How Accounting Firms Can Navigate the Confusing World of Social Media

IMGCAP(1)]Like the advent of the Internet, social media has proliferated in everything we do.

Despite its name, its impact isn’t just social. The term “social media” encompasses a whole spectrum of information delivery systems and is no longer just the bastion of downloadable puppy pictures. It is now a marketing tool for savvy businesses, including accounting firms.

As a business tool, social media presents some daunting questions for professional service providers, especially accountants. As our public relations and digital marketing agency works with accounting firms, both small and large, the biggest question is how to best utilize digital resources to the betterment of the firm.

First we need to understand what it can’t do. Using social media is like having a website: it’s necessary, but it is only as good a tool as you make it. At this point, every accounting firm has a website that is likely in its third or fourth reiteration. But most don’t know how to make the website work for the firm and how to integrate it with social media.

Some firms still have the attitude of “if we build it they will come” when it comes to websites. They believe they will deliver their firm news and expertise via their website. That isn’t what happens. The bottom line is that, yes, existing and prospective clients will look at your website. But no one is going to go there for thought leadership. That needs to be broadcast via the intelligent and deliberate use of social media. Social media will also further your goals of client and employee retention and recruitment.

To illustrate this point, we can point to The New York Times model. The publication has lost 50 percent of its homepage traffic in recent years, though it hasn’t lost readership. How? Individual Times reporters are encouraged and expected to post on their individual Facebook and Twitter sites and build followers. This is happening across the board. Social media is becoming the primary source for news distribution. And it works: Half of all Twitter and Facebook users report getting their news and information via social networks.

The first step towards an intelligent social media program is content generation. This content can be blogs, trade articles or commentary about articles, inviting others to engage in dialogue. This is a leap that a lot of firms don’t make, but which positions them as thought leaders.

Who should be posting? Ultimately—and eventually—all accountants at a firm should be empowered to share content and build their own social media sites. This is a much different tactic than many accounting firms take. Some firms even go as far as to establish geofencing software to prohibit social media usage among their accountants. This would be a mistake and a huge missed opportunity.

Accounting firms can safely take advantage of the marketing opportunities available via social media by following a few caveats.

For one, the social media usage policy at the firm must be crystal clear and disseminated broadly throughout the firm. Obviously, it may be treacherous to provide individual advice here.

Another step is that the approval process needs to be streamlined. Accounting firms can be very thorough when it comes to approving content. That lengthy thoroughness won’t serve them well in social media, which is about speed and timing.

My suggestion to streamline this process is to assign a point person or committee to approve content. This person(s) needs to be empowered to approve content, post on the company’s social media sites, and make the content available for other accountants to post. This can be an in-house marketing person, committee or public relations agency experienced in social media content management.

The next step is crucial in order to have maximum impact. Every accountant should be encouraged to build their own social media sites and followers. Their followers may consist of existing and past clients, referral sources and even media. When the approved content is distributed through multiple sites, viewership is of course multiplied.

When many within a firm are sharing thoughtful and thought-provoking content, it blazes a path for the firm to reach its goal as thought and industry leaders.

Michael Layne is president of Marx Layne & Company. Founded in 1987, metro Detroit-based Marx Layne is one of the Midwest’s leading independently owned public relations and digital media agencies. The agency has been providing a full-range of public relations and marketing services to accountants and accounting firms for nearly 30 years.

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