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Should accountants be more active on Facebook?

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10th Feb 2015
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There are plenty of people who will tell you that you should be using Facebook as part of your online promotional and marketing strategy, says Mark Lee.

Are there really any ways in which this could be a good use of your time and money? The answer could be ‘yes’, but it’s certainly not for everyone.

When it comes to Facebook for accountants I have long adopted a restrained and cynical approach. This is partly due to my own experiences as someone who is very active and involved in a range of social media. My view is also driven by the numerous conversations I have had with accountants about their own experiences and the advice they have received.

First things first

Plenty of big brands are active on Facebook so that they can interact with and influence their customers and prospective customers. This works for them due to the size of their client base and the strength of their brand name. Smaller companies may seek to do much the same as long as they can build up a loyal following of customers who are active on Facebook.

Who are you trying to target and to influence? Anyone and everyone? If so then Facebook is as good a place to promote your services and practice as anywhere else. And it’s probably going to be just as much a waste of time and money as generic advertising anywhere else.

Who are the people who you would like to attract as clients or to influence in some way? Are they active on Facebook and are they likely to respond positively to efforts by an accountant to gain their attention?

The Facebook generation

Almost everyone I know under the age of 30 has a Facebook account. Most of them seem keen to restrict their use of Facebook to social activities as distinct from business and work related ‘stuff’.

An increasing number of older people use Facebook too and seem to make the same distinction as to what they are willing to post or discuss on Facebook.

I have just returned from an annual ski trip with 30 other business owners and entrepreneurs. The age range of the group was 29-69. Almost all of us have been posting photos and comments to the group’s Facebook discussion page. 

Outside of our common interest in that Facebook group however there was little difference in the way in which we all use Facebook. For most it is, as I have long believed, largely restricted to fun, family and friends. Business use is very rare other than where someone runs a business that is focused on Facebook users who prefer to interact there rather than elsewhere.

Recruitment

Most of the larger accountancy firms use Facebook to boost their recruitment activities. This makes sense as so many of their target audience are active on the site.

It would be misleading to conclude that the large firms seek or see any other material benefit from their presence on Facebook.

Seminars and events

In the same way that Facebook can be a useful tool to attract new recruits, so it can be useful as a way to attract potential attendees for seminars and events. That is, if the people you seek to attract are active on the site and likely to respond positively to your Facebook ‘pay per click’ adverts.

I suspect there is a market here for advice focused on property investment, inheritance tax planning and on other high value advisory services.

There’s probably plenty of interest too from contractors, people facing HMRC investigations and from people starting home based businesses. But most of these will simply be seeking free or very low cost advice. While you may be able to help them, do consider whether this work justifies the time and investment required to attract such business.

Online is just the start

It doesn’t matter whether you are considering Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other online networking tool. They are rarely going to generate new business for you. Your activity on these sites will rarely generate new clients either – at least not without some follow up on your behalf.

What you can do with Facebook and other such sites is to generate new connections, new ‘friends’ and new leads. It is how you follow these up that will determine whether you generate new business.

Your follow up may start online but, in most cases, you will still need to speak with or even meet with people to close the deal. The sooner you aim to do this the better, so as to avoid superfluous online communication with someone who will never become a client or introduce a good paying client.

And if anyone follows links from Facebook to your website this will need to contain congruent messages and to make it easy to find out how to contact you.

A company page for your practice

If you plan to be active on Facebook for business, you can now set up a company page for your practice.

A company page is different from your personal page. In theory it’s a way to promote your business and to allow Facebook users to learn more about your practice, without leaving the Facebook site. Thus its real purpose is really to benefit Facebook and to discourage users from visiting your real website.

It would be great if clients and friends were to ‘like’ your Facebook company page. But in reality generating a large number of Facebook ‘likes’ doesn’t mean a great deal. It would only be a valuable metric to chase if it converts into business. Keep in mind what really matters.

Of far more value would be to get clients to post reviews (testimonials) against your Facebook company page. I saw some of these during my research for this article. If I were looking for an accountant on Facebook, or if I was recommended to one on Facebook, these reviews or the absence of such could be quite influential.

There is another theoretical potential business benefit to be had from having a company page on Facebook. This is because such pages are indexed by Google and can, in theory, appear higher in the search results – especially if the page has lots of activity and likes, compared with one that has fewer likes. 

But is this a real benefit I wonder? If I were still in practice I would want my website to appear higher in the search results than my Facebook company page.

As part of my research for this article I did a quick search for accountants on Facebook. A few have thousands of likes for their Facebook pages. This suggests a high degree of interest. Whether this translates into profitable business is a different question.

The first one I found stopped posting to their Facebook page in July 2014. Other accountancy company pages seem far less popular. Most highlight niche client bases, such as taxi drivers, actors or focus on local ethnic communities.

Many though seem to have been abandoned with few ‘likes’, little evidence of interactivity and are unlikely to be generating much interest or business.

Facebook groups

Depending on where you are based you may be able to find a local business group that is active on Facebook. LinkedIn groups are probably a better bet though.

What to do?

A great deal has changed on Facebook over the last few years since AccountingWEB ran an article titled: Facebook: Can it work for accountancy practices?  Nevertheless, the basic advice therein remains valid today – as to what accountants could be doing on Facebook to give their practices a boost – if you think it’s going to be worth the effort. That is:

  • Create a fan page
  • Link and comment
  • Integrate your blog
  • Encourage discussion
  • Put a face to your name
  • Offer freebies
  • Run competitions
  • Promote your events
  • Promote your page every day
  • Commit to the long haul

Conclusion

Every survey I have seen about accountants’ use of social media suggests that Facebook remains a minority interest. This comes as no surprise to me and I don’t see this changing very much.

Sure, there are some accountants who could secure valuable business benefits from becoming more active on Facebook. Those who are best placed to do so are those willing to focus on promoting a specific niche service, to a distinct group of Facebook users.

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and a speaker at conferences and in-house events, helping accountants become more memorable, win more work and secure more referrals. 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.

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Replies (9)

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By taxhelpukcom
10th Feb 2015 18:59

personal vs business
Good points Mark, it's something I've found myself with Facebook over the last 6 years.

People go to Facebook to relax, so businesses such as holiday companies/etc can do very well there as that is what people are there for.

When it comes to accountants and other business areas, I've found that people aren't tuned in for business there though so are less likely to want to find out more.

Thanks (1)
By mrme89
10th Feb 2015 19:05

We opened a Facebook account at the end of October. We have gained likes pretty quickly and now have over 300.

 

With not much effort, we have gained 2 clients and have a follow up at the end of the month. 

 

There are lots you can do with Facebook, such as targeted marketing so I don't think it is a write-off. I suppose it depends how you utilise it. 

 

I plan to start putting some more time in over the next few months, so I will see how it goes. 

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By Heena
11th Feb 2015 10:20

really not sure

We have a facebook page but it was something that was prepared by our website designer as part of the deal ....

I can surely confirm it hasn't helped. Apart from generating a tiny number of likes it really hasn't done much!!

To be honest I never expected the page to yield much in terms of new business because unlike most accountants my main client base is "other Chartered Accountant practices" (I run an accountancy outsourcing business you see) and I can't imagine too many Chartered accountants looking for accountancy service providers on facebook-in fact I can't imagine any.

I am open to new ideas though so if anyone has any tips on how it can help (without putting in a great number of hours) then I wouldn't mind trying..

 

 

 

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By johnjenkins
11th Feb 2015 11:11

Another good

article Mark.

As you quite rightly say facebook is not for everyone.

I remember when it first came out I was looking through friends and friends of friends stuff (I am a very nosy Accountant). Then I thought not for me. The main problem with it is that you can say what you like even if it's not true and virtually get away with it.

For me it's really social rather than business whereas Linkedin is business orientated.

I still prefer meeting people face to face. 

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By mrme89
11th Feb 2015 12:10

I don't agree that Facebook is a social only platform. 

 

Facebook created lots of potential customers for B2C businesses. If you spend more than 5 minutes on Facebook, you will notice that there is a large business community operating on FB.

 

As I say, we haven't but much effort into it but have still seen some results. 

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
11th Feb 2015 12:18

Just to clarify @mrme89

I would agree that facebook is not simply a social platform. Plenty of businesses targetting facebook users are active on the site.

My point is simply that accountants need to be realistic about the liklihood of generating business through a facebook company page or facebook pay per click ads. This should impact the level of investment of time and money devoted to their business focused activity on facebook.

As I suggest in my article, there are a number of pre-requisites that will not suit the majority of users of accountingweb.

Mark 

 

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
11th Feb 2015 12:26

Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?

Picking up on one of @Heena's points above, I have some concerns and advice on the issue of whether accountants should outsource their facebook activity. I was unable to include them in this article as it was getting too long.

If you are interested in my views on this related topic, you will find them here: Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?>>>

Mark

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By TheHoltPartnership
11th Feb 2015 15:50

View Facebook as Inbound Marketing

Social Media is here to stay and Accountants should feel a little bit of Peer pressure and follow the trend, even though the benefits may not be immediately obvious. It does not make much sense not to be in the game, then having to play catch-up! It is similar to how many Accountants viewed Websites not so many years ago (we develop websites for Accountants) i.e. why do we need a Website when all our business is via referrals.

Social Media plays an important role for those businesses moving towards more of an Inbound Marketing strategy. Put simply, Inbound Marketing is about creating a certain amount of trust via your Social media channels to help bring potential clients in, rather than having to continually go out looking for them. In other words; the good old fashioned soft sell!

Therefore, when you view Social Media as just another way that people can keep in touch with you, it should make more businesses sense. Basically, you are saying; "look, if you prefer to keep in touch with our business via Social Media, then you can do so via either of our Channels i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn. Take your pick! We want to make it as easy as possible for you". This will compliment your other website contact methods, such as, telephone numbers, email links, on-line forms and Newsletter subscriptions.  

Then once you have registered accounts in all the main Social Media channels, why not try the following approach to get you started. Use your Social Media channels to compliment your website by sharing business articles that you feel your target audience may be interested in. To do this, dedicate some time to searching the Internet for websites that generate well written articles. Typically, you can subscribe to these articles and have them delivered to your Inbox. Spend 30 minutes each day reviewing these articles and share them if they are of interest. This will allow you to quickly build up a good supply of posts and try and make sure  there is at least one new post per week. Ideally, you should compliment this by writing your own blog articles and sharing them via your Social Media channels.

And finally, make sure to update your client base on the benefits of them visiting either of your  Social Media channels. In fact, include a Social Media page on your website, explaining the benefits to your website visitors on why they should also visit your Social Media channels.

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By johnjenkins
11th Feb 2015 17:31

@TheHoltPartnership

Accounting is not about how many clients you can get. We are not a competitive Industry and we certainly do not "follow trends".

As Accountants we are not networkers, salespeople, social media freaks, emotionally unintelligent, inbound marketeers or have scarcity mindsets. We are people who do a job and run a business to the best of our ability and we will use what is available to us as we see fit. We do not bow to "peer pressure" because we are the "peers". 

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