Social media is a powerful business tool that accounting firms are often quick to dismiss as an extra.

We’ll do it when we have more room in the budget and more staff, say firm leaders. Secretly, many still harbor doubts about its value and may even consider it an unseemly dive into pop culture that’s out of line with the firm’s staunchly conservative, business-focused brand.

Those thoughts are understandable but flat-out wrong. In today’s business environment, nobody is too traditional to benefit from social media, or to avoid the public perception that a lack of social media presence is a business deficit rather than a strength. Those who shrug off expectations that every firm take part in the social media discourse are also likely to be overlooking the many concrete business benefits of participation. A robust social media strategy helps you:

1. Build relationships. Social media conversations are a great way to meet new people, whether it’s potential clients or respected colleagues. You can follow others who are active in the same niche and gain followers of your own, establishing personal connections that dramatically increase the chances of eventual business opportunities with these people and the firms they represent.

2. Establish thought leadership. Sharing updates and insight through social media platforms allows you to let others see you at your best: thoughtful, knowledgeable, and in the loop when it comes to your practice areas. When you provide original content — or share quality content by others — to answer questions and inform readers about complex issues or breaking developments, they begin to recognize you for the expert you are.

3. Reinforce niche specialties. Accounting is a broad field, and not very well understood by the general public. Most businesses and individuals lack the knowledge to determine what type of CPA they need in a given situation. By sharing insights in your focus area, you delineate the special niche you occupy, helping potential clients and referral sources identify you as someone to turn to when they need assistance. And since search engines index social media content, you’ll also be boosting your likelihood of showing up high on the list of responses to online queries for an appropriate specialist.

4. Attract new talent. Across the profession, accounting firms struggle to attract and keep the younger talent they need to cultivate the next generation of leaders. One of the first things potential job candidates do is to go online and assess the firm’s web presence, including social media activity. If there’s nothing to see, that’s a red flag that the firm may be struggling, outdated or simply not very good. Is it an accurate gauge? Not necessarily, but it’s a standard assumption nonetheless.

5. Maintain high visibility. When people need an accountant, they’ll call the one they know. Unless they have forgotten, for the moment, that they know one at all. That’s what happens when you only see people at the occasional cocktail party, church event, or alumni gathering. Stay high in the minds of all your potential clients by letting them see your name and your ideas on a regular basis — through social media, of course.

OK, you say, social media can do a lot for my firm. But will it bring in clients? Because that’s what we need to accomplish here, at the end of the day. The answer is yes: having a strong social media presence will generate new business for your firm, albeit not as directly or as quantifiably as accountants naturally would like.

The best way to appreciate the value of social media is to think of it as a brand-building tool. Every one of the benefits listed above strengthens and supports your brand, which definitely equates to new business in the long run. In fact, nothing is more critical to the firm’s long-term sustainability than a strong brand, and there are few, if any, more effective, versatile or cost-efficient tools for building your accounting firm’s brand than social media.

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick is the owner and founder of Proof Positive Content, a content development firm dedicated to helping accountants and other professional services providers build their brands through customized, niche-specific content.