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Building your brand in a digital community

17th Nov 2014
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Founder of Atlantico Digital James Skeels outlines how accountants can build themselves a brand in a digital world.

I often get asked how new media – namely new digital channels that are part of our daily working life’s can be leveraged so that firms can use them to promote themselves and ultimately win work from.

New media can indeed help you to do this. But more importantly, it’s the routine, yet often overlooked parts of a marketing persons everyday routine that can not only be carried out by using tools such as social media websites but can be done better, more cost effectively and quicker by using them.

Imagine a marketing channel that offers almost infinite opportunities to promote, interact and prospect new business. This is here, in the realm of social media marketing.

With many firms' marketing budgets reduced and growing firms with modest spending, marketers know that in some cases it will be years for those budgets to return to pre-recession levels. Digital media channels offer the chance to promote and develop firms with often just the financial investment in your time, yet that’s just one of the most exciting things about it.

Don’t just think of it as a money making marketing opportunity

As websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Xing, etc begin to mature, marketers and fee-earners are often asking themselves how these can now help their firm make revenue. The simple answer is – as standalone websites or without using them intelligently - they won’t.

This however is the same as a print brochure, branded pen or any other marketing activity which is not linked together with your other business development activity. So what are successful users doing to integrate it?

It will build your brand, not just boost it

In my experience, few tools above digital marketing and social media websites have done more to take a firms brand to the next level, allowing firms to reach out to new audiences, target specific sectors and interact with clients.

A recent statement by PepsiCo confirmed that they were now spending 60% of their forthcoming financial yearly budget on online advertising, proving that large multi-national organisations see online promotion as a key and expanding channel. Social networking sites give you opportunities to create your own company profile page, forum, group and ‘alias’ where people can link with your firm, discuss it, and often be a ‘fan’! 

In what other environment have you been able to attract 100 ‘fan’s’ to your brand, as we recently did – and keep them closely aligned to your brand with updates on your events, articles and products posted to them – where the only investment is your time? The answer is probably in few other ways.

Smaller firms can even position themselves in front of prospects or sectors where previously they would need advertising budgets or referrals into a marketplace, often taking them from an unknown brand into a known organisation simply through social media.

The most savvy marketers I speak with have ensured that all correspondence in their social marketing material refers them to corporate websites, brochure content, a specific consultants contact details or a place where a call to action is prompted. Similarly, their printed material carried details on their digital or social media presence.

Networking

Some of the best fee-earners I meet are unsurprisingly some of the best networkers here in my home city of London. They continually cement the common assumption that professional services business development is highly relationship driven, and they are experts in starting and building these relationships.

We’ll attend two to three open networking events a month and meet new prospects, and socialise with existing clients that are also there. However, since the dawn of LinkedIn, Xing and Ning, we can do all of this online.

Linkedin allows me to prospect and identify suitable targets I would like to work with, Xing offers a range of areas exclusive to certain sectors or firms – allowing me to socialise and email them; and Xing can be used as a social network just for your own organisation of circle of colleagues.

When I started to realise that I could do all the things on these websites that I could do by attending the real-life networking events, my confidence grew in being able to maximise opportunities simply by online networking. A recent contact actually joined our firm recently based on an initial discussion that started on LinkedIn.

Facilitate introductions

LinkedIn has a referral system where you can ‘recommend’ contacts and write a mini testimonial for them, it’s also a great way of learning which professionals within your own contacts network could facilitate your next referral into a potential new client organisation.

Remember, you don’t need to do it all online – my colleague will often discover the head of a potential client is a contact of one of his or her contacts. This will then telephone his own contact to discuss the possible facilitation of a meeting or lunch/drink that way, which is a perfect example of mixing the traditional networking opportunity with new.

Arrange events and promote

Many firms events' programmes are promoted through existing database contacts, advertisements and invites in the press. My colleague's daughter recently organised her 21st birthday party entirely through Facebook. She invited the guests, booked the DJ, hired the venue and promoted the party simply through the social networking site.

I think the question for both partners and marketers should not be how do we do this, but more simply, when will we start? With budgets tighter than ever, this opportunity has never been so appealing and exciting.

I’ve been tweeting and it doesn’t seem to make me any money!

And you shouldn’t expect it to. Twitter was set up to share and communicate – and that’s exactly what the best professionals and partners use it for. Every update or tweet automatically updates my LinkedIn profile status, saving me time and through that professional firms can publish their latest articles, news and services.

All those updates are now seen by my hundreds of LinkedIn contacts – and not just my 80 or so Twitter followers. Through this means, it is a highly powerful channel to expose your firm.

Ok, so can you make money from it then?

We’ve talked about how to link your digital media activity together and how to use it for things that you may have not realised before but a partner still wants a return.

The simple answer is, by integrating what I’ve discussed here into an overall marketing strategy, the investment in using social media can help facilitate leads, increase your brand presence and promote your products – helping you to increase your fee-income.

The best firms however, integrate traditional techniques whilst embracing the new ones – and if you are able to successfully do that, you’re likely to be commanding a very rosy future indeed.

James Skeels is the founder and director of Atlantico Digital and has years of experience working with professional services firms. Atlantico Digital is a digital agency advising professional services and other technically focussed organisations on their digital marketing communications.

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