For the past three years Grant Thornton has taken a proactive approach to social media implementation. Rachael Power picks up a few ideas from the firm's head of social media.
Paul Thomas, whose official role encompasses digital communications and social media, is responsible for Grant Thornton’s social media strategy, implementation and planning.
Thomas said he defined the role for himself after being brought in to look at the firm's digital strategy five years ago.
“We looked at what others in the industry were doing around social media, and not much was happening at all. So I suggested that someone needs to start looking at this, and the firm gave me the go-ahead,” he said.
Grant Thornton is active on various social media platforms, but cleverly uses them for different purposes.
It has a corporate and staff accounts on Twitter, a recruitment and trainee presence on Facebook, a 1,300 member-strong LinkedIn group ‘The VAT Club’ and is even on Pinterest.
Thomas recommends that every firm, large and small, should have a social media presence and gave some advice to those who are wary of the new tools.
“As a firm that wants to grow, you need to be open to new things. Many large firms have a big social media presence and you should not be wary of coming on to these channels as a smaller firm. Punch above your weight," he said.
According to Thomas, Grant Thornton is not interested in merely collecting followers, but in growing a network of people who are interested in hearing from and having conversations with the firm.
Getting people in the firm using social media channels not only maximises your use of resources, it relaxes the ‘corporate’ voice that dogs firms that just run one account.
“Rather than big corporate voices, you need to let the different personalities in your firm drive the conversation about things. Call it business with personality, but it also gives you a chance to showcase your firm's expertise while also building rapport on channels like Twitter,” Thomas advised.
There are two major uses for social media, the first of which only requires a small amount of initial work.
With sites like Twitter, Thomas said, users don’t always have to say anything, or interact. As a source of information, Twitter is second to none, as you can follow interesting people and information sources to get up-to-date news within seconds.
While the second use requires slightly more time and energy, it can have collateral benefit.
Using the platforms to demonstrate your knowledge and experience and to take a genuine interest in client affairs can lead to new business opportunities.
“We hire humans with something to say,” Thomas said. “By not sharing your expertise on social media, clients are well within their rights to search for another, bona fide expert.”
Accountants using social media have their “ear to the ground” and can easily spot topics and themes that lead to business by following and interacting with existing and potential clients.
In return for time and effort spent growing and moderating its LinkedIn group, Grant Thornton generated many sales leads, Thomas said.
Showing off expertise on these forums can attract invitations to speak at events and contribute to articles, which is also good for brand growth.
Using the different platforms in certain ways - Facebook for students, Twitter and LinkedIn for business, Google+ for segregating follower interests and webinars and even Pinterest for infographics and publications - can also reap a benefit.
Being active on such a variety of platforms has a positive effect on SEO, Thomas continued.
Unlike publishing companies or editorial-driven websites, accountancy firms' websites cannot or do not have links to and from outside websites - or if they do, it’s not as frequent. Having other channels to draw traffic to a firm’s website is great for SEO, Thomas said, and in turn can improve your Google ranking.
Thomas is used to dealing with social media sceptics: “Quite often people say to me, this is a bandwagon, should we really be jumping on it? But it’s a bandwagon that’s been on the go for years and has no signs of stopping.
“So yes, you need to get on it, but do it your way. Differentiate yourself.”
Is your firm considering implementing a social media plan, or amending your existing one? Do you have a social media 'expert'?