At a recent conference for international accountants in Vienna, I had the privilege of speaking about social media – its importance, impact on your firm, and the need for you to be involved personally in it.
Interestingly, my assertion that accountancy firm owners and partners would be wise to be involved in social media personally made the biggest splash. It wasn’t even the core message I’d planned to give: but as often happens when presenting to a large group with keen interest and even keener questions, it came to the fore immediately and became a critical discussion point for the remainder of the day.
Some of you – as with my audience that day – will be intrigued and interested; others will be intrigued but a little confused; and I’m sure there will be some who completely and irrevocably disagree with me, which is absolutely fine.
For those who are intrigued (at any level), here are a few reasons you may want to consider being personally involved in social media, and to what extent.
Getting to the “real communication”
People do business with people.
How often have we heard that? We all agree with it. Some of the comments at the conference were from self-professed “grey hair” accountants, who said that they wanted to ensure that any of the marketing we discussed resulted in what they called “real communication” – in person, or at least on the phone.
I couldn’t agree more.
But using online means is an extremely powerful way to get to the “real communication” – and if your target audience (either now or in the future) are the younger generation, it’s absolutely critical.
Social and messaging is now being used by the millenials to the exclusion of email or phone. They would far rather connect on live chat or sending a message on Twitter than picking up the phone in the first instance. (This is absolutely true for me, too, which encourages me that I get to still be in the younger generation! Ha!)
So, social media in general helps your firm to connect with its target audience. But you the owner, director, partner, even manager are the person that the potential buyer meets with – eventually – so it makes sense that they would begin to build that personal relationship with you before the meeting.
If you were meeting with a prospective client, or even an existing client, would you sail in with the results of the accounts before even asking how they are doing? Asking after the family, the new boat, the holidays, their health?
Of course you wouldn’t. Almost every accountant I’ve had the privilege of working with has been remarkably personal – and I particularly appreciate those who take the time to have a friendly hello whenever we speak. (Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that those who don’t are usually not the type of firm we work best with.)
So before that first meeting, if you have the opportunity to glean a little bit of personal information about your prospect – and vice versa – won’t that make the meeting go more smoothly? Help it start better, make it easy to think of something to ask about without leaping straight into the sale?
Of course it would. Enter social media, to do just that.
The line between ‘personal’ and ‘business’
A critical element of doing business in the twenty first century is to recognise that the lines between ‘business’ and ‘personal’ are now irrevocably blurred.
No matter how hard we try to keep that line drawn, we’ve all begun to give in to it. We answer calls on our mobile after hours. We check email late at night before going to bed. We respond to urgent emails when on holiday.
The expectations of the buyer have changed. Gone are the days when you replied to an email within 24 to 48 hours. That can be the difference between gaining and losing a client, if their need is urgent enough.
So, in line with this blurring of lines, social media allows prospective clients (and existing clients) to learn a little about us – personally – before they meet us, as well. (Or after, or all throughout the business relationship.)
This may strike fear and dread into your heart as an accountant – but why does it need to do that? Why would you not want people to know that you run marathons, enjoy a good whisky, own horses, or have three grandchildren? Isn’t that the stuff of “real communication”, conversation, chit chat before and after a business meeting? Isn’t that what alerts you to whether you have anything in common with someone else? Stephen Paul’s famous “Would I have a beer with them?” rule for new clients is a good one.
And please remember that whatever you share on social media – or anywhere else, to anyone else – is entirely your choice. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your marathon win (or loss), or if having three grandchildren is none of their business for whatever reason, just don’t mention it. Talk about something else. It’s your call.
But don’t only talk about “business”, because then you’re not a person. You’re just a machine, with your “social media” posts simply a churning out of the services your firm provides, with no humanity, no transparency, no personality.
You set the example for your team
One of the biggest dangers for accountancy firms – particularly medium to large firms that want to be seen as modern, fresh, “hip” – is the tendency to agree with all of this and decide that the solution is for somebody to take it in hand.
Perhaps one of the accounting team has mentioned in passing that they are interested in doing more on Twitter, or they enjoy working on websites. Brilliant, you think, I’ll delegate it to them, and that’s that done. Whew. *dusts off hands, walks away*
The message you’re giving is that you don’t really care. If they can bring in new business with this new-fangled social media (or new fangled anything), that’s fine – but you’ve got important business to do. “Real” business. Real communication, the kind these young whippersnappers can’t really understand. They don’t have the grey hair. They don’t have the experience you do.
Of course they don’t.
That’s why it’s so critical that you are personally involved. How is the young whippersnapper supposed to know what to write in a blog post about R&D tax credits if you’re the expert? How do they know who to follow on LinkedIn when you’re the one who went to the networking event last week? How will they engage in a high level conversation about M&A’s if you’re the one who has successfully managed multiple engagements of this nature?
To encourage you, lest you feel that I’ve suddenly added hours of required work to your already-full business days, your involvement doesn’t have to be constant, or even daily. But it does have to be there.
Here are a few ways you can support the team and show that social media is not merely a token agreement, a nod to the “future”, an investment in marketing without really investing anything.
(All of these apply as well to cloud accounting, by the way. Too many firms are putting Xero or Quick Books Online or whatever the latest fad is on their website, and their team don’t even know what those are, or there’s no technical expert on your team, or you don’t even have any clients using cloud accounting.)
- Use at least one social media platform, yourself, regularly.
For most accountants the default is LinkedIn. If this is all you can bring yourself to use, at least use it well. Learn about it. Take some training courses. Go to a workshop. Read a book. Join some webinars. And make sure you’re setting a good example by making small changes on a regular basis so it doesn’t get stale.
- Encourage every small foray into social media by your team.
The worst thing you can do is announce to the team that the firm is going to use social media more, and everyone is going to be involved, and then crack down like a whip when someone posts something that you’re not 200% happy with. One of the beautiful aspects of social media is that – especially when you’re new to it – so much gets ignored or forgotten. A spelling mistake, a posted link that doesn’t work, the wrong colour – it’s not the end of the world. Accept that you and your team are human (and allow your prospects to do the same) and move on.
- Hire an expert to help you navigate the social media waters.
Just as you wouldn’t recommend your clients try to figure out budgeting and forecasting on their own, or file their tax return themselves, you’ll want to get some expert help as you explore social media further. At first this may just be some initial learning (see the first point above), but as it grows, the best thing you can do is to learn from the experts. You don’t have to hire a full time social media manager (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing, either), but you can support either yourself or your marketing team by getting advice and help from those who keep up to date with every slight social media nuance, and its effects on your marketing.
- Create social media guidelines to clarify how social can and can’t be used in the firm
The larger your firm, the more critical this is. If you’re a one man band, or you have 2 or 3 team members, you probably have these conversations every day in a casual way. But if you have 40 or even 400 staff, you’ll need to be crystal clear about what works, and what doesn’t work, for your firm. Please be as flexible as you can: you don’t want to guideline the personality right out of your social media, or else there’s no point. But if there are certain words you just don’t use, or accounts you don’t want to retweet, just say so. And this guidelines document can be edited and updated regularly.
Social media is the new PR.
One of the ways to look at social media without fear or trepidation is to recognise that it is the new PR. In the past it was articles in a newspaper or magazine, billboards, TV adverts, radio adverts, sponsorships.
In fact many firms still use some or all of these methods in combination with their other marketing efforts.
So now you have an opportunity to maximise on this PR in a big way. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said that they’ve heard of The Profitable Firm, or of me personally, and they can’t even remember where they first came across it. Our goal is to be visible using a variety of methods, and social is a powerful way to do that.
And just as you would have discussions with your PR agency about a personal angle on you the firm owner, or an aspect of expertise that you or your firm has, so too social media needs to have some involvement from you to add to its legitimacy and credibility.
Imagine if you wanted to make a connection with a fairly large company. Perhaps you know of the owner, but didn’t know them personally, but you knew someone who did, and asked them to connect you. Or you heard of an award they won and wanted to send congratulations.
How much more powerful does that connection become when the owner of the company responds to you personally? Sends a thank you to your LinkedIn message, or replies to your tweet?
The larger the accountancy firm, the more clout this can enable you to have. In some ways, you as the partner or owner are seen as a bit of a celebrity. Not everyone can gain access. Not every phone call is put through.
Social media allows you to decide which ones do get put through – and to make connections that enhance the personal element of those you are doing business with. Or potentially doing business with.
Start with training in the PF Lab
No matter where you are on the social media journey – right at the beginning, a little confused and overwhelmed, or with some experience under your belt – you’ll get help in the PF Lab. It’s exclusively for accountants, because we know that the way you use social is different – and rightly so.
Join now for £99/month – or arrange for one or more of your marketing team to join as well. But don’t miss out, yourself. Because it’s not “just business”. It’s personal, too.