Are you a social firm? That is, do you and your staff harness the power of social media to push out information about your firm and your brand overall? If not, it's time to embrace this powerful platform to get the word out about who you are and why you are different. For many firms, it's no longer about just "doing" social media, but rather making it part of the firm's DNA -- a standard element of operation. Are you there yet?

No doubt you are well aware of the social movement and the cadre of "crazy" practitioners who are celebrating a new way of doing business. This group of professionals is calling for others to redefine their firms (and lives) by moving away from the traditional business model and incorporating elements like social media into firm processes. No matter the media format -- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube -- these communication tools are being applied within the "new firm" culture. Progressive firms are using these tools to collaborate with clients and communicate with the community in general. It is also how clients are providing their information to firms -- in real-time. Overall, it is how these firms are staying relevant and keeping the outside world consistently informed and educated about what goes on within their four walls.

Becoming a social firm can be accomplished in many ways. Not all social media channels need to be tackled at one time. That can be simply overwhelming. Consider a few examples of how a firm might use social media channels:

  • Facebook to consistently send out marketing campaigns and attract new clients.
  • YouTube to send proposals to prospects.
  • A combination of Facebook and LinkedIn to attract new, qualified employees.
  • Twitter to announce key dates, like quarterly estimate payments due.
  • And any social media channel to foster regular, positive internal staff communications.

The list could go on and on. Social media outlets can be used alone or in any combination. The key takeaway here is that social technologies hold the power to fundamentally change the way your firm broadly communicates, and how you and your staff interact with one another, clients and prospects. Communicating with the outside world is no longer restricted by traditional media outlets ... those that must first elect to pick up your "news" and then push it out. Today, you are in control of communications and have the ability to push out information as often as you like -- instantly and at any time (the days of 9-to-5 are over!).
All of this, of course, means that social media must be understood and used appropriately. Social media could disrupt processes if the proper controls are not put in place. Just consider a few statistics:

  • Twitter is most active after 9 p.m. and before 9 a.m.
  • Facebook is most active after dinner.
  • All social media channels are up and running 24/7!

Understanding that social media is an "always-on" platform, firm leaders must understand how it works and have a clear set of objectives in place. From there it is important to assign guidelines for communicating via social media to meet objectives and ensure proper messaging. Remember, if clients and prospects can "see" you 24/7, your communications must be on target, professional, and engage your audience in an appropriate manner. You also can't forget to assign the proper staff to oversee your social media efforts and consider how to compensate these employees for handling this "always-on" communication task.
It's important to note that for some firms, there is the perception of being too transparent. It is true that a lot of what you are doing is available online when you actively apply social media. You have to make sure you are okay with this, but you also have to understand that it's not so much a business-to-business world anymore. We are living in a business-to-individual world, where more companies are putting it all out there and sharing information with clients and prospects to appeal to them on a "friend" level. This helps to build rapport, trust and loyalty. Consumers want to get to know those they are doing business with; it just feels good. In other words, it's okay to get personal. And I believe the ability to get personal is what makes social media so powerful. It's a matter of ensuring that communications are appropriate and contain the right message in order to draw individuals closer to you.

Based on all that's been discussed here, have you noticed that social media isn't so much about marketing as it is about the pace of information-sharing and the deeper level of communication? This is what has rocked the boat and disrupted the old firm model, because old ways of doing business simply don't meet today's customers' needs. Consumers are social -- they research products and services via social media channels. Consumers are hungry for information and they find it within the social space.

Social media and how to apply it in today's new firms is one of my favorite topics for discussions because I know it is where the new generation of clients "live." Social media is a powerful tool; firms just need to invest the time in figuring out how to use social networking so that it is a good, positive fit within their firm operations. Follow me to learn more about social media and the power it offers today's fast-moving firms. Find me on Twitter @jodypadarcpa and we will work to figure it out together!

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal of New Vision CPA Group, as well as an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College. She is part of the Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various technologies and taxation.

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