Social Media: Ten Things Accountants Should Never Do

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By Mark Lee

If you're an accountant who has been experimenting with social media, this article is for you. It will be of particular interest if you've been disappointed by your social media experiences. And you aren't alone if you started out with unrealistic expectations or misunderstood how social media works. 
 
I've been enjoying my use of social media for some years now, and I've been writing and speaking about accountants' use of social media for almost as long. A little while back, I was described as "probably the most socially networked accountant in the UK." I remain very active.
 
Here are ten things I suggest that accountants never do with social media:
 
1. Don't expect very much to happen without a plan.
 
You need a plan that starts by setting out what you hope to achieve through engaging with social media.
 
This may then lead you to experiment with one form of social media at a time. Each requires a different strategy. An approach that works on one will not work on the others. Social media includes blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, discussion forums, LinkedIn, YouTube, and more.
 
So which type of social media will you use first? Who will update it? How often? Who are you seeking to influence? And what type of messages will you post?
 
Each form of social media is quite distinct. Your starting point should be: Who do you want to target and where are you most likely to be able to do this? If your target audience is prospective clients, can you narrow that down and be more focused? In theory, new clients could be found anywhere. But where would your target audience most likely be looking for, or be influenced by, an accountant like you?
 
2. Don't expect to win new clients quickly.
 
It takes time to build up a following and an interest in you and your firm.
 
Some accountants will confirm they've won new clients through effective use of social media. Few will have done so within their first few weeks or months. If you do encounter accountants who have been successful, find out the details. Are they targeting the same type of clients as you? Does their website help convert interest? Do they favor one form of social media over another?
 
3. Don't assume anyone is interested in your practice on social media.
 
I follow the activities of well over a thousand accountants on Twitter and on other forms of social media. Almost without exception, those who post in their firm's name are boring and are less successful than those whose posts and social media engagements are as a real person (albeit an accountant).
 
4. Don't believe what you read in the general media.
 
The media look up hashtags and Twitter accounts of the rich and famous. The rest of us are tweeting into the ether until and unless enough of our target audience chooses to follow us. No one, other than friends, competitors, spambots, and social media types, will follow a boring, "me too" accountancy firm. 
 
The media also report nonsense about LinkedIn. It ceased to be largely focused on job hunters and CVs some years back. My recent series on AccountingWEB regarding effective use of LinkedIn contains dozens of tips and advice for established practices.
 
5. Don't believe everything social media "experts" tell you.
 
For example, you don't NEED a blog unless you feel the need to compete with other local accountants who are blogging. And even then, only if you believe their blogging is helping them win new clients that you would've liked to win.
 
Equally, you don't NEED a Facebook page unless you think your target audience is active on Facebook. Or perhaps you think it's worth reminding your Facebook friends that you run an accountancy practice – and perhaps they might point their friends to your Facebook page. They could equally direct people to your website.
 
There are plenty of other examples. You could, for instance, become the first accountant in your area to embrace Google+ or Pintrest or YouTube. But will anyone who matters to you care about this?
 
6. Don't chase random followers all over the world.
 
I feel sorry for those accountants who get excited when the number of their followers' "likes," or whatever else they accumulate on social media, hits a big number. Few seem aware that the absolute number is irrelevant. You need to be focused on building a following in your local area or your niche. Anyone else is a "nice to have" but is unlikely to ever choose you as his or her accountant.
 
7. Don't focus on broadcasting promotional messages.
 
I suggest thinking of social media as the antithesis of UNsocial media. You wouldn't go into a new pub or club and immediately start telling strangers that you're a fantastic accountant and that you have a special deal for new clients. It would be unsocial. Equally, you shouldn't do the equivalent when you join a new social media network.
 
It's also worth remembering that social media isn't a broadcast medium. In many cases, especially when you're new on Twitter, for example, no one will see your early promotional messages anyway.
 
8. Don't forget how much time social media can consume.
 
If you go the DIY route, you may think social media is a no-cost way to find new clients. In practice, it takes time. And it can consume a great deal of time.
 
I spend at least an hour a day on social media. I can't think of any accountants who use social media successfully within their practices and who only spend a few minutes a day on it. If accountants do manage to do that, they probably spent far more time on social media initially than they do now.
 
You also need to consider whether focusing on social media is likely to be of more value than other ways in which you might spend your time.
 
9. Don't outsource your social media activity.
 
You'll simply waste money if you pay someone else or an agency to post material on social media for you.
 
By all means, pay someone who understands accountants to educate you and your colleagues as to what's possible and how you can make the most of the opportunities. Sure, you can pay someone to help you establish a blog. But unless you're going to update it from within your practice, don't bother. Focus instead on ensuring your website engages visitors and encourages them to get in touch.
 
Social media requires the involvement of real people from within a business. If you outsource it, you might as well not bother.
 
10. Don't confuse social media metrics with what really matters.
 
For most accountants, what really matters is the amount of new work that's generated through the use of social media. The number of likes you get on your Facebook page or the number of followers you have on Twitter or on your blog are not, of themselves, important. This is especially true if you can't be sure the likes or followers are within your target audience.
 
So there are ten of my suggestions of things accountants shouldn't do on social media. This list isn't exhaustive. What else do you think could be added? And if your experiences are such that you disagree with any of the above, do please add your comments and let us know.
 
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About the author:
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB UK and writes the BookMarkLee blog for accountants who want to overcome the stereotype of the boring accountant – in practice, online, and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts.

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Great article and fantastic tips, Mark... You covered both the basics that a lot of people don't "get" and also went a little deeper.

I would like to disagree on one point, about not outsourcing social media. True, social media is about engagement. No one will disagree on that point. But a social media representative of an accounting firm can be just as transparent on a platform like Twitter, and possibly offer better service as a result of being able to devote the time to social media.

In terms of blogging, I feel a professional writer with an understanding of accounting and business operations, who truly *understands* the accounting firm's clientele and their unique needs and pain points can certainly blog in a relevant and engaging way.

Many accountants are not writers. (I would say you are the exception, as you're an excellent blogger!) Accountants often suggest that business owners shouldn't do their own books because they are not experts. By that logic... why should an accountant waste time and energy doing his own social media if he is not good at it?

The accountant, however, will still need to invest the time in talking to the writer/social media expert, but it can be a team effort, with each person bringing their strengths to the relationship.

Thanks Dawn. I appreciate your kind words. I suspect we will have to agree to disagree.

I accept your generic point that marketing people should not attempt to do their own books and that accountants should not attempt to do their own marketing.

BUT, when it comes to social media I would draw an analogy with other forms of social activity. An accountant cannot outsource 'going for lunch with a prospect' to a marketing lunch expert. If going to lunch is going to help the relationship the accountant has to do it themselves. Otherwise, why bother?

I think it's the same with social media I'm afraid. The only exception I would make is for a big brand or a big firm where the name is known and may get mentioned on social media platforms. THEN it makes sense to have someone monitoring this and responding. Billable partners and senior staff are unlikely to have the time to do this themselves.

I handle social media for the California Board of Accountancy, and I'm very particular about advice to our CPAs. This is definitely worth sharing- thanks!

Hello Mark
Thanks for your article; I'll want to come back and read it several more times as I develop my Social Media activities. As I have been lauded as an "animal networker" for my great successes with LinkedIn, I am now interested to go read what you have had to say about that medium.
Thanks & All th' e-Best
Rusty

Social Media is a creature of its own. I think you are right about the time factor. It does take time and is useful in connecting when you know in advance those you wish to relate to. It is great for building Community relationships, slow with some, faster with those who have been on longer and know how to navigate the river. It is here to enjoy, not just for work. Reach Out to others, they will enjoy your ideas too.

Nice article. Good advice and I just wanted to add a few points.

You can win new business quite quickly if you understand the market and know where to look. This may not apply to every business but I know for a fact that some 'quick win' opportunities do exist for accountants. On the whole though, it should be a long term plan rather than just focusing on the short term. Monitoring your market and keywords can help to understand your clients and their needs. This is very important and not given enough emphasis imo.

Also, outsourcng social media can be a viable solution providing its a good partnership rather than someone just posting stuff! I understand your reasoning as no-one can represent the business as well as someone who works there but working collaboratively can be fruitful. Also, there can be a plan to work with a company whereby you hand over the reins after some some hand holding and training.