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.
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.
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
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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I porvide NED-style mentoring support to sole practitioner accountants and am Chair of the Tax Advice Network - a nighly ranked online resource for anyone seeking indepdent tax advisers. As such it is also a long established lead generation facility for tax advisers and tax accountants.
Many of my articles on AccountingWeb date back to my...