In the seventh article of a series on how you can take the right steps to truly add value to your clients and transform your firm, author, CA and Founder of Spotlight Reporting Richard Francis addressess the all-too-common issue accountants have with social media and what can (and should) be done to grow your firm socially.
Few practices these days are fully engaged or investing the time and effort involved in interacting in the social media forums that their clients increasingly use.
Social media has for some time been widely recognized as the top internet activity overall. Yet despite the prevalence of research that shows that a well-considered social media campaign can reap great rewards, many accounting firms still view social media with suspicion.
The fact is if you are not interacting socially, you are potentially missing out on business. Surveys show that accountants have yet to come to grips with social media, with a minority actively utilizing Twitter or LinkedIn for business purposes. Employee engagement and awareness can be poor, and accounting firm leadership can be weak here too.
In my experience, clients who are most likely to want value-added services operate in the online world. This demographic is tech-savvy, and used to sharing their connections and business interests on LinkedIn, both personal and business updates on Facebook, tweeting their thoughts on Twitter and are probably posting on YouTube and Instagram as well.
Have a Plan
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It’s increasingly easy to not only construct a simple social media plan (as a subset of your Marketing plan), but to find employees who can action the plan and maintain statistical evidence to track performance. Tools like Sprout and Hootsuite help with scheduling, cross-platform consistency and all-important engagement and influence metrics.
In creating your plan you should:
- Set objectives and goals
- Undertake an honest assessment or audit of existing activity
- Create (or improve) social media accounts in the most relevant channels
- Research and derive inspiration from industry leaders
- Create a content plan and calendar, focusing on your areas of interest and expertise
- Articulate this to your wider team to adopt and support
- Review regularly and monitor engagement and outcomes
Content and Context
Start with an understanding of your existing clients, the people you are already working with that you actually like to work with and want to continue working with. I suggest grabbing a huge whiteboard or a crazy amount of sticky notes and really defining what these people look like and would appreciate; look at the industries they are in, demographics, personality types etc.
Once you have started the brainstorming it’s time to take a look at how you attracted these people in the first place. What do they like about you and equally as important what do you like about them? What would add value to their lives and to the quality of your relationship?
Add Value, Not More Noise
We have all seen the annoying posts by tone deaf individuals who harvest other content or share random thoughts with the world, in the hope that someone is listening. This is the social media equivalent of the office bore or self-appointed ‘thought leader’; something to be avoided.
Connect with your own voice, sure - but you will receive the engagement you want only when your social activity speaks to your target market in a way that adds value. Once you understand what your existing network relates to, it becomes easier to expand your social reach and be seen as a contributor of note rather than just more noise in a busy world of over-sharing.
Hunt Where the Antelope Roam
By now, you’re hopefully on the journey to constructing a value-add business model or repositioning your existing practice to be a client-centric, advisory firm of the future. But where are the paying customers?
Well, they are out there - but you will need to leave the safety and warmth of your office to find them. Having a shiny, expensive website and an eager social presence won’t lure them in at a sustainable quantity - at least not yet.
When I started my practice, I targeted the local incubator of promising start-ups. I met the decision-makers, provided free content and webinars, socialized with the business owners and offered initial discounts. I persevered and eventually secured many of the most successful businesses in the incubator.
Investing in Brand
Looking back, I didn’t do nearly enough in this area, but we did A/B test a range of initiatives with varying success. However, the accounting firm of today has so many options and access to experts who can help turn this investment into real profile and reach.
The main thing that got us closer to winning was the realization that I had to be out and about and engaging with my desired target segment face-to-face. Build a profile, contribute in the community and over time a flow of leads will emerge.
Additionally, don’t be too reticent about targeting the client bases of traditional firms. If you are operating in a community where potentially great businesses are being apathetically under-serviced, game on!
Build a Community
Engagement is a two-way street, especially when the emphasis is on adding value. The better practices have been exemplars at building up engaged, vibrant communities around them.
What really stimulates communities is personal connection, the human interaction that happens at an event or online. People are the essence of community.
Community-building does require an investment of time, some blue-sky thinking and the commitment to resource what is an ongoing effort. In our earlier years, we held workshops and also hosted (fun) charity events for causes that struck a note with us and clients. Simple things that made our firm 'stickier' than those that just sent out their boring newsletters.
Helping improve outcomes in your local community is more than just a nice thing to do - it’s also good for business. It will raise your profile and shine a positive light on your firm.
So, get involved. Find out how you and your staff can actively contribute to the community:
- Sponsor local charities
- Empower start-up and other business sectors
- Promote education and entrepreneurship
- Offer time and brain-power
And don’t be shy about your contribution. It’s great for your target market, current and future employees and of course the recipients of your social enterprise to know what you are doing and why.
This extract is part of a serialisation of Richard Francis CPA's new ebook Transform! - his accountant playbook for adding value and seizing opportunity in this exciting time of industry change. Richard is founder and CEO of Spotlight Reporting, an award-winning performance reporting and cash-flow forecasting toolset designed to empower accountants to have great client conversations and deliver real impact.