Mark Lee offers an introduction to the social networking tool of the moment and discusses how accountants can benefit.
There’s so much nonsense written about Twitter in the media generally that it wouldn’t surprise me if most accountants had made a conscious decision to ignore it. Personally I have been active on Twitter for over a year and have learned a great deal about how to get the most from it, what works and what doesn’t.
Back in December I wrote a blog setting out why I thought accountants in practice don't need to bother with Twitter. Frankly I remain of that view, and yet there are an increasing number dipping their toes into the water. The UK tax and accountancy Twitter listing now has well over 100 accountants on it, although not all tweet regularly.
While it’s true to say that accountants don’t need to try telemarketing or direct mail, many do and some are successful with them. By the same token, the time has come to help accountants who want to explore Twitter for themselves.
The biggest misconception
There’s a huge misconception about Twitter arising from those in the media who still think of it as a micro-blogging website where users post inane messages telling each other the answer to a standard question – ‘what are you doing right now?’ Indeed, plenty of people think Twitter is full of people talking about what they had for breakfast or tea, but I use it without ever seeing that babble and so can you.
It’s easy. You only see the tweets of people you choose to follow, i.e. people you find of interest. If someone you are following posts stuff you think is rubbish, uninteresting or pointless, you simply stop following them, and that’s it - you won’t see any more rubbish.
Conversation not advertising
To avoid disappointment let me just stress that accountants can derive business value from Twitter, but that value is often indirect in nature and depends greatly on the personal approach.
As with all other forms of online social media, overt messages like ‘tax worries? Call now!’ will fall on deaf ears. Do not bother experimenting with Twitter if you are thinking of using it for overt advertising. It doesn’t work like that and you'd be wasting your time.
Tweet: The word used to describe the update a person posts on their Twitter page
Following: The members of Twitter you have chosen to follow
Followers: The members of Twitter who have chosen to follow you
Retweet (or RT): The act of reposting on your page a post from another member which you find particularly interesting or useful
- Go to www.twitter.com and set up an account. You will need to choose a username (e.g. @JohnSmith) and enter a brief biography. You’ll also have to identify your locality and add your website address.
- Decide whether you’re going to post tweets in your name or your firm’s name. It’s generally best to use your real name, as it’s the one that people know you by. Of course, if you have a common name you may need to adopt a variation (e.g. I’m @bookmarklee). You can use underscores if that helps. Another exception is if you’ve built a brand around a name other than your own (e.g. @thetaxbuzz), in which case staying consistent takes priority.
- More people will want to follow you if you also add a photo showing your face, rather than a logo or any other sort of photo. A photo of yourself can also help your followers feel that they are getting to know you as it will appear alongside each of your tweets. This is the first step towards them starting to like you and trust you, which are usually prerequisites to them becoming clients.
- Tweets cannot be more than 140 characters in length. It’s common to provide links in your tweets to interesting items on other websites and blogs. Most people who do this shorten the length of their links using URL shortnening sites, such as tinyurl.com or bit.ly.
Once you’re all set up, you’ll need to decide who you want to ‘follow’. When you follow someone, it means that you will be able to view their tweets and also send them direct messages if you wish.
You may wish to follow other accountants (read Ten accountants to follow on Twitter for ideas). There’s no point in posting lots of tweets until you have people following you. This is a bit of a catch 22 situation as few people will follow you until you start posting, so I would recommend posting twice or three times a day even before you have any followers. Before you start, think about what might prompt people to want to follow you. Overt promotional messages will not work in this regard.
Your tweets can only be seen by people who are following you or by those who search Twitter for words contained in your tweets. In time your tweets may be seen by other people if any of your followers re-tweet (RT) your messages.
In my next article, I'll set out my top 20 Twitter tips to help accountants get more benefits from their experiments with Twitter.
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I provide NED-style mentoring and business development support to sole practitioner accountants who want to overcome feelings of isolation, frustration and overwhelm - being the only decison maker in their practice.
I am also Chair of the Tax Advice Network - a highly ranked online resource for anyone seeking indepdent tax advisers....