How firms can use social media more effectively

By Ken Tysiac

CPA firms have a long way to go before they are making effective use of social media, according to a new survey report.

Firms can improve their effectiveness on social media with better training and tools, and by adopting written social media policies and monitoring metrics, says the 2014 Social CPAs Survey, How Accounting Firms Use Social Media Today.

The report, produced by consultancy SocialCPAs, Inovautus Consulting, and the Association for Accounting Marketing, can be downloaded for free.

“Overall, I think firms are progressing in social media, but I’ll say I was a little bit surprised that we weren’t further along,” survey co-author Sarah Johnson Dobek, founder and president of Inovautus Consulting, said in an interview. “I think there are a lot of things that firms could be doing that are easily accomplishable that they’re just not doing.”

The survey provides segmented results for 395 respondents, who hailed from accounting firms and state CPA societies, or were vendors or consultants to accounting firms. Eighty-five percent of the respondents were from accounting firms.

Respondents are infrequent posters on social media, according to the survey. The average weekly posting rate for firms using the following platforms was just 1.7 times for Google Plus, 3.1 times for LinkedIn, 3.4 times for Facebook, and 5.7 times for Twitter.

Firms need to increase the frequency of their posts, consultants say. Dobek, for example, advises posting to Twitter 15 times per week. Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, the founder of SocialCPAs, said many firms build profiles on LinkedIn, for example, but then don’t spend much time using the platform to connect.

“What I tell people is that making connections and staying involved with other people is a constant process,” MacQuarrie said. “Each time you’re meeting someone, connect with them on LinkedIn and learn about them and see if you can share ideas and share content, share information and help them. Active connecting, active engagement, is a huge piece of being proficient with social media.”

Firms seeking to improve their social media effectiveness, according to MacQuarrie and Dobek, can do so by:

Training . Half of the survey respondents said they provide their employees no training in use of social media. “I talked with some CPAs about LinkedIn, and they were asking, ‘Why would you need training on LinkedIn? Everybody knows how to use it,’ ” MacQuarrie said. “And I think the perception is, much like Excel, if I know 10% or 20% of Excel, I feel like a power user. And I have no idea what I don’t know.”

Adopting a formal, written social media policy . Just 45% of respondents said their firm or organization has a written social media policy. MacQuarrie said firms would not be able to operate without a policy around how they prepare tax returns or perform audits. So why should social media be any different? Legal counsel should be consulted in creating the policy, Dobek said, because regulations vary from state to state. MacQuarrie said the policy should cover both what firm personnel shouldn’t do and best practices for what they should do in order to get the most out of social media in a productive, safe way.

Using tools . Sixty percent of respondents post directly to social media sites. But free or cost-effective tools exist that can help firms manage their social media activity more efficiently and effectively. “Most firms are still not leveraging tools that allow them to leverage their social media accounts for $5 or $10 a month,” Dobek said. “Firms either don’t know about them or just aren’t investing in tools that are going to allow them to get more out of it.”

Monitoring analytics . Just half of respondents look at their web and social media analytics at least monthly, and 25% never look at their analytics, according to the survey. Firms and organizations may require training to understand all the analytics that are available to them, MacQuarrie said. Once they receive this training, it can be possible to understand the return on investment (ROI) of certain activities on social media. “People believe there is no way to measure ROI [in social media], but there are some analytics that you can measure and monitor and use,” he said.

Taking a deliberate approach . When firms and CPAs realize they are behind the curve in their use of social media, they tend to take on too much in an attempt to catch up, Dobek said. She advises taking a deliberate approach, learning how to use social media appropriately, and putting together a plan for it. “You actually have to be actively engaged with the network you’re on and the community you’re building. And that takes time, and that takes strategy, and you can’t be afraid to hire somebody to do it. I think they think social media is easy because it appears easy and there are a lot of people on Facebook, but there is a lot more behind it and in getting results and ROI than just posting a profile.”

Ken Tysiac is a JofA editorial director.

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