"We've got to have a Facebook page!" That's the exclamation of most CPA and accounting firms. and then, while many pages go live, they sit almost lifeless, as one of an infinite number of silent trees in a dense forest.
Many accountants are recognizing that Facebook is fast becoming their No. 1 public relations tool. But in order to sustain the life-blood for that page, they need to incorporate public relations tactics to generate traffic and build brand awareness. An easy and creative way to do this is to incorporate five Cs to "PR" your Facebook page: command, contest, cause, cost and connect.
Creating command of an issue or topic is central to establishing a niche authority in your industry. Take a look at a CPA, tax and accounting business, with lots of service offerings. Let's make your firm the local tax-return authority!
First, establish command as the local tax-return authority by posting links to articles and issues directly relevant (and interesting!) to current and potential customers. At the beginning of tax season, post articles that are of interest to early filers and refund anticipation loan customers, and later articles that capture the attention of late filers who seek advice about deductions and itemizing tips.
It's important not to post "boring" or inconsequential items; rather, choose links that are interesting (Internal Revenue Service approval of breast milk as a deduction for late-filing season) and those with local slants (issues with local RAL filers looking for nearby alternatives). Contact the business desk of your local newspaper, offering someone from your firm as the local tax authority for stories the media inevitably prepare during tax filing season. Seek out issues that you can offer insight about, including tips about RAL filing do's and don'ts, recent law changes to tax credits and deductions, and late-filing tips.
Any coverage generated should, naturally, be posted on your Facebook page.
Gradually, knowledge of your expertise on tax returns begins to spread, inevitably drawing more customers to your business and more interest to your page. Substitute "tax return" for any of your offerings.
Public relations-driven contests are a great way to build traffic and fans on your Facebook page, so long as the contest raises and reinforces awareness about your services.
For a CPA firm, Facebook contests are more successful and effective when co-sponsored with a non-competing local partner. Let's go back to your campaign. Reach out to myriad local, non-competing businesses offering reciprocal contests and discounts to build fans and awareness about your Facebook page.
For example, work with a local spa for a "spa day" giveaway and, in exchange, the spa's fans on Facebook who join your page can receive a discount on your services. Or work with local bars and restaurants on similar contests, offering gift certificates and "a night out on us" prize that will draw added fans to your page, and consequently mean that additional people using Facebook will become aware of your business, and your position as the local tax-return authority.
Nothing spreads goodwill like supporting a local cause, particularly one that has an active fan base on Facebook. Every major corporation and business helps support a variety of causes. Local tax and accounting businesses should adopt the same big-business mentality, and not only help support a local charity, but also engage your fans (and theirs) in a clever campaign to raise awareness for the cause and for you.
For your cause campaign, select a partner with an active Facebook presence and fan base. It also doesn't hurt to team up with another local business with a unique campaign. Lansing, Mich.-based X-Tax worked with local area Qdoba restaurants on the "Meximum Refund Program: Cups for Cash and Paws" that benefited the local humane society. New customers who brought in their Qdoba cups to X-Tax received a discount on their tax returns. For every cup they collected, X-Tax donated one dollar to the humane society. The campaign helped a worthy cause, promoted awareness for X-Tax, Qdoba and the humane society, and solidified X-Tax as the local tax-return authority while creating excitement and bringing new fans to their Facebook page.
Over the years, your marketing dollars were inevitably geared toward costly traditional media, with local Yellow Pages and newspaper ads accounting for perhaps the largest chunk of your marketing dollars. Social media, when supported by a thoughtful, smart and less-expensive public relations campaign, usually provides a stronger ROI. Predominantly, you will find that your business will spend less money, and yield a greater spread of brand awareness and word of mouth.
Moreover, Facebook is the ultimate "Refer-A-Friend" program - undoubtedly the industry's most effective marketing initiative - since basically, through a Facebook campaign, you are having your fans and customers spread positive word of mouth about you to their Facebook friends through their "likes" and comments. Social media is undeniably more cost-effective!
By its very nature, social media is meant to connect. Thus, your Facebook initiatives should connect your tax and accounting business with new and potential customers. For every new fan you gain on Facebook through unique cause programs, contests or promotions, you will be automatically connecting with your new fans' Facebook friends, introducing your brand to scores of potential new customers.
Many CPA and accounting businesses "preach to the choir" by keeping their posts and activities limited to bland (cookie-cutter programs provide bland and impersonal links) and business-centric posts, links and comments. Moreover, they treat the page as a circular, posting endless discounts and specials. This was not how Facebook was intended to be used, and this will not connect you with new customers.
Connect by commanding an issue, connect with local and non-competing businesses, connect contests to causes and promotions, and connect your CPA and accounting business to new customers by connecting PR to social media campaigns on Facebook.
John Casey, a former Capitol Hill press secretary, and public and media relations executive for Toys "R" Us, Sears and Kmart, is currently director of freshfluff: spread good stuff!, a PR/social media agency (www.freshfluff.com).
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