Social media: Cynical view from an early adopter
AccountingWEB’s contributing practice editor Mark Lee has taken soundings about the profession’s use of social media in recent months and still thinks too few accountants are getting the point.
After trying to shake up a few preconceptions in recent articles on social media strategy and how nominees for the Practice Excellence Awards were using such sites, I have to admit to a little disappointment about the comments and reactions I’ve received.
Little has changed my view that accountants are being pressured into using social media without getting much return from their activity. Few take the time to think through what are realistic objectives and which forms of social media are most likely to be worthwhile in this regard.
In my view there are plenty of benefits to be had from using some social media, but what continues to worry me is whether accountants know what they’re getting back from all the time and effort they put into it. In this connection I look forward to seeing more of the detail behind the recent PracticeWeb survey which is previewed here.
Social Media is not free
I am firmly of the view that it’s important to recognise that social media is not free in terms of the time it takes. And that whatever time that is devoted to it could be spent elsewhere – quite possibly with better and more effective results. I explain the key social media equation for accountants here.
As ever it depends on your objectives and your target audience.
In summary just think this through: Whoever devotes time to managing the firm’s social media projects must do so at the expense of doing something else. The social media equation sets out the position in formulaic terms. They could stop doing X, to do Y in order to accomplish Z which needs to be more important than Q.
The equation is even more important if your social media activity involves a hard cost – be it an allocation of staff member’s salary or the fees paid to a third party you engage specifically to “manage the firm’s social media activity”.
I regularly encounter accountants with big ambitions for what they hope to achieve through social media. But with a few successful exceptions such as Elaine Clark (@cheapaccounting), I rarely encounter accountants able to share stories of much more than a few new self employed start-up business clients won through social media. Even then I wonder whether these clients (often who have yet to pay a full year’s fees) have generated an adequate return on the time and effort expended. What I mean here is whether the same time and effort could have generated more/better new clients had it been invested in other forms of more focused marketing and/or face-to-face networking activity.
Building the brand
I have built and now curate two key twitter lists of tweeting accountants and tax people in the UK. Each list contains almost 500 names. The key distinction between the lists is that one contains identifiable individual accountants. The other list contains only those twitter accounts that reference a firm’s name and not that of an individual. Most of the accounts on the second list contain the firm’s logo or an extract thereof. Most of the accounts on the first list contain a personal avatar.
With very few exceptions the firms list routinely contains boring cookie-cutter tweets. These accounts also clearly take longer to build up a decent level of followers.
It is evidently much more difficult to build a following for a small accountancy firm on Twitter than it is to build one for a clearly identifiable individual accountant. I remain to be convinced that the logic that applies to how household name brands use Twitter can also apply to the benefit of accountancy firms.
What are you measuring?
Another problem I still see with accountants’ use of social media is the classic mistake of measuring the wrong outputs: Do Facebook page ‘likes’ win you new clients, or new work from existing clients?
It’s the same with Twitter followers - how many of them are clients, desirable prospects, or relevant influencers? Most accountants don’t need thousands of random Twitter followers; they simply need just hundreds of relevant local followers. The only realistic hope for most accountants seeking new business via Twitter will be to secure this from local business people. But, as ever, much depends on your objectives, your target audience and where this is to be found.
Accountants on Facebook
Much the same questions and issues apply equally to Facebook. I would love to see and hear success stories from accountants who have created and update business pages for their practice.
I last asked about this over a year ago. Has anything changed I wonder? At the time I referenced a blog post by Lara Solomon: Examples of good facebook pages for accountants. She claimed to have looked at over 500 accountants’ pages on Facebook and was clearly unimpressed as she only found three worthy of reference. I noted that even those three pages had very few ‘likes’ – which, as I mention above, is not really a key indicator of their value.
My gut tells me that spending BUSINESS time on Facebook might be worthwhile for some accountants – especially those aged under say, 30. But, even then, only if you focus on certain niches – such as inheritance tax, landlords, the newly self employed or business start-ups. I’m not convinced it’s a necessary business tool but, as always, I’m willing to be persuaded – by evidence rather than by hype. I tend to think that most accountants don’t need a facebook ‘strategy’ beyond, arguably having a static page there to remind friends of what they do.
As I have explained many times, Linkedin (even with it’s new silly ‘endorsements’ facility) is the only online business networking tool that I always recommend to accountants in practice. It’s a couple of years since I last addressed this in my Linkedin for accountants guide, so will be writing a new uptodate piece in the next few weeks.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I really enjoy experimenting with social media and I would love to hear more stories about accountants’ success (rather than simply their aspirations) involving social media. And for them to be clear as to which social media activities are proving worthwhile for them.
I am really keen to see more examples of accountants achieving worthwhile tangible results. And I would love to share these in my talks about social media to accountants around the UK.
Perhaps you could cure my cynicism by suggesting examples that you or your peers have achieved.
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and writes the BookMarkLee blog for accountants who want to overcome the stereotype of the boring accountant – in practice, online and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts. His twitter handle is @bookmarklee and his twitter lists can be accessed through this link.