Not too long ago, there seemed to be a general belief that the answer to all sales and marketing issues for accountants would be social media.
Some may still believe that the perfect solution to filling the gap between current work levels and those that are desired is an increased presence on LinkedIn or Facebook. The word on the street is that if accountants only want to use one outlet, it should be LinkedIn.
Sometimes, one has to accept that, in any field, it can be a case of horses for courses. Depending upon what you are trying to achieve, social media may be a complete waste of time and effort or could be that universal panacea that we all seek.
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It is very hard to imagine that any of the Big Four or their closest competitors will get rich on the back of social media presence. However, they may be able to fine tune and consolidate some of their offerings and generate a little bit of extra business in this way.
The main advantage with social media is that it can give you wide geographical spread at very low cost. However, anyone serious about a social media strategy must input a great deal of time and energy, writing blogs and other articles, designed to entice clients and potential prospects. You could even begin to set up public interest groups on LinkedIn for clients and contacts.
However, in this area it is necessary to take care. Bear in mind that if you bore people on social media this will have a negative impact so it would be a good idea either to take the issue seriously or steer clear.
Typically, most accountants are probably looking for dream clients who can afford to pay fees, are well established or seeking to be and have been using inadequate accountants or have not yet appointed anybody.
Philosophically, it is not hard to identify a couple of immediate problems with social media as a means of marketing and selling to this constituency. The vast majority of those using social media in this way are trying to sell. Very few will go on to social media with the intention of buying products and, to make things worse, those that do are likely to be young and far from affluent.
At best, you may be able to consolidate an impression with solid social media presence but it is not necessarily the best way to hook the kind of juicy client who will help to sustain your practice for the next 10 years.
As with every other type of marketing effort, it is good to be clearheaded and have specific goals that you wish to achieve. Putting your name out on LinkedIn sounds like a worthwhile starting point for a marketing strategy but unless you direct potential clients to specific services or other unique selling points, you may be surprised at what you achieve.
This could quickly be summarised as nothing more than a mass of other businesses trying to sell you their services or products, none of which has any interest in getting their accounts done by an expert or finding somebody to complete their tax return or advise on wondrous tax planning strategies.
It is probably helpful to have a cynical attitude to those who claim that they can help you to boost your business through marketing. Whether they offer cold calling services, superb literature and mailings or, in this case, a means of using social media that is guaranteed to get to those who are trying to contact and convert them into sales, the hype almost always exceeds the delivery.
On the other side of the equation, it may sound sinister but following key clients and contacts on social media could pay big dividends.
If a client makes some kind of announcement or even just posts an interesting blog, this could be a heaven sent opportunity to like, re-tweet or even give them a quick call, as everyone likes being told how wonderful they are.
Having said all of this, the best approach may be to identify social media marketing projects that you feel have been successful and drill down to find out who is behind them.
Alternatively, speak to others in the industry, even competitors, to find out what has worked for them. While most people wish to protect their own intellectual property, they may well be happy to boast about social media successes and share best practice, particularly if you’re willing to buy them a few beers to loosen the tongue in the first place.