BizInk asked 103 accounting firms in Australia and New Zealand how their websites and online marketing were performing.
We used the results to create the Accountants Online Marketing Report which has some surprising insights on how well (or badly in some cases) the profession is doing online.
One area we focused on was social media. It’s something almost every firm we work with asks us about: does social media work? Should I get a Facebook page? Will I get new clients by posting pictures of my baking on Pinterest? And so on.
It’s very hard to give a simple answer to questions about social media. Some firms enjoy huge success while other are wasting time with it. What works for one might fail for another.
So to explode some of myths around social media and offer some practical advice, we spoke to Gayatri Wood.
Gayatri has been helping businesses and accountancy practices develop their social media presence for several years.
Her clients include Interactive Accounting, Practice Ignition and PocketRent.
MW: Our survey showed, 59.22% were using social media. How does that compare to other businesses or personal use?
GW: Social media is now the number one activity on the web – even overtaking porn! Out of all time spent online, a whopping 23% is now spent on social sites.
The use of social media by accountants is on the rise year by year, catching up to personal use. The 59.22% in the Accountants Online Marketing Report is a lot higher than research done in the UK last year of the top 100 firms where only 34% of them were using social media.
With socialising online becoming more popular than socialising face to face for 40% of users and internet users spending up to three times more time on social sites and blogs rather than email, it is important to tighten the gap for accountants with personal use.
MW: Accountants in the survey said ‘to project a modern image’ was the biggest benefit of SM to them. Is that correct? What are the main benefits?
GW: Younger people ‘reference check’ on social sites before engaging with businesses. Much like how these days most people instinctively use Google to find a business or service.
If your practice isn’t on social media, you risk looking old fashioned. But the benefits are much greater than keeping up appearances.
Social media creates a sense of community amongst users and social channels are often used for recommendations for businesses, services and products. For accountants, where referrals are the mainstay of new business, this can be a good source of leads.
Additionally, social media is a great platform for accountants to demonstrate their expertise as you’re able to put your content in front of your existing and potential clients, conduct searches on pertinent hashtags, answer accounting queries within your area and use it to distribute content you’ve created from your website.
MW: How can accountants take advantage of social media?
GW: First you need to decide on your goals. Is it to engage with current clients, generate leads or even recruit new staff? Social media can help with all of these things and prioritising what’s most important for your firm will yield better results.
Whatever your goal, work to your strengths and try to accentuate what makes you different. Look at what skills and expertise you have in your team and draw on those for unique perspectives.
Content can include anything from quick tips for business owners, company news and updates, deadline reminders, changes to regulations and laws or internal staff news and milestones.
Always remember to have the same persona on social media as you do offline. Don’t be Clark Kent by day and Superman by night, otherwise you will confuse your audience and communities.
If your firm has staff with a strong presence on social media or who are great networkers, use that to your advantage. They can be an extra voice, advocate for the business and connect with the particular clients they deal with.
You may have reservations around your staff being affiliated to your business on social media. The answer is creating simple policies and guidelines. It’s no different from having an email policy or other guidelines around communications.
MW: So is SM something that should be seen as key part of business and not a separate entity?
GW: Yes absolutely, social media shouldn’t be used as an isolated strategy. It should be used alongside and as an integral part of your sales, support, marketing and recruitment strategies.
Here are just some of the ways to use social media daily in your firm:
- Tie social media into your CRM or Practice Management software by following businesses and clients that are online to engage with them and get insights into their business
- Support clients and answer queries relating to topical issues or deadlines on social channels
- Use social as a distribution channel to promote your website content
- Mention your social channels in all correspondence like blogs, emails signatures and other marketing material so you are always using it as a point of contact and reference
- Build your brand by sharing insights and displaying your personality. This makes you appealing to work for and also builds up personal connections to clients
MW: what’s different about social media?
GW: Don’t be afraid to add personal touches to your social media accounts. Most businesses agree that what sets them apart are their people. Humans are naturally curious creatures and enjoy seeing and identifying with people behind a business and brand. I had a colleague who once won a large contract from a competitor simply because he was tweeting about his feelings on the performance of a local sports team. The decision maker of the business saw his views and decided he could relate to him better then my colleague’s competitor. A more extreme example, but don’t be afraid to show your businesses’ and staff’s personalities and what makes you different.
MW: can social success be measured?
GW: Absolutely! Depending what your goals are and what you want to achieve with your social media accounts, you can track it.
It’s important you set out goals and define what success looks like to ensure you are measuring the correct metrics. There are heaps of different apps and software platforms around to help you do this as well.
A favourite of mine is Sprout Social. It lets you schedule your content to go out at appropriate times for your audience on what channel, measure your performance against competitors and track your growth and engagement on your posts. It also integrates with Google Analytics so you can create concise reports on what impact social is having on your website too.
SumAll puts together your social media and also e-commerce data and you can even customise daily and weekly emails on what data you think is key so you can keep track in a snapshot.
These are just a few - each has its strengths and weaknesses and it really depends what your goals are and what metrics you want to measure and your budget to see what product is right for you.
MW: For accountants wanting to get into social media, where should they start?
GW: Always start with a plan. This should include what you want to achieve from social media and what you think defines success.
Include the areas you want to support with social media. For you, this might be getting more leads. Another firm might use social for supporting clients. You can have several goals but it’s probably wise to start small and build from there.
Next decide what channels you’ll use. This will depend on what audience you are aiming at. For most accountants LinkedIn and Twitter will be the default social channels. Other firms might include Facebook, Google+ or more specialised social sites.
Next, put together a policy and guidelines to capture all of this. This framework will also help to form the basis for what content you should be sourcing or creating and when you should be posting.
Have a think about what interests your audience and what time they will be active on different social channels and schedule your content publishing times to match up.
After this, make sure your social channels are set up correctly to represent your business and your brand and that you are also making best use of the imagery and information you can provide on each social channel. It should an extension of your brand and website and is a great visual representation of your business.
Once you’re up and running, track results month-by-month. Evaluate how your content has performed on each channel so you can refine your content over time.
And of course, you could always get a professional to help. That’s why I have teamed up with BizInk to help accountants with social media. You can have a chat to us about putting together policy, guidelines or a strategy for your firm and setting up your social sites for you.