The influencer debate 1: Accountants cash inby
Social media's influencer culture has started infiltrating accountancy, but does promoting software online undermine professional independence? We asked some of the biggest names in the profession about their experiences with influencer marketing.
Influencer culture has become the way of the world. Celebrity endorsements and product placements show up in every facet of our business and personal lives, and the accounting profession is following suit.
Personal product recommendations for clients have been part the profession’s make-up since the dawn of PC accounting in the 1980s. In recent years, software vendors have started to incentivise firms and individual practitioners to promote their products online.
Accounting software giant Sage led the way in 2018-9 in a series of TV ads and seminars with Dragon Peter Jones. This year, Sage turned to the video platform TikTok, where its #BOSSIT2021 Challenge, which asked entrepreneurs to post videos showing how they coped throughout the turmoil of the past year.
This behaviour reflects how social media marketing has pushed to the front of the stage in the world of digital branding. As part of that trend, the tech vendors are also turning back to the accountants themselves – or at least those large online followings – to act as mouthpieces for their products.
How it works
Sam Mitcham, proprietor of SJCM Accountancy, is well versed in social media marketing and has first-hand experience with tech vendor endorsements.
“Some software vendors will reward you by reducing subscription costs, others will move you up the ranks of the discounts you get, others will offer you more… It’s not so much ‘if you talk about this, we will pay you for doing so.’ It’s more like an acknowledgement,” she explained.
In her experience the directors will often receive a payment that is then used to treat the staff, rather than a big chunk of money to buy off the accountants.
According to Mitcham, influencers who are already publicly promoting a service are more likely to be approached and rewarded in recognition.
Accountants will often use their platforms to share advice relevant content. The vendor being discussed will then see these conversations and offer rewards as an incentive.
“If we were to say there is no place for accountancy software to be pushed out on social media by influencers, I think that'd be missing a trick,” commented Mitcham. “Everything and everybody else is using that space.”
Celebrity influencers like the Kardashians have used their online presence to promote products to their followers for years, raking in huge amounts of money in return.
For Mitcham, the key difference with her experience of influencing is that nobody has ever told her what to speak about. She has never seen anyone publish promotional content that wasn’t a genuine reflection of their opinion: “Sage, Xero, QuickBooks - they have spotted accountants talking about their product already and thought, ‘If we make these people feel a little bit more appreciated as customers, they're going to be even more inclined to share praise about our product.’”
PracticeWeb managing director Mike Crook has been tracking the rise of accountant influencers on social media. “There are always celebrities in any industry, and accountancy is no exception. They have a lot of weight when they talk. If one person starts a discussion, there will soon be another and another – they often end up dominating the conversation.”
Who accountants listen to is a huge factor within influencer culture. In Crook’s experience, accountants favour individual voices over the tech company representatives.
“People always want to know what other accountants are doing, especially in terms of running a successful business,” said Crook. “If you’re a startup, you want to hear from somebody who’s grown their firm to a million – how they did it, what’s their turnover, what software they use.
“The smart thing to do from a tech vendor point of view is to infiltrate those more dominant figures and influencers to start promoting their software through them,” explained Crook.
The principle of independence
Accountant speaker and mentor Mark Lee is often approached by brands keen to use his promotional services. He usually holds back, unless he really believes in the company: “Unless you've really experienced the product or service, you can’t talk about it from personal experience.”
With mainstream brands in the world inhabited by the Kardashians, there’s an implicit assumption that people are going to buy products simply because they’ve been endorsed by a celebrity. Buyers might even be unaware as to whether the celebrity actually uses or even believes in the product themselves.
In a professional setting, however, there is a risk to the influencer’s independence and integrity if things go wrong and the endorsements break bond of trust between advisers and their clients.
“I think accountants are a bit too analytical for that approach to make much headway,” said Lee. “Generally, they can be quite cynical. If they see somebody who's trying to be an influencer with regards to third party products, accountants might ask, ‘If it's that good, why doesn't it speak for itself?’”
Catch up on part two of this series next week where we’ll explore where to draw the line with influencer culture in the profession.