SOCIAL vs anti-social networking

Whenever I am asked to speak about ‘social’ networking to audiences of professional advisers I insist on the quote marks. In my experience most advisers aren’t excited by the the idea of social activities when they’re working. And if anyone wants to encourage accountants (and, I would expect, most other professional advisers) to get involved with social media it’s worth recognising that the ‘social’ prefix can be a big turn-off.

During my talks I explain that it can help to think of social, simply as the converse of  ANTI-social. And that’s especially important when you are considering the business potential of online social networks. You need to avoid being seen as ANTI-social.

Imagine someone you know, another accountant maybe, has moved to a new village and has popped into the local village pub to meet some of the locals.  Or imagine your friend joined an exercise class or a local dance class. Or any sort of club. Would it be SOCIAL if your friend started by shouting out to everyone about their accountancy practice? If they stood there shouting requests for tax queries that they could answer? Or just stood up and told everyone that they are now the new local accountant?

If someone did behave like that would it be social or ANTI—social?

What would you say if your friend told you that it was a waste of time moving to the village as there are no new clients there, no new suppliers, no advocates, no one has referred any clients to them and everyone seems quite unfriendly. If your friend did complain after behaving like that, whose fault do you think it would be? The villagers or your friend who’d simply arrived out of the blue and shouted their mouth off, expecting to somehow win over the local inhabitants without spending any time building a relationship first?

Many online social networks are like local communities. If you want to gain any value from your involvement you first need to engage fellow ‘villagers’ in conversation. This is very different to any other form of marketing activity which generally consists of broadcasting your views, ideas and marketing messages.

So – a big tip if you intend to experiment with social media – is to avoid shouting and broadcasting.  You may be online but the norms of social behaviour are equally important. Think about how you can be social, rather than anti-social.

In an earlier post on this blog  I noted that some ‘online communities’ have more of a social than business focus and thus appear to focus on ‘social networking’. Others appear to be focused more on business related networking.  Don’t be fooled though. Professional advisers are generally chosen and referred by reference to a personal relationship and these take time to build.  I am coming around to the view that you can build more relationships faster online than offline and that effective online networking is worth accountants exploring.

If you’ve heard other accountants or professional advisers complain that online social networking is a waste of time,  you may want to consider whether that’s simply their experience. It could well be a function of their approach. Were they actually social or anti-social?

If you’re an experienced social networker, please share your views below about what works and what doesn’t when someone new joins a forum or online network. Many thanks

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Does social networking force you to REDUCE your fees?

It seems there is a tricky balance to be made here. I’ve written previously about how networking, whether online or offline, can be an effective way to secure new clients of the type you want – just as long as those with whom you network know enough about you, like you, trust you and know the sort of referrals that can help you.

I’ve recently seen the results of some research from the respected Kellogg school of management in the USA.  The Price of a Billable Hour – Social networks affect transaction costs. The summary is dated July 2009 but the research itself seems to date back to 2004 and thus pretty much predates the rise of online ‘social’ networking.

Nevertheless, this research highlights what may be a key disadvantage of networking – especially online where we are encouraged to include social and personal material rather than to have a solely business focus. (Although I would always advise caution and remind you that anything posted online will be there for all time. It could come back to haunt you if it is too personal, unprofessional or otherwise indiscreet).

To paraphrase one key finding, the research suggests that you will charge lower fees to your friends than to clients with whom you share no social interactions. And put like that it’s almost obvious isn’t it?

In the UK, Barristers are often perceived to be more expensive than solicitors and, in general, they are perceived as less approachable. Is there a correlation?

One conclusion that could be drawn is that you will end up charging lower fees to clients ‘won’ as a result of relationships developed through ‘social’ networking. I wonder whether, for example, regular attenders at weekly BNI breakfast meetings charge their fellow group members the same fee levels as would be charged to new clients who are total strangers? Maybe any reduction in normal fees is justified if the client in question is a regular and reliable introducer of new clients.

I’m curious as to whether real life supports the conclusion drawn from the above research. And how you feel about it.

I’d appreciate your views as comments below or by email to the usual address.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>