Nick Lewis explains how, with some careful thinking and planning, you can take your social media output to the next level and raise your profile
If the accountancy sector is to get serious about social media as a marketing tool, it must first get back to basics. Social media is too well established and engrained in everyday life to be dismissed as a fad, and has become a major communications tool. As I hope this article and my associated talks at this year’s ICPA events demonstrates, social media is a vital tool that, if used correctly, can be used for just broadcast marketing.
So what exactly is ‘social media’? My own definition is that social media is an online electronic post or an exchange normally visible to more than one other person on an online platform, which may be public or accessible to only to members of that online platform. Social Media takes place on websites and associated apps known as ‘social networks’, the most popular of which include (but are not limited to) Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
Users can publish information on social media platforms, and these are known as posts. A social media post can be text comment, an image, a photo, an illustration, a video, an animation or an audio recording. In addition, users can read any of these social media posts made by other social media users if they are both using the social media platform and are ‘connected’ or if one user ‘follows’ another. In addition to being able to read other social media posts from other uses, one can also comment on other people’s posts. This is another way to post on social media for yourself.
You’re probably asking now why should I, an accountant, care about social media? The answer is that social media is now where most people communicate with each other. Not only that, social media transcends the personal and the professional – social media interactions are not solely limited to the professional sphere, and theoretically, your posts are visible to clients and relevant connections 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Still not convinced? Well, the hard nose answer is that social media drives traffic to websites. Website marketing has come along a way since the early 2000s as just having a website is no longer enough. If you have a website, you have to attract and alert people to it, and social media is an effective way of doing so with multiple fringe benefits.
By the same token, social media creates awareness of your ‘brand’. By being active on social media on the right social networks with the right people, you are demonstrating your knowledge and pro-activity as an accountant. It is an effective, light touch way of keeping in touch with existing clients and other connections, as well as attracting new ones.
Social media is also where you can network with peers and clients. In the same manner that one would physically attend a business networking group such as BNI, one can attend social media networks or groups within social networks. It is no different and indeed enhances your network activity in the real world. Met someone interesting at 4N network meeting group? Connect with them on LinkedIn the same day.
Also, social media is the marketing that happens on the move and in your clients’ pockets. The sight of people ambling along the street totally absorbed by their mobile phone is now the rule, not the exception, and those people could very well be looking at what you are saying on social media as long as you’re doing it ‘right’.
Don’t take just my word for it. According to Facebook itself, there were 1.94 billion monthly active Facebook users for March 2017, an 18% increase year over year. According to Forbes, as of 2017, LinkedIn has over 500 million users worldwide. As of the first quarter of 2017, Twitter reported that it averaged at 328 million monthly active users. According to the Huffington Post, YouTube has one billion active users each month. This all means that accountants need to consider social media seriously when it comes to its own processes, and not just ‘marketing’ in its crudest sense.
You’re probably wondering now what I am exactly getting at by repeatedly saying ‘it’s not just’ marketing. In simple terms, social media is where everything now seems to happen or where everything is being said, so are you paying attention to what’s going on? In other words, what are your clients doing or saying? Indeed, what are your competitors doing or saying? You can dig deeper; who is following/ engaging with your competitors? And are there business opportunities for you in collating this information?
Not only that, it is a handy place to find out what is happening in accountancy. For example, what changes have been made to Making Tax Digital, and how are key opinion leaders in the accountancy field reacting? All of this can be gleaned by astute use of social media.
Given that accountancy, like so many professions, is becoming ever more increasingly digitised, it is just common sense that your own operations should also be migrated to the digital plain. Indeed, it might prove to be essential for the future of your own business. If clients are going to buy the line from HMRC that all their tax affairs can be managed via the internet, they are probably going to want an accountant who is web-savvy. And what better way to establish your own internet credentials than being a super social media user? This may seem a superficial consideration but we all operate in a world where the superficial has more sway than it actually merits.
Having said all of that, social media ultimately is a form of marketing, so what actually determines a successful social media campaign? In its crudest form, success should be determined by whether people actually read what you posted online. Because social media offers a variety of ways of interacting with others, another metric of success is whether people shared or commented on what you posted. Operating at a higher level, another measure of successful social activity, is whether reaction to what you posted on social media provide useful market intelligence or feedback? Most importantly did people respond positively or constructively towards what you posted on line?
I have written a series of questions here and you’re probably wondering how they can be effectively answered. To that, I have a one-word answer: analytics! There are a variety of tools out there that will allow you to easily monitor and assess the performance of your social media campaigns, not least those provided by the social networks themselves. If your marketing revolves around a website (and in my opinion, it should), Google Analytics is the essential tool for you to use. It is also free, which helps (and don’t let a unscrupulous web designer tell you otherwise).
I hope I have made a clear case as to why I think social media is vitally important for accountancy firms, but I do not want to overstate the case. Social media is essential but it’s not a panacea to all your business or marketing woes. If your marketing is poorly thought out and ineptly executed, social media will not compensate for its inherent failings. Indeed, it will magnify them. There is an argument to be made that no social media is better than bad social media, and you need to have clearly thought out what you’re hoping to achieve by being online before jumping headlong into the fast moving currents of the digital world. Also, social media does not counteract an inherently bad business proposition. If your pricing is uncompetitive and your services unattractive, a glossy social media campaign will not hide those failings. Social media is not a ‘deus ex machina’ for failing businesses or dodgy propositions.
Yet social media is unavoidable. As an accountant, whether you embrace it or ignore it is ultimately up to you but, as a business, you have to make a conscious decision on how best to react to the social media environment. Would, for example, potential clients be put off if they can’t find you or accountancy practice on any social networks? This is now a legitimate question. After all, would you deal with a business that did not have any telephone number attached to it?
• Nick Lewis is a communications professional with over 15 years’ experience. He offers social media support via www.nicklewiscommunications.com
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