Let me start with a request. Please don’t bother to read this if you have already made up your mind that Twitter is not for you. I won’t be trying to persuade you otherwise as it's not for everyone.
Regular readers will know that I am both an enthusiastic user myself and also a critical commentator on the subject. The potential benefits of Twitter to accountants are generally over-hyped, misunderstood and typically end up simply disappointing. I explained many of the reasons for this in my last article on the subject.
I have been asked to offer a more positive perspective, which I do below – with the above caveats. If you feel the need to criticise Twitter as a medium or those who use it, do check out my earlier article, as you may find that I agree with you.
Your Twitter biography or profile is a crucial starting point and there are a number of ways that accountants can approach this.
The bigger firms go for a branded presence, which makes sense for them. But it’s a mistake, in my view, to automatically follow this approach if you run your own small practice.
For partners, employees and those running smaller firms I believe it is far better to show your name and face on your Twitter bio.
Do mention your firm’s name too but, in most cases, you will get more benefit from Twitter if people know who you are and can get to know something about you through your posts. I believe it also helps when accountants add something personal to their profiles too.
I always encourage new tweeters to start by simply following people on Twitter who are sharing anything you find of interest. These might be accounting and tax insights, links to useful information, data and events or simply comments on interesting topics and issues.
As a real-time information resource, Twitter provides an unparalleled facility and opportunity, but remember to stop following anyone who tweets nonsense.
Don’t post anything until you starting to get a feel for how it all works in real life.
More and more small businesses have Twitter links on their websites, business cards, blogs and marketing materials. You will probably want to ‘follow’ your clients on Twitter. You can then reply to their tweets and support them with retweets – though these are only of real value when you have a fair number of your own followers.
If clients follow you back on Twitter you can also send them private direct messages (DMs).
This can be useful at a time when you are otherwise struggling to get their attention or need to chase them up on things. But beware. You will only want to use the DM facility when you are confident you can tell the difference between sending DMs and sending tweets that can be seen by other people.
Many accountants who have learned how to use Twitter will tell you that they have won clients here. How they did this varies and depends, in part, on the type of client they seek and attract.
Assuming you want more small business clients, you would be best to use Twitter to find local small business tweeters in your area. You can then start to follow them and the people they follow. If you are lucky, they may automatically follow you back, though not everyone does.
Look to find a hundred or more local businesses that are regular tweeters and where you can see that the person who tweets is the business owner.
Another approach depends on the extent to which you have clients in a specific niche or industry. If you do then you might want to search for and then follow key industry figures and tweeters.
Seek out those who are both active and who reply or retweet posts on Twitter. If you can get their attention and if they like what you tweet, perhaps they will share your comments among their followers.
Once you go beyond using Twitter as a source of information and insight, a similar principle applies as in face-to-face networking.
But it’s not just about getting to know the people in front of you; they may or may not be prospective clients. They may also be potential introducers, referrers or simply like-minded people with whom you could collaborate or assist to mutual benefit.
As before, you probably want to focus on people in your local area or with whom you share an interest or niche area of expertise.
These get a lot of attention in the media and can be used by accountants to good effect. There are many types, for example:
#bbcqt: Used by all tweeters watching BBC Question Time. I know media trainers who regularly offer feedback and commentary using the hashtag. Their intention is to become recognised as useful connections by people who follow the hashtag.
#ConferenceName: Promoted by organisers of a conference to get a buzz going before, during and after the event. This can help secure more bookings. It also encourages attendees to use the same hashtag in their tweets. Then all those present can see who else is there and what they are saying about speakers and sessions. In addition, non-attendees can also follow, without having to follow everyone individually.
#MansionTax: This is but one example used by campaigners to criticise or simply publicise a topic. Contributing to such discussions on Twitter is always a risk as you never know who might take issue with your comments. Equally your intelligent contributions could win you more fans and followers.
#AccountantJoke: Simple short phrases that are intended to be repeated by other tweeters. This may, for example, be simply to allow all similar sentiments to be seen in one Twitter stream, or to collate a range of views from a disparate group of tweeters.
You can either contribute your views using hashtags set up by other people, or you can originate a hashtag and encourage others to use it. This is rarely easy to do before you are established on Twitter.
Before you use a hashtag for the first time, do search to see whether any tweets already include the hashtag you are planning to promote. It loses something if you later find out that it appears in foreign language tweets or that a word/phrase is already being used to promote a different topic or, worse, another firm of accountants.
If you are new to Twitter, or have been inspired to give it a go, I would recommend this article as a good starting point.
It takes time to get value from your activity on Twitter and little will happen overnight, or ever, if you only tweet occasionally.
Do check out my earlier articles, starting with this one, if you are wondering why you’ve found Twitter a disappointment to date. Chances are you have been misinformed as to what are realistic expectations.
My aim in writing this piece has been to offer you a range of ways in which you can get the most from Twitter. Invariably you will need to speak directly and/or meet with anyone you encounter on Twitter before they will become a client or will advocate your services to other people.
I would love to hear from more accountants who enjoy Twitter and find they get some value from it.
Mark Lee (@bookmarklee on Twitter) is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB. As a speaker and mentor his focus is on helping accountants to become more successful. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists who provide support to smaller practices.
About Mark Lee
These days Mark Lee focuses his business actiities on two key activities:
1 - He loves being engaged to speak on stage to audiences of accountants in all size of firms. His latest keynopte talk is: The rise of Robo-Accountants - and how to beat them. He is an accountancy focused speaker, futurist and influencer with a positive reputation for entertaining, engaging and enthusing his audiences.
2 - He loves supporting savvy sole practitioners who want more out of their practice. More clients, more money, more time, more satisfaction - or everything!
An accountant by profession, Mark moved away from the provision of professional advice in 2006. He is now a professional speaker, mentor, author and debunker.
Mark is passionate about helping accountants generally so is a keen blogger and commentator in the accounting and tax press. He has been consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has written hudnreds of articles here that have been viewed over a million times.
Check out how he could help you here: www.BookMarkLee.co.uk/savvy
Mark no longer gives tax advice despite being a past Chairman of the Chartered Accountants’ Tax Faculty. He is however Chairman of the Tax Advice Network - the UK's highest ranked lead generation website for tax advisers and accountants. The network also publishes a weekly practical tax update for accountants in general practice and full tax support, on demand too. You can also use it as a lead generation resource for local people seeking tax advice from an accountant.