Q. We want to try promoting our business online; should we create a Facebook page, Pinterest page, Twitter page, or just stick to a traditional webpage?
A. There appears to be something wrong with your question. It sounds a little like this one: "I want to cook a nice meal. What temperature should I use?" Obviously, the correct temperature is important to cooking a nice meal, but this question ignores the ingredients, which are far more important. Similarly, the specific online accounts you use to promote your business matter, but the ingredients are the key to successful online marketing. Your webpages and social media accounts must serve up appetizing tips, an amazing soufflé of articles, tasty facts and figures, and a clever repertoire of insightful guidance as dessert. Of course, I'm talking about content.
Many businesses incorrectly view their Facebook page, Pinterest page, Twitter account, and webpage merely as glorified online business cards or three-panel brochures, then they are surprised when their online marketing efforts fail to produce results. This view is shortsighted; your online presence needs to convey useful information to generate positive results.
The good news is that CPAs amass a great deal of knowledge and wisdom that can be easily shared online. As an example, in the 1980s, I painstakingly documented the shortcomings of top accounting and enterprise resource planning systems I encountered while installing those products. By 1994 I had created two dozen lists of shortcomings that I posted on my website. To my surprise, others who found my lists valuable linked to my online lists and articles, and the resulting online word-of-mouth exposure (via hyperlinks) helped to fuel my career as a consultant. For more than 12 years, dozens of engagement opportunities rolled in each year as a direct result of my website presence—I had stumbled onto the power of content-based marketing.
Unfortunately, many CPAs are reluctant to publicly share their hard-earned knowledge online. They jealously protect their valuable checklists (such as advice for retirement, investing, financial reporting, reducing taxes, securing tax credits, outsourcing, insourcing, employee leasing, pension plans, securing finances, etc.); they don't seem to appreciate the notion that "you must give away the farm for the cows to come running" (a rural expression that basically means you must make an investment to produce a return). Specifically, what I mean is you must give away at least some of your valuable knowledge in the form of checklists, articles, charts, and video clips to capture the attention of would-be customers; doing so can lead to dialogues, relationships, and potentially mutually beneficial engagements.
To create effective content, look inward to develop information based on those subjects you are most knowledgeable and passionate about. I recommend you write your articles in the form of checklists. For example, "12 great tax tips for 2016" or "The four biggest retirement planning mistakes" would likely prove to be effective titles. Remember that good writing is not written, it's rewritten; therefore, multiple reviews and edits will be needed to wordsmith your content into printworthy material. In general, removing adjectives and adverbs produces more professional writing, and avoiding absolute statements bolsters your credibility (e.g., use words such as most and usually instead of all and always). Eliminating unnecessary words and sentences will help to polish your content. Most importantly, your content must not sound "salesy." For example, verbiage asking the reader/listener to contact you will only undermine your marketing efforts; your byline is the only sales device your article needs.
Once your content is ready for prime time, I recommend publishing it through multiple media channels. For example, local newspapers and magazines may reprint your "nonsalesy" content if it has never before been published. Thereafter, you can repost the content to your company website, business Facebook account, and Twitter feeds perhaps using the phrase "this article first appeared in the local newspaper" to reinforce the article's credibility. You might also consider adding a compelling image or video and publishing it on Pinterest. Often, your content can live on for years (with minor updates as needed), generating a continual supply of new customer leads; three or four good articles can go a long way. For example, the JofA online edition (journalofaccountancy.com) continues to generate thousands of page views each month from articles first published many years ago. You should strive to publish content so compelling that people who read or watch it will forward, like, repost, retweet, or link to your content; and when this happens, your readership expands exponentially. As for which online avenues to use, that's simple—use all of them.
About the author
J. Carlton Collins (email@example.com) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.
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