By Jason Bramwell
When CPA Barry MacQuarrie started the SocialCPAs Social Media Survey in 2010, he said social networking was still relatively new to the accounting profession. The self-proclaimed "social media enthusiast" was curious about how accounting professionals were using such sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
"The survey was started basically out of a desire to help CPAs understand what their peers were doing with social media and allow them to tell us how they were using social media. We accumulated all of information so we could take a look at what the accounting profession was doing as a whole", MacQuarrie, director of consulting for Braintree, Massachusetts-based KAF Financial Group and founder of SocialCPAs, told AccountingWEB. SocialCPAs helps accounting professionals and their firms learn how to use social media to increase brand awareness and generate revenue.
Three years later, on May 31, 2013, MacQuarrie launched the fourth installment of his survey to measure accountants' social media use – and he's seeking more insight from the accounting community before the survey is closed on August 30. Results of the survey will be released later this year.
The 2013 Social CPAs Social Media Survey includes thirty-three questions, such as the following:
- What are your goals for your social media efforts?
- What are your biggest concerns about social media?
- On an annual basis, how much training has your company provided with regard to social media?
- Does your company have a written social media policy?
- Which site is most important to your social media strategy?
For the 2012 survey, MacQuarrie received responses from roughly 800 accounting professionals from a variety of firm sizes in the United States and seventeen other countries, a 22 percent increase over 2011.
Besides press coverage, MacQuarrie credits accounting associations and state CPA societies for helping to publicize the survey each year. But what baffles him is the number of people who found out about the survey through e-mail.
"One of the survey questions is, 'How did you hear about the survey?' As many places as the survey is publicized, whether it's in my blog [on SocialCPAs' website], on an association's website, or posted on Facebook or Twitter, it's amazing the amount of people who say their original engagement was e-mail", he said. "It shows that you can't ignore that population."
LinkedIn Is King
Early results from the 2013 survey show that for the fourth year in a row, LinkedIn is the number-one social networking site used by accountants. More than 90 percent of accountants who completed the survey in 2012 and 2011 use LinkedIn, and more than 80 percent reported having a LinkedIn profile in 2010.
"Facebook has received some bad press recently about its privacy settings and other things. It's also viewed as a personal place. LinkedIn is viewed as safe, and accountants feel more comfortable there", he said. "It's also viewed as business related. I also think there's some peer pressure to using LinkedIn. CPAs are seeing their peers talking about it, how they're using it, and how they've been successful with it."
As a search tool, LinkedIn can benefit accounting professionals and firms by helping them identify business leads. "For example, if a thirty-person CPA firm can identify a prospective client, there's a good chance someone within the firm is connected with someone at that client", MacQuarrie said. "It's a simple task for everybody in that CPA firm to open up the prospect's company page on LinkedIn and see what connections are there."
LinkedIn is also used by many accountants for career advancement. "It's funny to watch the increase in the amount of LinkedIn activity for people I know who have left a job and are looking for a new job", MacQuarrie said. "By all means, people are definitely using LinkedIn to search for jobs."
In the past two years, more than 40 percent of accountants said they almost never update their Facebook status, which MacQuarrie said is a missed opportunity. "I found that there's a ton of interest in watching what other people are doing. The number of people looking at status updates is significantly higher than people who are posting updates, which to me presents an opportunity", he added. "If a large percentage is watching and a small percentage is posting, it's pretty easy to get recognized. When I do social media training, I call this a golden opportunity for people to use that vehicle."
A Lack of Social Media Training
MacQuarrie said a head-scratching result of the survey through the years is the lack of social media training firms provide their employees. Around 54 percent of the respondents in 2012 said their firm provides no training, which is an improvement over the more than 60 percent in 2011 who said they received no training, and the more than 70 percent who answered "none" in 2010.
"I look at social media training from this standpoint: Imagine a CPA firm that doesn't train its staff or management team on individual tax returns", MacQuarrie said. "You end up with a firm that has fifty different ways of doing things and fifty different standards in a fifty-person firm. As CPAs, we have to do training on audits and on tax to be consistent, and we have to have good processes. To me, that same approach should be taken with social media."
MacQuarrie believes one reason firms don't offer training is because people think they already have social media figured out.
"They feel like, 'I built my profile, I'm connected to a few hundred people, I'm all set,' when in fact, they've figured out only 20 to 30 percent of the capabilities. What they don't know is there are so many other features they're not using", he said. "I think another reason is firms' reluctancy to spend money on their employees. There are people who can directly point to LinkedIn for bringing in large audits or large tax projects. I think there are a lot of training opportunities around social media, and I think there's a lot of lost revenue from not having employees trained."
We All Scream for Ice Cream
MacQuarrie decided to have some fun with this year's survey by adding two questions about ice cream. He said",I wanted something fun to blog about – because social media and accounting after a while get a little boring – so I thought, 'What could I do to make the survey fun?'"
Why ice cream? MacQuarrie is an avid Boston Red Sox fan, and it's a tradition of his to buy ice cream when he attends a baseball game at Fenway Park. MacQuarrie attended a Red Sox game this past April when the game-time temperature was in the forties. Still, tradition is tradition, so he went to the concession stand to buy his treat.
"The lady looked at me after I ordered it and said, 'Seriously?' She was wearing a coat and gloves", MacQuarrie recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, it's part of my ritual,' and she said, 'It's forty-two degrees outside.' So I posted a picture of the ice cream on Facebook and wrote a tagline that said, 'One of the good things about eating ice cream when it's forty-two degrees out is it doesn't melt.' I received a ton of responses to that photo. I went back through previous photos I posted on Facebook and realized when I posted pictures of food, people responded."
The two ice cream-related questions in this year's survey are:
- Just for fun, what is your favorite place to get ice cream or gelato?
- What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
"It's amazing the number of responses I've received so far", he concluded. "People who I`ve talked to who have taken the survey told me they loved the ice cream questions. It's been fun to see some of the places people have recommended, and the different flavors of ice cream they like are absolutely a riot. So it's been fun to put that in there."
Visit the SocialCPAs website to participate in the 2013 SocialCPAs Social Media Survey.