By Frank Byrt
CPA firms' use of social media to update clients on the status of their tax returns, on tax law changes, or to drum up new business is evolving, from the simple use of e-mail, a web page, or the telephone, to messaging via Twitter or through postings on Facebook and LinkedIn.
E-mail newsletters to clients to remind them of due dates for filings, periodic tax payments, or to update them on revisions in tax laws that could prompt changes in budgeting and management, remain the most frequently used mode of communication, but many firms are finding that new channels of communication are paying off.
For example, Naden/Lean LLC, a CPA and consulting firm in Hunt Valley, Maryland, has embraced most forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The firm also has an extensive website; issues e-mail newsletters; maintains a blog; and recently added links on its website to Foursquare, Yelp, and Pinterest.
Andrew Rose, Naden/Lean's marketing and business development director, told AccountingWEB the firm's use of new media results in "two (new business) prospects a day, and some days it's six to ten. So we're seeing significant organic growth because the firm made the investment in this.
"When Twitter first came out I was somewhat skeptical, but it's been extremely successful in promoting our firm, attracting new clients, and getting information out to wide range of people we do business with," Rose said. The firm now has about 2,600 followers on a general Twitter feed and about 4,500 for its dental practice accounting feed.
Jody Padar, a CPA with New Vision CPA Group in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and an early adopter of social media, says its use has changed the way her firm does business. "I've been on social media for five years, and we find people reaching out to us now."
She told AccountingWEB her firm's clients prefer to communicate in several ways, mostly through Facebook and LinkedIn, and the firm responds in kind.
Padar is an avid user of Twitter, primarily to communicate with other practitioners and get news updates. "It significantly reduces the (amount of material) I read, because I use it as a filter for relevant information. I also use it a little bit for marketing" as it can result in referrals to potential new clients.
Alternatively, Shayna Chapman, of Chapman & Burris CPAs LLC, in Gallipolis, Ohio, said the majority of her firm's clients are businesses that don't use most social media, so she communicates with them primarily through Facebook, and it's effective.
In another example of the use of Twitter, Lisa Traina, a CPA with Traina & Associates of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said her practice, which is focused on providing IT network security audits, uses Twitter to notify clients of potential computer system threats such as viruses. "I can keep people up to date on IT security changes virtually overnight, and I think Twitter is less invasive than e-mail," she told AccountingWEB.
Nevertheless, most of the firm's clients remain leery of social media, Traina said. "Texting is still a foreign concept to them, and most consider Facebook a distraction rather than a productivity tool."
On the other end of the spectrum, accountants with a relatively small or less sophisticated client base tend to eschew most social media.
Wendy Whiting, the executive director of the Maine Society of Certified Public Accountants, which has about 1,000 members, said the state's practitioners remain old school, relying mostly on e-mail newsletters to their clients or telephone calls, most likely because the state's businesses are relatively small and not new-media savvy.