Social media storm breaks on accounting softwareby
Last weekend a social media hurricane made landfall in the accounting software world, whipping finance professionals into a frenzy. But was all the sound and fury worth it?
In his cautionary tale for the internet age So you’ve been publicly shamed, Jon Ronson states that while social media has in some ways democratised justice and given the “silent majority” a voice, these developments have had serious, but perhaps not unexpected, side-effects.
“What are we doing with our voice?” he asks. “We are mercilessly finding people’s faults… Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane.”
Last Saturday, one particular storm made landfall in the accounting software world.
In a rare oasis of child-free calm, I settled down with my book. Suddenly, I felt a disturbance in the accounting-verse, as if a thousand finance professionals all cried out in unison: “But what about CIPFA?”
Then my phone began buzzing like a particularly peeved wasp trapped in a jar. I gave in, cast my novel dramatically down and opened up my emails.
What could possibly be wrong?! Has IRIS bought VT? Is Will Good back on AccountingWEB? Have Steve Hare and Sasan Goodarzi arranged a Musk-Zuckerberg cage fight with the title of ultimate accounting software supremo at stake? Dear reader, none of these things have happened – yet.
Part 1: The article
The cause of the written-word rumpus was an article posted by QuickBooks Online. The ill-fated “thought leadership” piece was written for small businesses, and proffered advice on how to choose an accountant, including this nugget below:
Oh deary me. As the ancient accounting proverb goes: “Person who sticks head into qualification crocodile’s mouth unlikely to come out with full set of whiskers”. And missing out CIMA, ICAS, AAT and others was the icing on this particular cake of contention.
With the fuse lit, let’s retire to a safe distance and wait for the fireworks…
Part 2: The post
As is the way in this interconnected world, the article was quickly spotted and posted on LinkedIn (the social media choice of the discerning professional). Within minutes the social media hurricane was in full effect.
I believe this was the first LinkedIn post about it, but you’re here for the highlights so let’s dive headfirst into some of those responses:
- “absolutely abhorrent behaviour”
- “written by a numpty”
- “unbelievable and dangerous statements to make”.
Part 3: The apology
A senior QuickBooks executive was quickly on the scene with a fire extinguisher in the form of a fulsome apology and a promise that the article would be amended. At the time of writing, it seems to have been taken down altogether.
Many involved in the social media scrum seemed to accept this as a genuine error and the majority moved on with their lives.
While the speed and comprehensiveness of the apology, coupled with the seniority of the apologiser, was a textbook example of how to diffuse such situations, in the social media age it’s not the full stop it would have been in previous eras.
Part 4: The fallout
In the days following the original social post, I saw plenty of other posts spring up about the article from social media users just stumbling across the “news”.
Whether it’s wanting to have their say on the issue or jumping on the bandwagon for a bit of extra exposure, the accusations and conspiracy theories seemed to become wilder and wilder as time went on.
Finally, by the end of the week, the storm petered out and the narrative moved on to making accounting memes with an image of Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s brother without his shirt on.
To err is human
So what on earth to make of all this? Was all the sound and fury devoted to the article worth it?
I’m not using this column to criticise the author of the article. They’re not the first person to flounder in the alphabet soup of accounting and they certainly won’t be the last. During my time working with ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), yours truly became convinced that you didn’t pronounce the “E” and so went around for weeks confidently proclaiming it was actually “ICAW” (before being put back in my box).
Nor am I calling out the accountant who put the post online. Whatever your qualification route, it’s incredibly hard work to establish yourself in the accounting world, to build up your knowledge, skills and client roster, and anything that detracts from that must be mind-meltingly frustrating. Add to that the stress of self assessment season and it’s a tinderbox waiting to go up.
If anything, I found the whole episode a microcosm of where we are now; a case study of reaction, counter-reaction and over-reaction.
The human urge to publicly shame companies or people who step beyond the boundaries of acceptability has always been there. What seems to have changed is the speed and ferocity of that reaction, even when coming from accounting professionals not necessarily known for their bloodthirsty natures.
I won’t end this with a Jerry Springer-style final thought to be nicer to each other online – that would be a little trite.
Have lessons been learned? To bastardise Alexander Pope – to err is human, to forgive divine, to check your content before it goes out seems the most sensible one. And it’s also worth remembering that institutes (even those that aren’t ICAEW or ACCA) can see social media posts as well, so if you can’t be nice, be careful.