[IMGCAP(1)]When it comes to social media communications, it’s not why or when it’s how and where.
But accounting firms face significant hurdles and oftentimes it seems like the risks are not worth the rewards. Overzealous regulators, independence rules, clients that largely avoid the use of social media professionally and skeptical leadership all stand in the way.
As a strategic communications company that caters to accounting firms, we’ve heard it all. Our clients aren't using social media so why should we? Social media is for consumer brands, not accounting firms. Social media poses too much risk and we can lose control of the conversation.
Sound familiar? The objections are plentiful and the excuses are easy; however the rewards for those that do it right can be handsome.
If your firm has stumbled out of the gate trying to create a meaningful social media presence, or you are considering stepping up your company’s efforts, you probably have questions. And here are the answers to three questions that your senior leadership team is likely asking:
1. How can my company and employees publish and circulate content over social media and not run afoul of regulators?
Regulators are often cited among the top reasons why accounting firms don’t embrace a proactive social media effort. However, technologies and platform companies such as Hearsay Social and CommandPost make it easier for firms to track and report social media activity and adhere to strict compliance demands. What’s more, proper social media training and focusing content on thought leadership rather than ”conducting business” (aka selling solutions) will also help manage compliance issues and avoid the wrath of regulators. It will also prove more effective in reaching and intriguing your target audiences.
There is a great opportunity to get your firm’s stance out there on a range of important issues. How are new technology tools, software and digital communications changing the business of accounting and the ability of companies to track, assess and report data? How are changes in accounting standards or new regulatory regimes impacting how clients are managing compliance demands? Prospective clients, media and other important audiences are looking for guidance on these and other timely topics.
2. How do I convince my firm’s leadership that social media is a worthwhile investment when our clients—who are mostly senior level business executives—don’t use it?
If one of your communications goals is to enhance and increase the quality of media coverage of your firm and its leaders, social media is a vital tool. It is the conduit for the brand and its lead spokespeople to engage with media on topics and issues that are driving much of their editorial coverage. Many reporters and media outlets that cover the audit industry are active on social media. Look no further on Twitter than @Rapoportwsj, @AICPA_JofA and @AccountingToday If you’re not present on social media, you’re missing a golden opportunity to build relationships with these media.
Yes, it’s accurate to say that many senior-level business executives are not visibly active on social media, but more and more are passively using platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to discover smart news and commentary. LinkedIn is an especially important platform for your firm’s audience. A recent study has shown that LinkedIn is the number one most-used social network among CPA firms. And almost all executives (or their assistants) consistently use Google and other online search engines to find information about pressing business issues and individuals with whom they may do business. This is precisely why digital profiles of accounting firms and their leaders are so important—particularly considering how search engines are increasingly giving weight to content from social media and, in particular, to LinkedIn.
3. How do I develop content on a regular basis that my audiences will actually care about and which provides a healthy ROI on social media communications?
Accounting firms must act like publishers and get to know the content needs of their audiences. Success in social media requires an altruistic approach to providing content that will add tangible value to the reader and focus on the needs of the audience, not the marketer. In other words, you have to be able to address the content needs of your audience, which most often isn’t information about your products and services.
In a recent survey conducted by The Economist Group Content Solutions in association with Peppercomm, 75 percent of business executives said that their primary purpose of seeking business content from another brand (instead of a bonafide publisher) is to research a new business idea, not to learn more about a product or service.
What topics and issues will resonate most with the audience? What complex business problems are they eager to learn more about? What type of content do they prefer, and what devices do they most often use to consume it? Answers to these questions can help your firm develop a targeted content strategy that results in the best content formats, the most effective content channels and the most relevant topics on which to focus.
Accounting firms must strive to educate, influence and prompt action among prospective clients or those who influence them. An insufficient amount of social media in the marketing diet can limit a company’s ability to raise awareness of itself, to differentiate its expertise and offerings, and to drive interest in working with the brand.
Ted Birkhahn is president and partner at Peppercomm and is in charge of client services and managing agency operations for the 100+ integrated marketing and communications firm.
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