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The influencer debate 2: Drawing the line

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Social media influencers are becoming more prominent within accountancy, but at what risk to their reputation for independence? Karen Reyburn of The Profitable Firm explains that it is possible to maintain authenticity in the digital marketing world.

3rd Sep 2021
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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In the previous article on influencer culture, we explored the increasingly prominent role social media influencers were playing within the accounting profession. The biggest names in accountancy are using their digital platforms to promote software vendors they believe in to their online following, often in exchange for various rewards and endorsements. 

In a society driven by advertising, the natural  evolution of the brand for any business will likely involve influencing in some form. But when does influencing become less about the individual and more about the influential, where the digital agent is promoting something for the sake of it rather than genuine belief in the product?

Creating transparency

“If it’s all clear, open and above board, then at least everybody knows where it’s at,” commented Karen Reyburn, owner of digital marketing consultancy The Profitable Firm. Where it starts to feel secretive is in the brand deals that might not disclaim that the influencer is getting paid in some way to promote the company they claim to believe, regardless of whether they genuinely do like the product.

“For me personally, in my role as a creative agency owner serving accountants, I just look at what our clients are doing. So if our clients love this particular app or software company, then we say that and we explain why they love it,” she said.

Maintaining integrity

“Even if it starts innocently enough, if you say great things about a company because you want to, what if you get to a point where you're locked in and you don't think they're doing so great anymore? How does your integrity balance with that?” Reyburn asked.

Reyburn would rather rely on recommendations from accountants she knows well, which could differ from those of other accountants with different interests and needs: “And that’s okay. That is the beauty of having variety.”

Accountant authenticity

Some accountants Reyburn works with have voiced suspicions or professional scepticism about the authenticity of influencer culture,which comes with their training, qualifications and experience of accountancy, she said.

“Accountants are always asking, is this for real? Is this honest? Is this true? Or is it just for money? And if there’s a moment of fear that it’s being said because of money, that could delay the buyer process, or even stop it altogether, whether that’s the case or not,” Reyburn explained. 

“It's okay for the accountant to have an opinion - not only okay, I think it would be required. But then if the client discovers that their accountant is being paid by a company [for promotion], then it might introduce a little doubt. I think most clients are looking for their accountant to evaluate all things as objectively as possible. It can be a tough place for an accountant to be.”

In any brand deal, there is the influencer perspective from the accountant, and then the influence of the people who serve the accountants.

The questions Reyburn would ask before agreeing to any potential endorsement deals are:

  • Who are you influencing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What’s your motivation?
  • What are you ultimately getting out of this?

“If what you’re getting is to help and serve people to the best of your ability and to give them the best possible advice that you can, then it’s up to you how you do that, and how you structure it and what you choose. It’s no problem being affiliated to somebody, but I think it circles back to transparency and care for the client.”

The future of influencing

For Reyburn, the horizon of digital marketing is hazy: “I would love for accountants to influence people by being good accountants and having opinions that they’ve crafted themselves. But when you turn it into a monetisation exercise, then we're back to that question of doubt.”

“The people I want to influence are the clients that I love and care about and want to work with, and that’s it. It comes back to figuring out who is the group of people that you want to influence, and how you can best do that for their good, and your good, and be transparent about it,” she said.

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