Do accountants need to be on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or is it OK for them to sit on the sidelines?
That question was posed by Bill Sheridan, e-communications manager for the Maryland Association of CPAs, during a social media panel he moderated at the MD Biz Expo on June 17.
“Many accountants are reluctant to make the leap. They don’t see the value or haven’t gotten involved for whatever reason,” Sheridan said. “My response is typically, ‘That’s OK. It’s not for everyone. It might not be for you.’ Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s optional.”
Panelists overwhelmingly believed that most accountants shouldn’t shy away from connecting in cyberspace—though there are always exceptions. However, the way they participate and why they participate could vary by firm and even among individuals working within the same organization.
The following is some advice that came out of the panel, which I took part in along with panelists Will Burns, director of communications for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce; Edith Orenstein, director of accounting policy analysis for Financial Executives International; Francine McKenna, president of McKenna Partners; and Rick Telberg, editor-at-large of the AICPA Insider E-Newsletter Group.
Protect your name. Even if you aren’t planning to use the applications right away, grab a username. Just like with Web sites, Facebook and Twitter profiles are going fast. If you don’t grab your name now, someone else might. Then down the road, when people are looking for you, they will find someone else. If your name is a common one, it might make sense to add CPA or your town after your name.
Start slow. It’s OK to be a fly on the wall, just watching what other people are doing before throwing your own information out there. If your business doesn’t want to be seen or heard, stay away.
Establish goals and revisit them often. Figure out what your firm wants to achieve by using social media. Is it to draw hits to your site? Attract clients? Track the competition? Learn and grow intellectually? How often will you post? What types of things will you post? Check in quarterly or even monthly to re-evaluate what’s working and what needs to change.
Commit. Don’t start social networking if you aren’t willing to spend time building relationships with your friends and followers. If your firm is only going to post once a week, state that on your Web site to set expectations. Someone in your firm should “own” the social networking project. Hint: It might be younger staffers who understand these tools better than partners because they’re using them in their personal lives.
Find fans and potential employees. Some accounting firms have established Facebook groups to get their staff all talking in the same place. If firms have younger employees, those employees are likely on Facebook and could be talking about the firm. Create a place for them to do it so partners can be part of the conversation, too. Some college students have joined those firms’ groups as “fans,” declaring they think those firms are cool. What better way is there to recruit new accountants?
Consider multiple personalities. It may be wise to create one account for the entire firm, separate accounts for each employee or separate personal and professional accounts. Adding outside voices brings personality. On the other hand, it can create confusion for the corporate brand if messaging isn’t consistent among all employees. In that case, it may be wise to have someone be the primary filter through which all communication flows—at least until executives feel comfortable in whatever social networking medium they’ve chosen to explore.
Act professional. Whatever you write on these sites might live in cyberspace for a long time. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want clients or colleagues to see.
Highlight area expertise. Success stories include a CPA firm that specializes in dentists and Tweets as dentalcpa to drive traffic to its Web site and blog, and an outsourced CFO who found her largest client by Tweeting QuickBooks tips. The client approached her after reading the Tweets, and the CPA didn’t even have to make a pitch to land the business.
Ask questions. While many people push information to others, at least one participant in the panel session said she uses LinkedIn to pose questions to professionals in the industry. Many people are willing to offer free advice.
Don’t abandon face time. Social networking sites could help people connect with colleagues and prospects they’d never meet otherwise. But sometimes meeting for drinks or lunch can draw people together like nothing else, especially when those people have never met in person.
To view a video of the 50-minute panel discussion, visit the Maryland Association of CPAs’ Web site.
— Alexandra DeFelice is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this column or suggest an idea, contact her at email@example.com or 212-596-6122.