4 ways accountants can get more out of social media

Demonstrating expertise and reaching new clients are among the ways social media can be valuable for finance professionals.
By Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D.

Social media is a great opportunity for accountants to engage with new clients, reconnect with colleagues, learn about new topics, and establish reputations as subject matter experts.

Social media is often associated with users taking pictures of their food, posting sometimes unwise pictures, and otherwise sharing non-business content. While social media companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have achieved multibillion-dollar valuations, gauging social media's return on investment remains difficult for businesses and individuals. Of particular importance for accounting professionals, many entering the workforce are immersed in technology, including social media. Organizations and professionals who do not participate in social media communication risk missing out on business and development opportunities. If an individual is not active or at least present on social media, he or she might have difficulty establishing business relationships. A Time Warner Cable survey this year showed that some consumers are hesitant to buy from a company that lacks a social media presence.

Developing a social media profile and platform entails more than setting up a Facebook page, Instagram account, or Twitter profile. Social media is an interactive platform enhanced by mobile technology. Smartphones and tablets have made information and individuals accessible on an almost constant basis, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge.

Accountants must understand that using social media has risks but also opportunities. Those working in industry, for example, could find themselves facing disciplinary action, demotion, or termination for misuse. Public accountants can suffer loss of clients, lawsuits, and other negative consequences for posting inappropriate content. Social media, however, is not something to be feared, but a tool that can help accountants demonstrate subject matter expertise, grow their network, stay current on trends and issues, or attract new clients.

Building a social media presence

The most important step toward building a meaningful social media presence is to understand that there are two distinct aspects of doing so. First, a platform must be selected and established. A decision has to be made as to how specifically the accountant or organization will attempt to use the network effects of social media to full advantage. Some platforms will fit an organizational or individual strategy better than others, depending on the content to be disseminated (videos, blogs, photos, articles, etc.). To start, consider setting up accounts on several platforms and experimenting, as you can delete preliminary content and the account if the decision is made to move in a different direction. Second, after selecting the appropriate platform, a social media strategy must be developed. Some busy professionals think of social media as an optional item, and some that do embrace the technology fail to outline a plan to maximize their reach. Like any other strategic initiative, including market and business development, a social media campaign and outreach program must be conducted in a businesslike manner consistent with business practices. Here are four tips for establishing, developing, and sustaining a successful social media strategy:

Identify your audience. Branding and distributing expertise via social media is no different from other content development and distribution. Depending on the intended audience, which can include current clients, potential clients, media outlets, or peers, the content and method of distribution will differ. For an accountant, knowing the audience depends on your career arc. Establishing a reputation as a subject matter expert, whether on a technical topic such as accounting standards or mainstream topics such as personal finance, is a broad-based objective. Creating or sharing content aligned with your expertise and that of your audience is an excellent way to begin and sustain this process. For example, if your focus is retirement planning, photo-oriented sites such as Instagram might not be the best vehicles. A survey by Pew Research Center in 2015 showed that 64% of internet users aged 50-64 are on Facebook, while 11% of that same demographic use Instagram.

Deliver content. Establishing a social media presence will not provide many benefits if that presence is not supported by meaningful content. Creating a content calendar—and deciding what type of content gets distributed when—makes distribution more efficient. For example, you might decide to post certain types of content on different days of the week. Social media platforms such as Hootsuite can help accountants curate and manage content and its distribution.

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs). Accountants are known for a mastery of KPIs. Article clicks, shares, retweets, downloads, or site visitors are reasonable metrics to start quantifying social media's impact. Once applicable metrics have been developed, record information for several months to establish benchmarks.

Set goals. Regardless of your social media specifics, which can range from increasing market share in a particular demographic to establishing a reputation for expertise in a particular area, the underlying importance does not change. Developing and refining the goal of social media efforts, and incorporating changes to the business landscape and social media options over time, will help focus the efforts and maximize the impact of content distribution across platforms.

Sean Stein Smith is an assistant professor at Rutgers University-Camden. He serves on the AICPA National Financial Literacy Commission and the Content Advisory Board of the New Jersey Society of CPAs.

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