The buzz about social media has been around for more than a decade, but there are still those that have not taken the leap for fear that it is too technical an endeavor or a waste of their time. The reality is that as our practices get more specialized and consultative, it becomes increasingly important to reach out to the specific types of clients we want, and social media does this more cost-effectively and targeted than traditional advertising formats. Social media, broadly defined, is a way of sharing information to a very wide audience using Internet-based tools (most of which are free) that are conducive to identifying specific content that a potential client might be interested in. While the basic applications can be effectively utilized on our workstations, the adoption of smartphones and tablets has made social media instantly accessible on any recipient’s device when it is convenient to them, which is pushing the adoption of these tools as a preferred marketing medium for targeted audiences. Below are thoughts on why you would consider promoting social media usage in your firm and some basic steps you can take to get started right away.
Why Should You Use Social Media?
Beyond the discussions on using social media for branding and recruiting is the reality that social media can position you as an expert to grow the best parts of your accounting practice. Typically, there are types of clients in your practice that are more interesting, fun and profitable to work with, which is usually attributable to an area where you have specialized expertise. These are your “A” clients and often can be grouped into an industry which you know you can service well. You would do more of that type of work if you had the opportunity, as they are often your more profitable clients as well. Writing a blog or using social media applications, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, allows you to reach out to potential clients in that specific segment to share your unique knowledge and experience and rapidly position yourself as the go-to expert. Bringing in more “A” clients allows you to drop or transition out the “C” and “D” clients that can take up a lot of time but don’t produce as much return.
What’s the First Step?
Start by clearly identifying the specific audience you want to work with (i.e. the profile of your perfect client) and by identifying a list of the top issues on their minds. Think about the ten most common/important questions that you are asked by that group, answer them, and you have content for your first ten blog entries! Writing for social media should be done in a natural conversational style, rather than the professional tone of an engagement letter or journal article. If you write like you are talking directly to the client, your personality will naturally come out in your words, creating your own unique style. By writing at least ten entries, you will be able to get into a writing groove and you will get better the more you write. Also, having a good packet of pre-written content will allow you to organize and post a few entries in your initial roll out to garner interest, while also having one per week ready to deliver after you get started.
Successful bloggers recommend you create a calendar that has content written and ready to go at least a month in advance (which can be easily tracked in Excel). You can project blog topics for a few months with date-specific items such as tax deadlines, holidays, and firm community and training events. These topics will fill a significant amount of the weekly slots, and then you would fill in the rest of the dates with the top questions referred to above. If a critical topic pops up unexpectedly, or you have something great to share (staff promotion, firm getting mentioned in the news), you can insert that entry into the calendar and move the pre-scheduled question to a later date – or you can just send out a special issue between the normal posting dates. The key is to push out information of value to your audience on a regular basis. Three tools that will fast-track your social media efforts are: WordPress for blogging, LinkedIn for connections, and Twitter for announcing the blog entries (additional information on these tools are provided below). Firms should appoint a central person to learn to use these tools and manage the process, which may be either you (if you are a sole practitioner) or a marketing person, if your firm has multiple personnel contributing to social media efforts. There are also social media management tools, such as HootSuite, that will allow you to preschedule releases of tweets and blogs at a specific date and time so you can do all your social media planning on weekends and do delivery during the week when you are focused on clients (as well as continuing deliveries even when you are on vacation)!
This tool is one of the easiest social media tools and is used to create a blog. Blogs are shared informational posts that can be as long as an article, but most often much more succinct (like a digital micro-newsletter). WordPress makes it easy to share and archive your posts (starting with the ten expert questions discussed above) which can position you as an expert when people search the Internet for that topic and find your entries. The more you write about a specific topic and share links to resources and other content dealing with that topic, the easier it is for people to find you. WordPress also allows people reading your blog entry to make comments (which can be reviewed and approved by you before being publicly viewed), which starts a discussion in which other interested parties can participate.
Networking was formerly primarily done at business meetings and mixers where people shared business cards and contacts. LinkedIn is now the digital version of business networking where accountants can house their professional information, including contacts, work profile, group affiliation, and especially your firm’s expertise (as outlined in your blog). If everyone in the firm has a LinkedIn profile that touts your expertise and includes information on your blogging efforts and expertise, that’s even better. One of the strongest features of LinkedIn is its ability to find contacts in prospective client organizations by searching for personnel within that company that may know someone that you know who can make an introduction so you can start sharing experience.
One additional social media tool that everyone should be aware of is Twitter, which is a “Micro-blogging” tool that pushes out quick communications, such as promoting your most recent blog posts or LinkedIn updates. Messages are referred to as “tweets” and are limited to no more than 140 characters so you have to be concise. Twitter can help connect others to your blogs but is also a great tool for finding out the latest buzz around your area of expertise and then getting other experts’ thoughts on that topic.
One of the great benefits of using social media to tout your expertise is that it provides an opportunity to organize and clarify your expertise, which makes it easier to share with others in snippets that are convenient to them. With more communications going digital and many CPAs transitioning to higher-level expertise, social media is a way to target the exact clients you want.
Roman H. Kepczyk is Director of Consulting for Xcentric, LLC and works exclusively with accounting firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies.
Last updated: 21 October 2019