firm received contest entries from all area colleges and universities, a 13 percent increase in its Facebook fan base, and approximately 300-400 resumes from the campaign. The majority of applicants indicated that they heard about the firm via Facebook and Twitter.

"Another great thing we accomplished from this effort was we attracted students that we may not have before, and also formed better relationships with the career centers at the universities," said Swanson.

Next steps: The firm added more content to all of its social media sites, which include three different landing pages within Facebook. The Facebook page also contains a career section, complete with photos of firm employees and fresh quotes about their experience and opinions on opportunities at the firm.

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