By Jason Bramwell
As a way of giving young members an opportunity to connect with their peers beyond the traditional social networking platforms, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) on August 1 launched an online community for young CPAs – the Young CPA Network.
The goal of the online community is to help AICPA members between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-six who have passed the CPA examination establish connections with other young professionals, exchange ideas, and grow their careers.
"Our desire is to give our young members a sense of belonging", Donna Salter, senior manager of the AICPA young member initiatives program, told AccountingWEB. "It's a place where they can read and respond to blogs or interact in forums with like-minded individuals. It gives them the ability to have a greater audience, a broader reach, and increases their level of influence."
The Young CPA Network was developed as a collaboration between the AICPA young member initiatives program; CPA2Biz, the AICPA's technology subsidiary; and the AICPA web team. Alumni of the AICPA Leadership Academy developed and wrote several articles for the online community on a variety of topics, such as volunteerism, that are designed to provoke discussion.
"The community will really appeal to those who desire a closed-forum discussion", Salter said.
Of the approximately 386,000 AICPA members, 80,000 fall into the age demographic of twenty-two to thirty-six.
"It doesn't mean that someone who is thirty-seven can't participate in this group", she added. "We're really not going to be hard set on that absolute definition of age when we allow people into the group. If people are forty-five or fifty, they can join the group because they're AICPA members. But the content is really geared toward that age demographic."
Salter said the AICPA has not created goals for a certain number of online community users in the next three months or in the next year.
"We started to create some benchmarks, but we decided we weren't going to limit ourselves", she said. "If I can get a tenth of the 80,000 young members to join the community, or even if I can get 1 percent, that creates a rich forum for discussion. It would be awesome."
Three Key Facets of the Community
Once users log on to the online community with their AICPA username and password, they will be asked to create a profile.
"It's very quick, very easy, and pretty simplistic", said Salter, who added it took her about a minute to create her profile. "We don't want their Social Security number and all that. All we're asking for is the name of their company, what their title is, their e-mail address, and, like with LinkedIn, a professional photograph. They can upload more information if they want, but it really doesn't take that much time at all to complete."
The young CPAs will then be brought to the online community home page, where they will be able to see who is in the group and the types of activity going on in the community.
There are three key facets of the online community for young CPAs:
1. Blogs. The blogs are discussions that have been seeded by the AICPA, including the articles written by Leadership Academy alumni. For example, one discussion focuses on how a young professional can volunteer or become involved with his or her state CPA society.
"[The articles] are written from a young member perspective, and the readers can respond to the article and have an interaction online about what they did to become involved in their state society", Salter said. "Another is, what if one day they wanted to get into business and industry instead of public accounting or vice versa? What does that look like?"
2. Discussion forums. The forums touch on topics that may have a wide interest for young CPAs, Salter said.
"It could be on leadership or mentoring. What do you do as a mentor? How can I find a mentor?" she added. "Other forum topics could be on career development or current or emerging issues that are impacting our young members right now and how they do business."
3. Calendars of important events. The AICPA can create as many calendars as needed to promote events that may interest young members, according to Salter.
"Right now, we have a calendar for our Leadership Academy group, and we have a calendar that talks about the E.D.G.E. (Evolve, Distinguish, Grow, and Engage) Conference, which is our young members conference that will be held from August 7 to August 9 in Austin, Texas", she said. "We also have a calendar for state society events, and we're looking to our state society partners to help us seed content for events, meet-ups, connections, networking opportunities, and receptions that might be of interest for members in a particular state or in a specific city."
The AICPA is expected to add new functionality to the online community, such as live feeds and career development tools and resources, in future development phases, according to Salter.
A Bright Future
The AICPA is targeting young members through its EDGE Conference and Leadership Academy, Salter said.
"The EDGE Conference is designed by and for our young member segment. The alumni from the 2009 Leadership Academy decided that we needed a conference dedicated to this group, and they were right", she added. "What we're seeing is that young members are also attending many of the other AICPA conferences, such as the Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference.
"The Leadership Academy is an annual four-day program that requires individuals to submit an essay, upload a photo and a resume, and they need to have three professional sponsors that support their attendance and support them as leaders beyond just one event", Salter continued. "It's only limited to thirty-eight attendees, and the number of applications we're receiving each year is growing. The program is very successful."
Because of their interest in AICPA conferences and their thirst for more information and ways to connect with their peers, Salter said the future looks bright for AICPA's young members.
"These young professionals astound me, amaze me, and impress me every single day", she concluded.