Whether a firm is looking to market services, acquire new talent or simply promote a brand image or thought leadership, social media has become nearly an essential tool - however mysterious and unproven a medium it may seem.

As with many new technologies, and marketing in general, accounting firms for the most part have not entirely embraced social media, as there is still some trust to be earned regarding its use.

Despite these reservations, there are a growing number of cases where firms are finding some success.


Personalities wanted

Firm: McGladrey / Chicago

Size: 6,500

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

Commencement date: Summer 2013

On record: National talent management leader Ken Bansemer

Challenge/objective: An overall recruitment campaign to communicate the culture and attract talent.

Amount spent: NA

Process: They initially started several years ago, when the firm saw blogging and Facebook becoming popular, and started with a career presence. Over time they found they really needed people with particular skill sets and they needed to review what they really wanted to accomplish with social media.

"Social [media] became about getting the brand out there, then it was engagement about what we do and who we are, then it was about hiring," said Bansemer. "Originally we built a 'Come look at us' campaign. We'd refresh it every two to three years with our branding, we'd talk about understanding their needs and their skills and their aspirations."

More recently, the firm developed the "John the Coach" campaign, which was around the idea that the firm and its partners acted as coaches to everyone. "We started to think of attributes we wanted to see in people and we also have an annual nomination process where we recognize internal 'coaches' around excellence, teamwork, stewardship and other attributes that get submitted to a nominating committee," Bansemer explained. "We don't go out and tap someone on the shoulder and say we want you in this role. We collaborated with marketing and put together videos and decided on what we want the message to be, which was an overall leader and go-getter." After an internal "coach" was named, they were featured in the video campaign as well.

The firm also has a career site on LinkedIn, as well as short notes on Twitter to drive traffic to the videos, a channel on YouTube, and regular posts about John the Coach on Facebook as well.

Results: Word of mouth from firm employees indicated that they loved the videos, and McGladrey also found job candidates who said, "I saw you were looking for personalities, I am a personality."

"That's really what you want: connections and anecdotal stories," said Bansemer. "We know that it's about people that you meet. That's real success through social media, outside the numbers. In the past we would do one video a year to encompass everything we are and do; now there's over a dozen to communicate the culture."

Next steps: The firm wants to continue to build out the story of its people, particularly with more videos that go beyond people and services and will include topics including internships, a learning and development culture, and flexibility/work-life options.


Where's WarRIN?

Firm: Weaver / Fort Worth, Texas

Size: 500

Product/service(s): Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, e-mail and the firm's own Web site

Commencement date: Fall 2012

On record: Director of marketing Katie McGee

Challenge/objective: To position Weaver's energy compliance and consulting practice in the market and shape the marketing strategy around a mascot idea.

Amount spent: $5,000 for WarRIN dolls; zero spend for Web and social media activity.

Process: Sandra Dunphy, a director of energy compliance services at Weaver, came up with the idea of an animal mascot for the firm's energy compliance and consulting practice - more specifically, for the services the firm provides to help clients navigate the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard program. Dunphy is nationally recognized as a Renewable Identification Number, or RIN, expert in the renewable fuels industry. As a result, she and others on Weaver's team regularly speak at the annual Oil Price Information Service RFS2, RINs and Biodiesel Forum.

"Sandy [Dunphy] wanted to launch the new mascot at the conference in the fall of 2012. The RFS regulations are broad-reaching as far as the affected parties, but not surprisingly, they're pretty dry," said McGee. "So what better way to bring some fun to our clients and targets at this conference than through a loveable stuffed rhino? And so, WarRIN, the exceptionally knowledgeable 'RIN-o' was born. He even dons a jersey with his unique number, D7, making him a truly special cellulosic diesel 'RIN-o.'" The D7 rating is the highest achievable RIN level.

The WarRIN doll was released as a special team member who enjoys helping energy companies navigate through the RFS program. Weaver encouraged participants to explore the world with WarRIN and to send photos of his expeditions, which were shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Results: Photos came in from around the world, most notably Colorado; Florida; Paris; London; New Brunswick, Canada; and Iran. Photos of WarRIN were shared through social media channels and the firm's Web site, and utilized the #WheresWarRIN? hashtag.

"Our clients and prospects took this engagement farther than we ever imagined. Even today, WarRIN continues to travel the world sharing energy insights, and our contacts are sharing about it," said McGee. "These results prove our belief that our target audience appreciates a sense of humor, along with insight and experience from their professional service providers, and that they want to engage with our brand in unique and fun ways."

Next steps: Weaver plans to continue sharing about WarRIN and other efforts as they execute the firm's social media strategy, focusing on engaging their target audiences, increasing brand awareness and positioning themselves as thought leaders.


Learning communities

Firm: Templeton & Co. / West Palm Beach, Fla.

Size: 50

Product/service(s): LinkedIn group, NIng.com, Web site blog, and e-mail marketing (via Act-On software)

Commencement date: September 2012

On record: Partner Pat McKay

Challenge/objective: To provide a meeting space for area chief financial officers to learn best practices from one another, and establish Templeton & Co. as the thought leader in that niche as a provider of CFO services.

Amount spent: Act-On software already used in T&C practice for additional marketing campaigns ($600 per month).

Process: With a partner newly on board who had experience serving as a CFO for Fortune 500 companies, the firm knew it had a unique selling proposition to some of the South Florida area's large corporations.

"At times, CFOs can tend to feel like the lone wolf in their organizations, so we wanted to provide them with a network of fellow CFOs whom they trust and can discuss best practices, ideas, upcoming legislation, trends and situations to be aware of," said McKay.

The quarterly in-person breakfasts turned into an online community as well through the Web sites LinkedIn and NIng.com (southfloridacfos.com). Because the firm, and McKay in particular, felt that CFOs do not want to be "sold" to or spammed, Templeton set up these sites and groups in a private setting. In the group, CFOs ask questions, offer ideas, share articles, and post resumes or job descriptions to help facilitate the community when not meeting in person.

Due to the growing size of the roundtables, the firm also decided to have a Palm Beach County CFO roundtable in the firm's West Palm Beach office, and another in its Fort Lauderdale office.

Results: Before the CFO networking group, Templeton had limited CFO/controller interaction with non-clients. The roundtables had the effect of cementing relationships with existing clients as well, by creating additional value-adds for those CFOs. As a result, the roundtables have been a source of new revenue from the offering of CFO consulting services, as well as revenue from traditional services such as audit, tax and even technology. The roundtable relationships now consistently generate more than $500,000 of the Fort Lauderdale office's total revenue.

Next steps: The firm is looking into setting up a Google+ account for the CFO group, as well as adding CFOs and controllers to the community. Although the breakfasts will still be held quarterly, Templeton is looking into webinar options as additional opportunities for CPE.

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