Debunking social media myths for accountants

I forget how long ago I added the word ‘debunker’ to the list of my roles/activities. It’s on my business card, my marketing materials, my online profiles and on the title slide for many of my presentations.

I was first asked what I mean by ‘debunker’ when I was facilitating a workshop for an international association of accountants. We were looking at how different firms within the association used or avoided social media. It’s no coincidence that social media is the subject I most often debunk.

I explained that I aim to challenge, clarify and correct the bunk, bunkum and downright nonsense that is talked about re social media. And there is a lot of it about.

Many self professed experts speak from a limited perspective and talk in generalities that do not provide appropriate advice to accountants. To be fair there are also some real experts around. I don’t claim to be such an expert but I have been routinely highly ranked as an online influencer since 2011. Indeed I have been actively engaged with social media since 2006; and with accountants for much longer. I don’t pretend to know more than I do. And I don’t promote fantasies.

Social media is used effectively by some accountants as part of their overall marketing strategy. Many more are playing around and hoping that, despite a lack of strategy, they will secure some real business benefit from their social media activity. Will the outcomes be worth the effort? Are they monitoring the right metrics or chasing rainbows?

My research and monitoring of what accountants are doing on social media reveals that the majority are wasting time and effort. That’s a shame. When asked I’ll try to set them straight and I will invariably debunk the myths and misconceptions they have been fed by people with a limited understanding of accountants , social media or both.

It’s not all bad news. I am hearing an increasing number of success stories from accountants who are using social media effectively. This has lead a number of marketing and social media experts to seek fees to help other accountants achieve similar outcomes. Many seem unaware of how often accountants only have limited early success, talk about it a lot and then stop bothering with social media as they cannot repeat their early luck.

Whatever anyone might tell you please remember that there are no magic wands that will allow an agency, a junior member of staff or an external consultant to generate shed loads of new leads and clients for you through social media.

Invariably you need to start with a well thought through marketing strategy and then to identify which social media platform or platforms might be appropriate for your target audience. Then you need to set a strategy and business focused objectives for each such platform. This can absolutely prove to be worthwhile – as might other strategies too of course. I wrote about this in more detail recently here >>>

I don’t just debunk the hype around social media generally, I also do the same for specific platforms too. Regular readers will recall plenty of previous comment about the hype surrounding Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and so on. I also offer positive, constructive and commercial advice as to how you can benefit from these platforms if you use them effectively.

Beyond social media I also debunk myths and hype around other new fads, apps, websites and marketing generally that is aimed at accountant. I always do this from an informed and independent stance. I aim to challenge, clarify and correct inaccurate assertions about what works and what doesn’t work. My wider intention is to help accountants avoid wasting time and money – especially before they have clarified what it is they really want to achieve.

Do let me know if you come across promoters hyping ‘new’ ideas and concepts to accountant or insisting that you MUST adopt a similar marketing technique to one used successfully by larger firms or in other professions and circumstances. I’ll be happy to offer an independent view and to debunk the hype if I feel that would be appropriate.

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Don’t invest more time on social media until you have read this

Regular readers will know that I am both very active on social media and highly ranked for my online influence.* Equally you will also know that I do not routinely encourage accountants to use social media for promotional and marketing purposes. And I challenge the evidence and arguments of those who do advocate this – when they do so without plenty of caveats.

For every one accountant I hear about who claims to secure good business through social media there are dozens who tell a different story. Typically they say that social media, for them, is a waste of time. This is no surprise to me as I understand the limitations of social media as well as the opportunities.

My research also shows that most accountants who ARE securing good business from their online activities are actually more reliant on the online business networking site, Linkedin, rather than on one or more ’social media’ platforms.

Let’s clear up a couple of other misconceptions.

Firstly, accountants rarely conclude that any promotional or marketing activity is worthwhile unless it has been well planned and executed. This means, as I have said before, starting by being clear as to your objectives. WHY are you doing any promotion?

There are many possible reasons. But let’s assume that you want more clients.  As I have explained previously, you then need to consider who is your Market, then what is your Message and finally which Media is best to get your Message to your Market? Your choice of media (social or otherwise) should be the last thing you consider, not the starting point.

If you simply post promotional messages on twitter or Facebook, for example, there is no guarantee that these will be seen by your target market.

Secondly, do not be fooled by statistics quoted by so-called experts who tell us how many billions of people use social media. If your target market isn’t using it and won’t see your messages, the general stats are not relevant.

Let’s assume you want to secure a profitable new business client. Are the owners (or FDs or other decision makers) of such clients active on social media? Maybe. Maybe not. They may be active on one platform but not on others. Or they may have delegated their company’s use of social media to a junior person in their marketing team.  Such a person is unlikely to be influential or able to help you to contact or influence the decision maker you hope to meet.

Having debunked some of the misconceptions, let me now offer a more positive slant. Because there are times and ways in which it can be worth accountants trying to use social media for promotion and marketing purposes. It will often be much easier to reach such decision makers via Linkedin for example.

Typically you will find the time and effort you spend on social media is all more worthwhile if you are focused on connecting and engaging with other users who share your interest in a specific sector, community or niche. For example, the owners of start-up businesses, those who operate from the same local area as you or those who share your interest in, say, martial arts.

Let’s now assume that you have done your research and concluded that there are people you wish to target and influence who are actively using a specific social media platform. How might you hope to use that platform productively?  Here are 6 key tips that could make all the difference:

  1. Use the search facility on the platform to find people, groups or discussions that are of interest.
  2. Join relevant groups and join in conversations. Be generous with your knowledge and focus on helping people. Counterintuitively, the less promotional your contributions, the more interest you are likely to attract.
  3. Join in conversations about topics you find interesting and which may help you connect or engage with the people you are targeting.
  4. Identify relevant hashtags and use them in your contributions. Do not overuse them. And never use them until you are confident and comfortable that you know how to do so without undermining your credibility.
  5. When you initiate posts make sure that enough of them are focused on relevant topics, by reference both to your objectives and to the people with whom you hope to engage. But ensure too that you are not so focused you omit to reveal the real you on each ‘social’ media platform.
  6. Identify, follow, engage and/or connect with relevant individuals, personalities, suppliers, customers, and influencers. They may not all be prospective clients (assuming that’s your overall objective) but they will know such people. As such they may be useful introducers and referrers.
*Most recently Sage identified me as one of their top 100 global small business online influencers.
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Where do you want your promotional messages to be seen?

I have referenced what I call the 3Ms of marketing an accountancy practice before. This blog post is related to the third M. That is, which Media should you use to get your chosen Messages to your chosen Market?

The answer to the question depends on where you will find your chosen Market and target audience. When many accountants are asked about this, they have no clear answer. The implicit belief is: “Anywhere and Everywhere”.

If you think this is true for your practice then it doesn’t matter greatly where you promote the practice. Unfocused social media and Linkedin may help (but probably not much). Essentially you’ll try ‘Anything and Everything’. Accountants who adopt this approach are typically the first to say that marketing is a waste of money. Where that’s true is often because it’s unfocused and hasn’t been planned by reference to specific objectives, clear target audiences and distinct messages that resonate with that market.

Let’s move on then to consider 4 other generic answers to the question, Where will you find your chosen Market and target audience?

Immediate vicinity

This is the case, for example, when you have a high street presence and want more passers by to pop in or to remember your details to pass on when they hear someone asking about accountants in the immediate vicinity.

The 3 main options here are: A pavement sign encouraging passers by to pop in, to use the office windows to communicate with them or to have a leaflet stand by the door.

Your local area

I make this point frequently to sole practitioners – and the point is relevant to many 2 or 3 partner firms too. Unless you have some special expertise or sector focus, the vast majority of your new clients will come from the local and surrounding area.  Even if you have clients all over the country, few people who are hundreds of miles away will ever choose you as their accountant over someone more local to them.

Assuming that you want to promote your firm in the local area there are plenty of options available to you including:

Adverts in the local press and magazines, local sponsorship, local networking groups, local radio, local business events and shows and online groups (eg: on facebook and Linkedin) that focus on the local area. Also your Linkedin profile should include your local area in the headline to make sure it stands out when anyone uses Linkedin to look up local accountants.

Nationally

If you really want to promote your firm nationally you might look to focus your promotional activity on National radio, TV,  conferences, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other UK online forums and general social media platforms.  Generic blogging on your website may also reach a National audience if it doesn’t obviously have a local or other relevant focus.

Internationally

International and overseas conferences, overseas based groups, international magazines, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other international online forums and general social media platforms.

Specific groups, communities or sectors

In case it’s not clear I would say that this  is most likely to be successful for a local accountancy firm. Especially for those who do not have the opportunity or desire to seek publicity in their immediate vicinity.

By way of examples, you might be focused on lawyers, young entrepreneurs or local property investors.

The key point here is that your focus on a specific group, community or sector enables you to STAND OUT more from the competition.  As a result your publicity is more likely to succeed here than if you adopt an approach that is better suited to larger firms and brands that truly have a National or International focus.

Your publicity should evidence your connection, interest and expertise as appropriate in the specific group, community or sector you have chosen.

The opportunities to secure publicity here are extensive – and much more focused than any of the other options listed above. They include: relevant community or sector focused magazines, news websites, blogs and papers. Also specific focused facebook groups, Linkedin groups, speaking opportunities at events that attract your target audience, sponsorship, relevant networking and business focused events. Also social media and online forums where the use of hashtags or tags enable you to reach your target audience more directly than if you just ‘go random’ (which tends to happen when you seek National and international publicity).

I must offer one important caveat to finish. Overt adverts and promotional messages may appeal to some audiences. In the main however, effective publicity for local accountants can be counter-intuitive, especially when it involves your own blog, social media and articles – effectively anything other than obvious adverts. Everywhere else you typically need to hold back on the overt promotional messages. Instead you are likely to have more success if you focus on offering help and support, sharing useful knowledge and information, tips and tricks.

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When you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes

The longer you spend on social media the more you realise that overt sales and marketing messages do not typically have much positive impact. Posting adverts on social media is a different topic and not the subject of this blog post.

Before I explain how you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes, I should clarify a related point. I have long maintained that it’s rarely worthwhile spending time on social media in the hope of finding new clients. I’m never surprised that only a minority of the accountants I speak with talk about having found new clients through social media. For some years I was of the view that many of these clients were relatively new start-up businesses who were attracted to similarly new accountancy firms. If that is what you want then by all means copy what you see other SSMAs (Successful Social Media Accountants) doing.

Times are changing but it remains true that before you try to copy what someone else does you need to decide whether you would be happy with the same results that they secure. And it’s not enough to replicate someone’s style and approach – you might also need to replicate their profile and website messages too. I’m not suggesting you copy these, but do bear in mind that when social media works as a promotional tool it is due to a combination of factors.

My advice to accountants who are keen to secure valuable promotional and marketing benefit from social media is to adopt a local, community or sector specific focus.  Rather than tweeting, posting and engaging with anyone and everyone, be more selective.

There is rarely much point in local accountants building up a follower base spread around the UK or the world, unless such people are genuinely part of your target market for business or influence.  This is not the case for most local accountancy firms. So why seek to boost your follower numbers without giving any consideration to where they are or who they are?  In most cases ‘quality’ should be far more important to you than ‘quantity’. And what will determine who are ‘quality’ followers and connections? It is likely to be because they are involved, connected or interested in the same locality, community or groups as you.

If you want to use social media effectively for promotional purposes you will still need to follow conventional wisdom and avoid too many overtly promotional posts. But, that said, you will invariably be more successful if you adopt a local, community or sector specific focus by:

  • joining relevant facebook (and also Linkedin) groups
  • tweeting, posting and commenting on local, comunity or sector specific topics
  • using popular hashtags that are already being used by others in your area/community/sector
  • including your social media account names on local marketing and promotional materials
  • following, connecting, helping, suppporting and engaging with key individuals, influencers, suppliers, customers and personalities.

Feel free to add any further suggestions or questions you have in the comments box below this post.

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“What tools do you recommend to help a sole practitioner stand out?”

This was another question I was asked during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answer on air.

Many accountants and bookkeepers reference their best source of new business as being referrals and recommendations. So let’s deal with this first.

Tools I would recommend here include:

  • Linkedin – you can use this to keep in touch with what clients are doing , to like, share and comment on their updates and news. It helps to have a decent profile here yourself. Check out my free Linkedin profile tips here>>>
  • Your website is key of course. It’s a tool to attract people to your practice rather than to your competitors. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how important it is to reveal who YOU are rather than hiding behind your firm’s name and brand. You don’t need to invest a fortune in your website. You can STAND OUT positively simply by addressing the basics and making it really easy for prospective clients to find key information before they get in touch.
  • A decent CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to ensure that you’re keeping in touch regularly and can recall key facts about each client.
  • A practice management system – monitoring time limits and deadlines, so you can avoid doing things at the last minute and provide a timely service to your clients. You only tend to get positive referrals when clients feel that you are on top of things.
  • A referrals strategy – this could be a simple spreadsheet or it could be built into your CRM system.

Other tools that could also help you to STAND OUT positively to people who don’t yet know you include:

  • Twitter and facebook – but only if you believe that your target audience are active on these platforms.  With twitter you’ll stand out more if you tweet in your own name with a decent profile headshot than if you tweet in your firm’s name.
  • Linkedin – once you have a decent profile you can use the advanced search facility to seek out either specific prospects or those who fit your target profile. Then you can ask to connect with them and start to build a business relationship with them – before meeting up if you both feel this could be worthwhile. Don’t move into sales mode until you know what they want and need.
  • Giveaways – I don’t mean you need to create a promotional brochure or  gimmicks. But if you have branded giveaways that people will find of use and value, you can use these to stand out from your competitors. As will focused tip sheets that highlight a specific sector or niche – as distinct from being the same old, same old generic tip sheets everyone else sends out.

If you’re aware of other tools you would recommend for sole practitioners, do please add them as comments on this post.

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How do you allow clients to communicate with you?

In the days before email there were only 3 ways that clients could communicate with their accountants. In person, by phone and by letter. Now the list of options is much longer. Do you encourage, tolerate or refuse to accept communications by less conventional methods? How does this impact your client base?

Email is perhaps the most common form of communication these days but some accountants talk about how they are being approached by prospects and by clients using skype, facebook, twitter, whatsapp, text messages and Linkedin.

I’ve been asked whether it’s acceptable to engage with clients and prospects using these platforms.  My answer is simple. ‘Yes’. The key question is whether you come across as professional and appropriate in your communications.  There is also the question as to why have facebook and twitter links on your website if you do not want to encourage communications via these platforms? There’s little point trying to look modern and uptodate if you can’t cope when people choose these facilities to communicate with you.

Ground rules

Moving on, you need to decide whether to allow clients to do whatever they want or if you want to set some ground rules. And you need to decide how to record or keep track of communications across multiple platforms.

My advice depends on how often you get enquiries and questions via less conventional methods. 

You could welcome and embrace such approaches. “I’m flexible and modern and let clients engage with me however they choose. But we do encourage email for substantive conversations and when we provide ‘written’ advice”

Or

You could adopt a different stance and reply to initial enquiries, along the lines: “Many thanks for getting in touch here. I’d love be to discuss your issues on the phone or face to face. 

Please note that we are happy for clients to contact us use by whatever media they choose. However as a professionally qualified accountant I cannot engage with non-clients on platforms like this.”

Social media

If clients want to ‘meet’ via Skype – you need to agree or accept that they may choose to go elsewhere. Skype offers the advantage of face to face communication (over the web) but avoids anyone having to travel to a meeting. This is the same reason that I run monthly webinar meetings for sole practitioner accountants who do not want to travel into London to meet with me regularly.

Like many people I tend to think of facebook as a non-business communication platform – principally for friends, family and fun. However I also know that some accountants have popular business pages on facebook and that prospects and clients may communicate with them on facebook or via messenger.  This is most likely to be the case if your clients are themselves very active on facebook.  Whether you want to encourage or discourage communications via facebook, make this clear on on your facebook page. 

Again, you may have some clients who see you are active on twitter and send you messages there. Or they may have a preference for whatsap or texting. It’s up to you whether to reply in detail (not easy – even via direct messages) or to copy their message then reply to it via email. If you copy their message into your email reply it will be easier for you to keep an audit trail of your communications. Just bear in mind that some clients may check their twitter accounts and texting apps more often than they check their emails. So I’d advise that you always send an acknowledgement back by the same method that the client approached you eg: “Thanks for that. I’m replying in detail by email. Will aim to get you something within in the next few hours, or do you need advice more urgently?”

I would suggest that your emails always reference the platform on which the original query arose (facebook, twitter, Linkedin, whatsapp or elsewhere!)  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it very frustrating to glance at a new message notification and then to later forget which app I need to review to find it again,

Clients first?

Unless you can afford to alienate the odd client, I think it’s important to allow clients to communicate with you however they choose. So don’t deny them the facility. But you can take control of how you respond. To keep track of the shorter messages, that you don’t confirm by email, you could take screen shots from text, facebook and twitter apps. Then save those photos to relevant client directories or files in the cloud – direct from your phone.

As the number of clients engaging with you in less conventional ways increases, so it’s important to identify the processes and systems you want to have in place to keep track and to retain an audit trail re advice you give clients. This becomes even more important if your advice reflects questions, facts or assumptions you noted via ‘social media’. And you need to ensure that any staff or contractors whom clients communicate with also follow your ground rules.

A more traditional approach would be to tell clients that you only accept instructions and communications by email, letter, phone or in person. I tend to think that approach will not help you to win or to retain clients. But it’s your choice. It’s up to you how you allow clients to communicate with you. If you want more clients of the type who are active users of social media, the more important it is for you to appear flexible and capable of engaging via your clients’ preferred means of communication.

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The 3 key steps to effective promotion of your practice

I have lost track of the number of accountants I see trying (and failing) to use social media to build their brand and to attract new clients.

It’s tempting to try things out and to experiment on social media, as we think of it as being ‘free’. Except that it’s not. It takes time to make it worthwhile. And our time isn’t free. There’s always something else we could be doing. And that other activity could well have more value to us.

Paying someone else to ‘do social media’ for you is equally a waste of money if you haven’t first followed the 3 key steps I summarise below. Wherever, whenever and however you choose to promote your practice, your choice of the media to use is the last of the 3 key steps. You will waste time and money if you focus on the media before clarifying the first two steps.

The 3 steps, in order, are: Market, Message, Media.

Expanding on this:

First identify your Market – who do you want to influence when you promote your practice and your services etc? Who is your intended audience? The more specific you can be the more effective will be your messages and the more influence you are likely to have. This in turn is likely to lead to more clients – of the type you want. Counter-intuitively perhaps, but you’ll invariably do better if you clarify and target a specific market rather than try to promote your wares to anyone and everyone.

When you know WHO you want to influence, then you can clarify your Message. You want to ensure that what your promotions say will resonate with your desired Market/audience.

Then, when you are clear as to your Market and your Message, you can choose the right Media to reach your Market with your Message. This means choosing HOW you are going to get your Message to your target Market. Again, this is much easier if you have clarity as to your Market and it’s not ‘anyone and everyone’.

I see so many accountants experimenting with twitter and then giving up after a few weeks or months. I suspect the majority just jumped on the bandwagon and hoped it would help them to build their brand and identify prospective clients. Such aspirations are rarely fulfilled in practice. Who is your market? Are the local business owners you want to target actually active on twitter? And, if they are, why should they follow you? Is your Message attractive and enticing or simply promotional, occasional and lost in the fast flowing twitter river?

Most of the accountants I work with are more likely to benefit from being active on Linkedin – but even then, only after first clarifying their Market and their Message 😉

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How much of your business comes from social media ?

A research student asked me this question and, after drafting a short reply, I have now expanded my response as it may be of wider interest:

“As regards how much of my business comes from social media, forgive me but the question is too simplistic. Social media is never a source of business for me. BUT it does help people to find me, helps them to start engaging with me and may help them to realise I can do something for them of which they weren’t previously aware. But NO ONE gets in touch to book me or engage me solely because of what they see on social media (at least not yet).

It is rare for anyone to do what you have done – that is to contact me via twitter to ask permission to send me an email. I commend you for this approach though. It STANDS OUT and made sure I spotted your email when it arrived. Well done.”

I was intending to stop there but have now added a more comprehensive reply below:

I often make the point that it can be misleading to lump all social media sites together. So let me answer you by reference to each of the sites where I am active. (This ties back to my blog post last year about how I manage my time on social media each week)

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below. My profile here, my extensive connections, the dozens of recommendations of my services and the hundreds of endorsements of my skills, hopefully evidence my credibility. Yes, this does sometimes lead to me being approached to speak at conferences and at in-house events in professional firms.

More often though my Linkedin profile and activity are simply contributory factors that result in me being booked as a speaker at events for professional advisers. Other factors include my website, the ease with which I can be found online and word of mouth referrals and recommendations.

I always try to ascertain what prompted someone to approach me to speak. No one has yet said ‘Linkedin’. But I do not dismiss it – for the reasons noted above. I am confident that it contributes to confirming my credibility and abilities to people who don’t know me. It also reminds those who already know me of what I could do for them.

Social Media

Facebook

Although I have a facebook business page I do not consider it a source of business, any more than my facebook account generally. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Having said that I am an active and helpful member of a popular facebook group to which many members of the Professional Speaking Association contribute. My activity here is a way of helping my peers and of keeping my profile high within the speaking community. Occasionally others will recommend me for speaking gigs; I suspect this would be less likely if I wasn’t so helpful and high profile.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it. Whilst I note that other users seem to continually add me to circles and to ‘follow’ me on this site, I don’t anticipate it ever being a source of work – even indirectly.

Pinterest and Instagram

I spend no time on either platform. I doubt any of my business prospects are active here or would be likely to engage with me here.

YouTube channel

My YouTube channel BookMarkLee doesn’t yet have enough high quality video to offer much in the way of a positive impact on my business development activities. I continue to win work despite the absence of a speaker showreel type video. I like to think this is due to my longevity, extensive connections and a positive reputation generally. Equally I may be missing out big time and it could transform the impact of YouTube on my speaking business.

Again, no one has referenced seeing my YouTube channel as a catalyst for booking me to speak. Conversely, I do sometimes create promo videos to help attract audiences when I am speaking at open/public events, I hope they are helpful in this regard but have never asked an audience how many saw the video or booked as a result.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

As is evident to anyone who follows me here I enjoy twitter and am very active. I hope my enthusiasm to help and contribute rather than to constantly ‘sell’ is apparent. I feel I must be doing something right as my follower numbers continue to rise and are more than ten times the number of people I follow. In other words I’m not generating followers by following thousands of people and hoping they will follow me back.

Does any of my business come from twitter? I like to think my activity here contributes to my online reputation. It certainly contributes to my klout score (79 out of 100 – about the highest online influence score you can have as a non-celebrity). This in turn leads to me being highly ranked in various charts of top online influencers, eg by ICAEW, economia, suppliers to the financial services profession and speakers’ power list.

I’d like to think that such rankings will, in time, lead to more bookings.

For now twitter is more a source of leads for my online products and related services for sole practitioner accountants.

How much of YOUR business comes from social media?

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My social media journey

After being ranked in the top 3 of online influencers by the ICAEW I was recently interviewed about my social media journey. The following extracts may be of interest.

When and why did you start using social media?

It was 2006 when I first registered on Ecademy.com This business focused online networking site predated Linkedin but ran out of money and is no more. Through Ecademy I was introduced to twitter and Linkedin.

Which platforms do you use, and for what?

Over the years I have written a number of blog posts which show how I manage my time across various social media platforms. The last such blog post was in May 2015>>>

Currently I would summarise my use as follows:

Linkedin.com – online business networking to make new connections, typically with accountants and other professional advisers. I have almost 5,000 direct connections here and run 3 groups for accountants and other professionals. I belong to around 40 groups.

Twitter.com – to source and share knowledge, insights and news on topics of interest. I also add all UK accountants I can find on twitter to one of my two twitter lists, which enables anyone to see how UK accountants use twitter. I also have a similar list of all the magicians I can find on twitter!

Facebook.com – Few of my real life social friends are active on facebook. However I keep in touch with many of my old Ecademy friends here. Also many of my friends in the worlds of magic and of public speaking are active here so I can keep in touch with them too. We share tips, ideas and advice. I also have a facebook business page promoting both my services to accountants and to other professionals.

Youtube.com – I watch videos here – and sometimes post my own, normally about talks I have given or am about to deliver. I sometimes add comments beneath videos, typically those posted by people I know.

AccountingWeb.co.uk – I have written over 200 articles for this site and routinely engage with readers who post comments both on my articles and on those written by others.

ion.icaew.com –  When I get emails prompting me to check out articles here I often read them then ‘vote’ them a thumbs up or down and occasionally add my thoughts by way of comments.

How do you use it on a day to day basis?

I look for opportunities to help my contacts, connections, followers and friends on social media – much as I do in real life. If I can answer a question, contribute positively to a discussion on a topic of interest or offer some insight and advice I’m happy to do so.

I tend to make more use of social media when I’m out and about eg: waiting for trains, buses, taxis rather than when I’m office bound all day. I also use some tools that allow me to automate and schedule some of my posts on twitter and facebook.

How has social media helped you professionally? For instance, making new connections or finding new business.

In this context social media is a form of online networking that allows me to connect with a far wider range and a larger number of people than would be possible face to face. We can then determine whether to meet or speak directly. I find this much more efficient than attending random networking events. Equally however it can be more distracting as so many new connections on social media are not local to me.

Over the years I have established relationships with many people who have, in time, become clients or who have engaged me or recommended me to speak at conferences and other events. Others offer assistance when I seek help or advice. One great example is Tony Margaritelli who runs the ICPA. He frequently engages with me on twitter and has both booked and rebooked me to speak at the ICPA annual conference.

Social media has also helped me to build up my email distribution lists although I am careful to avoid promoting too many things as this would probably mean a drop off in my follower numbers etc. And my high profile across a number of sites with a target demographic helps keep my name in the frame when people want to engage a professional business speaker, a mentor or simply want to commission articles and content on relevant topics.

Finally, the independent online social media influence scoring system, klout.com rates me as having a very high score of 79/100. Only celebrities tend to score above 80. Although klout is not widely recognised in accounting circles my high score does generate interest and has contributed to me securing a number of speaking gigs as a social media ‘expert’.

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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the game of chasing followers, likes, connections and social media klout. It may be fun to keep track of these metrics and to keep increasing them. But, in real life, they are not important by themselves.

There is little point in simply pursuing these metrics. You need to have key business focused targets instead. It may be that you want to raise your profile and to become a go-to person for media comment in your area of expertise.  Most accountants and lawyers for example, are experimenting with social media to generate additional fees.

And that is the key metric that you need to measure. How much of the additional fees you generate can be attributed to your online social media activity? There will rarely be a quick or short payback in this regard.

It is also important to note the 3 factors that will influence the speed with which you can gain a payback. These factors are all relevant whether your social media activity is focused around facebook, online forums, blogging, twitter or Linkedin.

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

How effective is your use of the social media platform? How consistent and congruent are your messages, your profile and your online activity?

2 – Your website

Most accountants using social media will include links back to their website.  Your social media activity may be exemplary but your website could be a turn off. Does it reinforce the messages you have been promoting on social media? Does it engage visitors? How easy is it for them to get in touch with YOU (as distinct from a faceless ‘admin’ person)? Does your website even reference your name and profile?

3 – Offline follow up

Just like with any other form of networking, personal contact is crucial. If you are not leveraging your use of social media to meet with people face to face or at least to speak with them on the phone, you will wait longer to secure a valuable ROI.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any other factors that will determine your success of your social media activity?

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How I manage my time on social media each week

How long do you need to spend on social media to build up a decent following, contribute effectively and secure a good level of engagement?

I’m not sure much has changed over the years since I started to use social media in 2006. The answers to those questions depend on your reasons for getting involved and using each of the social media platforms.

Sure, there are some agencies and individuals to whom you can outsource much or all of your social media activity. This MAY make sense for well-known brands but in the main I doubt it’s worthwhile for many professionals.

I am often asked how I manage to spend so much time on social media and whether it’s worthwhile. It’s all a matter of perception and probably takes less of my time than you might think. I am very selective as to which platforms I use and where I engage with people online. My approach works for me. I am realistic as regards what I can achieve on each platform. Social media is not a place to promote and sell your services. It’s simply a new starting point for building relationships that will grow only through direct contact, whether by phone, skype or face to face meetings.

What follows is the fourth summary of my approach that I have posted here. The first was in 2010, the second was in April 2012 and the third was in March 2014.

It is clear to me that the time I spend on social networking sites continues to reduce over time. And the time I do spend online is more focused than ever before. Despite my enthusiasm for social media I still consider it to be over hyped as a marketing tool and widely misunderstood as a communication tool.

As ever the time I spend online each week depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active online when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting.

So how much time do I allocate to social media?

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below.

Because it is a business online network I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I use Linkedin to look up almost everyone I am due to meet, have met or who contacts me by email or phone. I ask to connect with people and accept connection requests from most people who approach me – once I know why they have done so.

I am not convinced there is enormous value in posting long form blog posts/articles on Linkedin. My efforts in this regard have not proved worthwhile to date. I do however check out the activity on my home page, contribute to relevant discussions in key groups, administer requests to join my groups and monitor all new connection requests and messages most days.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Social Media

Facebook

I have started to use this more than before, largely because I have got to know so many members of the Professional Speaking Association. There is a popular facebook group to which many members contribute. Doing so is a way of helping each other and keeping one’s profile high.

Beyond this most of my use of facebook is related to keeping in touch with old friends I haven’t seen for a while. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it.

Pinterest and Instagram

I spend no time on either platform. I doubt any of my business prospects are active here or would be likely to engage with me here.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change). I am planning to post more videos on line over the coming year. It is more time consuming than I would like but I note that YouTube is an important channel for professional speakers.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously. I still rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every few hours. As there are over 600 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 6,000 – and more than 10 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Accountancy website

AccountingWeb

As consultant practice editor I write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

Blogging

WordPress – The STAND OUT blog and my Blog for ambitious accountants

These are the regular blogs I update every week or so – you’re reading one of them now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above since 2006.

How about you?

Like this post? You can now access the ebook I wrote specifically for accountants who want to get more value from the time they spend on Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?

I recently wrote an article which posed the question: Should accountants be more active on facebook?

I concluded by noting that every survey I have seen about accountants’ use of social media suggests that facebook remains a minority interest. This comes as no surprise to me and I don’t see this changing very much celebrex 200 mg.

Sure, there are some accountants who could secure valuable business benefits from becoming more active on facebook. Those who are best placed to do so are those willing to focus on promoting a specific niche service, to a distinct group of facebook users.

In order to keep the article to an acceptable length I removed the following section. This addresses the issue of whether it is worth paying someone else to set up and/or manage your practice’s facebook activity.

It’s easy to find people to whom you can outsource your facebook related activity. They tend to be enthusiastic as to what you and your practice could achieve through facebook. I remain cynical about this for the vast majority of smaller firms of accountants.

If however you are tempted then, before agreeing to commission such a service I would encourage you to do a little research of your own. Those who offer such a service tend to be excellent sales people. Their blogs and articles talk about all of the potential (theoretical) benefits of being active on facebook.

I would suggest that you first speak with previous clients who outsourced their activity 6 months or more ago. You are interested in those whose objectives and ideal clients are similar to yours.

This is the same approach one should adopt when considering any form of new marketing activity.

I would ask those who have used the service to explain the demonstrable financial benefits they have secured and which can be directly attributed to their outsourced activity on facebook. Do they feel that the fees they have paid and the time devoted to discussions with the consultancy have been warranted?

Almost every time I have asked accountants about this they simply repeat back what their marketing consultants have told them. Few have won much, if any business, through facebook. But they ‘believe’ that having a facebook page helps them to stand out, shows they are modern and that it will, at some stage, prove a worthwhile investment.

If that’s good enough for you, then go ahead.

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post intended to reference  ‘Examples of good facebook pages for accountants’.  I invited readers to post links to such pages. Despite the many comments on that blog post, which has also become one of the most popular I have written, I am still waiting ;-(

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Linkedin and Facebook. What’s the difference?

A trainee accountant I know had just heard that I’d been speaking about Linkedin at an accountancy firm’s away day. He was amazed that a firm would need this as, in his words, “Linkedin is just like Facebook isn’t it?”

This is a common misconception, fuelled in part by surveys and articles that reference Linkedin simply as just another social networking site. This causes many older people to dismiss Linkedin as they have no interest in social networking. And many younger people then pay it little attention as they are already active on Facebook. “Why bother doing much on a copycat site?”

My view is quite simple. The two sites are very different.

For professionals, like accountants, I suggest viewing Facebook as being principally for fun, friends and family.

Linkedin however is where you can build, manage and utilise your business connections. It’s more of a professional business networking site rather than somewhere to share your social activities and non-business views.

Crucially, as I explained to my young friend, his career moves are more likely to benefit from his Linkedin activity than from his use of facebook. The latter has more potential to have an adverse impact if postings and comments are not carefully considered.

Linkedin can also be used as a powerful career enhancer and I have spoken about this before. More and more recruitment decisions are influenced by Linkedin profiles. Also relevant to your career success will be your activity and the connections you build up on Linkedin.

The other key distinction between facebook and Linkedin is that the latter is a powerful lead generation tool that can be used by accountants – of all ages.  And this tends to be the focus of the talks I present on the subject both in-house and at conferences.  Hence my conclusion that Linkedin is VERY different to Facebook and a far more valuable and important tool for most accountants.

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9 things to avoid doing on social media

Too many people play at social networking and don’t really ‘get it’. Then they assert that ‘social networking’ doesn’t work – although the fault is not so much with the medium as with the way they used it.

There are many posts on this blog that can help social media novices – and also more experienced users. This time though I have summarised nine things you would be well advised to avoid doing on social media – if you want to have a chance of using it successfully for business purposes.

  1. Don’t make it all about you. Self promoting is a turn-off and will rarely attract new people to get to know you. And if they don’t know you they won’t refer work or other people to you.
  2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to post things. If you post too fast and without thinking you may say something online you regret. Some people see Google as a history book. Everything we have ever said or will ever post on line will be there and capable of being found for ever.
  3. Don’t bother telling us about what you’re eating. This was a mistake some users made in the past. Don’t perpetuate it
  4. Keep your messages varied. Don’t keep repeating or reposting the same messages.
  5. Keep your messages focused and specific so that you STANDOUT (in a positive way).
  6. No spam. ‘Need I say more?
  7. Don’t try to use more than the odd hashtag until you are sure you really understand how these work. Rank amateurs really standout – and for the wrong reasons!
  8. Keep your posts honest, decent and truthful.
  9. In summary – don’t be stupid. Apply common sense to all you say and all you do online.

 

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How long do you spend on social media each week? (3)

Every so often someone asks how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. What follows is the current answer. It’s my third blog post on the subject. The first was in 2010 and the second was in April 2012.

I started to use social media in 2006. Now, despite my continued use of and enthusiasm for social media, I spend less time than ever before on social networking sites. And the time I do spend there is more focused than in previous years. This is in line with the advice I give to anyone who is inclined to experiment with or to become active on social media.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time I spend depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting. I no longer keep social media windows open on my desk top when in the office.

Social Networks

Facebook

Rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my bookmarklee facebook wall. I still feel comfortable with my decision to leave facebook to fun, family and friends rather than to try to use it for business generation.

There are two business related facebook groups to which I contribute regularly – indeed they are the main reason I am active there at all. But neither is directly related to my target audiences of accountants and other professional advisers.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Google+

I still spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

I am aware that activity on Google+ can have a positive impact on where you appear in google search results. Not sure mine would be much improved given my already high levels of activity online.

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously and I rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every 2 hours. As there are over 500 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 5,000 – and more than 9 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I also use it to get back in touch with people in a business context and to connect up with business people I meet whether socially or otherwise. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. I also look to post new discussions in my groups each week.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

As consultant practice editor I write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

Blogging

WordPress – Blog for ambitious accountants

My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward.

Other blogs

I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to my Feedly Reader (since Google reader stopped operating) which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above since 2006.

How about you?

Like this post? You can now access the ebook I wrote specifically for accountants who want to better understand Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Are your social media activities focused on Volume or Value?

Has anyone told you that social media is all about collecting as many connections, friends and followers as possible? That ‘bigger is best’? It’s an issue that seems to divide the social media advocates. I can tell you now that I believe in Value over Volume.

Most online networks make announcements when they reach milestone numbers like a million or ten million. And they encourage users to build large networks. But are bigger networks better for the people in them? Is a Twitter following of ten thousand people better than a thousand?

As with all these things, it depends on what you want.  Your clients who are promoting products to sell around the world can usefully connect with anyone and everyone. They only need a small percentage of these connections to make good money. For them, big (volume) networks make sense.

However, if you’re an accountant you need to build trusted relationships – which takes time. You need to be more focused on building select relevant networks online rather than trying to connect with thousands of random people all over the world.  At best they will do nothing for your practice. At worst they will become a distraction either because you waste time on them or because they try to engage you in communication about THEIR services and products.

In my own case I have nevertheless built up thousands of followers on twitter and thousands of connections on Linkedin. But I am NOT an accountant in practice. Plus I routinely reject connection requests from strangers on Linkedin – unless they are clearly within my target market.

I do not follow thousands of people on twitter nor do I try to trick people into following me back. Thus, the fact that (at the time of writing) I have a healthy ratio of 8 times as many people following me as I follow, suggests I must be posting items of interest. I see no point in following thousands of people in the hope that they will follow me back and boost my follower numbers. The apparent ‘volume’ would be of no real value to me – or to them.

Social Media is no different from the real world. Although some of the people you know will never become clients they may recommend their friends and family to you at some stage in the future. But they can only do that if they know enough about you. If you provide a very rare or unusual service then perhaps it’s enough that they know your name. But for most accountants this will not be sufficient.

So, on social media, as in real life, you need to create and foster VALUABLE connections. Despite what some marketing and social media people may suggest, I can assure you that chasing high volumes of connections and followers will be an unrewarding distraction.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice focused specifically on accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Social Media Policies for accountants – update

I have heard a number of stories about firms of accountants trying to limit their staff (and partners’) access to social media sites. This is generally based on fear of the unknown. The motives may also be driven by misconceptions drawn from misleading, inaccurate or simply ill-informed media reports and references to twitter, facebook and even Linkedin.

Here are some key questions to consider before you implement any such changes:

1 – Are we all agreed as to what counts as a social media site? Many people would include Linkedin which is more of as an online business networking site. And that’s certainly how I use it. Limiting partners’ access to Linkedin is to limit the firm’s potential to secure profitable new clients. Far better to invest in some training so that everyone knows HOW to use Linkedin effectively and uses similar wording to describe the  firm in their profiles.

2 – It’s probably not just social media sites you want to stop your staff accessing during working hours. There are plenty of other non-work related websites that staff may access. Some with video feeds. What about news junkies? TV soap junkies? Staff planning their nights out? Those with health issues? Sports fans? The list goes on and on. Why focus on social media sites?

3 – What about access to these sites that is achieved via staff’s personal smart-phones? over 3G, 4G or via your wifi connection? So many options. What about personal phone calls? Long ones vs short ones?

Surely what REALLY matters is whether staff are focused on working or on personal matters during working hours. What do you do about those who start early and finish late but spend 20 mins on non-work websites during the day?

If you can’t trust the staff working for you in a professional office you need to review your recruitment, appraisal and promotion policies. And do check with an employment lawyer before you start making changes to employment terms and conditions. The second part of this update will summarise the issues to consider in this regard.

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Online profiles – make sure yours isn’t boring

Online profiles are everywhere now. They appear on many firms’ websites, on social networking sites and on Linkedin. Actually pretty much all of the points below apply equally to any printed profile or CV you might produce too.

When you’re writing yours please don’t focus on the boring stuff – where you were born, what you did at school or college or your first few jobs (unless you’re very young and they are all still relevant).

Focus instead on the recent stuff, the relevant stuff and how what you do can make a difference. What have you achieved that benefits your clients, your current employer or your current firm? What expertise can you talk about that a prospective client might be looking for? What about a new employer or firm who is looking for a new recruit?

How much the same as every other accountant do you seem to be? Can you highlight real differences, a special focus, a niche?

Even your online profile photo can impact whether or not you look boring to people. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The key thing to stress is that you need to be authentic, consistent (not in a boring way!), enjoy yourself (without alienating anyone else) and evidence your enthusiasm – without going O.T.T.  Keep in mind the sort of people you hope will read your online profile and what they will find of interest. The boring stuff is rarely going to be key.

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

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Nine career related tips re accountants’ use of facebook

One of the talks I presented at Accountex in November 2012 was titled: Harnessing the power of social media for career success. Much of this talk was an adaptation of my more general articles, blogs and talks on social media. However, there were a number of completely new elements including some key tips re facebook – which I have summarised below.

Why, you might ask, did I reference facebook during the talk. Surely I would have focused on Linkedin – the online Business networking site. I did. But, the ubiquity of facebook means it is also worth thinking about what you can do here to aid your professional career.  I would stress that I start from the perspective that facebook really is more for ‘social’ use than for building business connections.  I am NOT a fan of the idea that anyone tries to become facebook friends with partners in firms of accountants or with the owners of businesses – unless you can see that they are clearly encouraging this through the way that THEY use facebook.  That won’t be very often.

For what it is worth I have over 2,400 connections on Linkedin and around 4,300 followers on twitter but fewer than 300 friends on facebook.  For me, it really is not a business focused medium. But I’m not looking to build my career so my experience and approach is not really relevant.  Which is why I DID cover facebook in my recent talk. Here are the nine tips:

  1. Make your facebook profile work for you – although not as formal as Linkedin, friends can still see the details you share about your current and previous roles and projects. Ensure that these paint a positive picture and evidence your specific expertise and any distinctive value that you offer.
  2. Be aware of who your ‘friends’ are – do you really know them ALL? Some may be old work colleagues or people with  whom you have lost touch. Any of them may be in a position to put you forward or to scupper your chances of getting your next dream role.
  3. Customise who can see your status updates – Whenever you post a status update you can decide which groups of friends can or cannot see it. You can also ensure that specific people should not see specific posts. You should always be aware that, unless you use this facility, your updates may be widely seen. Some of your updates may be best hidden from all but your closest friends!
  4. Take care over the job and career related updates that you post – Be especially careful if you are prone to complain about elements of your current role or employer. If you MUST post such updates you should really limit who can see them! More positively you may find that more distant friends may pick up on your availability, if you are between roles – as long as you are positive and upbeat.
  5. Resist the temptation to share too much too widely – This follows on from the above two points.  If you are employed you shouldn’t be posting updates to facebook more than two or three time during the working day. If you post updates too often it gives the impression that you are not focused on your work and that’s not a good impression to give if you want to progress your career.
  6. Check your privacy settings – Again this follows on from the above points.
  7. Check what your business ‘friends’ can see – As part of the ‘activity log’ facility you can check the impact of your privacy settings using the ‘View as…’ facility.
  8. Check the settings for every authorised app – You will probably want to limit the ability for apps to automatically post activity updates to your facebook timeline. Again , this is especially important if you find the time to ‘play’ during the working day. There may also be some apps and games that you would prefer your involvement to be kept confidential as reagards your ‘business’ ass0ciates.
  9. Send personalised messages to friends who may know people – You never know who might be able to make a valuable introduction to a potential employer, or  who might hear about the perfect job opening.  More an more employers are providing incentives to staff to provide leads to potential recruits. This can be much more cost effective than using recruitment consultants.

Many younger accountants will find nothing new in this list as they apply similar principles as regards the extent to which their parents can see what they are doing on facebook after they become ‘friends’. Equally some parents, who have been accepted as their children’s ‘friends’ on facebook, may wish to limit the extent to which their children can see what they (the parents) have been upto!

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How successful are the big firms’ experiments with social media?

A new report (at the time of writing) suggests that most of the biggest firms are wasting their time and are not creating enough of a buzz through their social media activities.

The report from Flagship Consulting (a PR consultancy) “used a number of tools” to “measure brand activity” across twitter, facebook and firms’ websites and blogs.  The tools that Flagship reference are Hubspot’s marketing grader, Klout and PeerIndex.

questioned the methodology of PeerIndex recently after it recently ranked me in the top 40 finance tweeters in the UK. (At the time of writing it currently has me as 30th). I have similar concerns about Klout. In both cases I am doubtful that the measures they focus on are the most important for accountants using social media. In effect if one seeks to rise up their rankings one is led to follow behaviours that may not be best suited to accountancy firms.

Back to Flagship’s report which notes on p2 that, in response to a survey undertaken by CCH and YouGov, “just 9% of the 99 firms” [so that’s 9 of them] said “social media was the top method for bringing in new clients”. This is no surprise for sizeable firms but it helps explain their relative lack of commitment to social media – as revealed throughout the report. This stat is hardly likely to change. The bigger the firm the less likely that social media activity will be a key contributor to the winning of new clients.

E&Y come out top of Flagship’s analysis. Their twitter account, at the time of writing has >26,554 followers (despite following just 55 tweeters); taxassist, 2nd in the report has just 1,829 followers. The report stresses the importance of also considering engagement on websites/blogs and on facebook – but the difference is clearly massive. Regular readers will know that follower numbers on twitter are not the ‘be all and end all’. But any stats related to firms with less than a few thousand followers are relatively meaningless. For large firms the number of people who could potentially see their ‘stuff’ and with whom they can engage is surely key. If it’s low then the generic metrics, which may not mean much anyway, that rank social media players, are even less meaningful.

The report criticises firms that do not have active facebook pages and stresses the importance of also considering engagement on websites/blogs and on facebook. There is a good summary of the position on p20 of the report which reaches predictable conclusions – with which I do not wholly agree.

I did not see anywhere any reference to setting a clear strategy for building the firm’s brand on social media platforms.  When I discuss this issue with accountants I stress that an overarching ‘social media’ policy is less important than the need to consider each of the social media platforms that are relevant or likely to be relevant to your firm.

I have written before about the challenges for large firms experimenting with social media.

The biggest firms, like E&Y, can adopt a similar approach to other well-known big brands. This may well include engaging someone (internally or externally) to build a brand presence across the major platforms. But engagement is often key and that is the biggest challenge when the culture is not embedded in the firm.

At the other extreme, smaller firms are increasingly looking to engage with individuals who are themselves active on social media and who may be target clients. But for the vast majority it’s still all a bit of game. I believe there are ways to secure better results but they take time, money and a realistic strategy. Few firms have yet thought this through. They are caught in the hype promoted by marketing, PR and social media ‘experts’ who will be the only winners for some time.

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>>>

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How much time does it take to be active on social media?

I was asked recently how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. I guess this might be of interest to others so thought I’d blog my response. I then found that I drafted a blog post along these lines around 18m ago. It’s interesting (to me at least) to note the differences in my replies today as distinct from back then.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time spent depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I have in my diary.

Social Networks

Facebook

Now – rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my facebook wall.

18m ago – I’m not a big facebook user but know I need to check for new friend requests each day. I scan my home page and comment/like anything that grabs my attention. Until and unless I perceive that facebook is a good way to keep in touch with accountants etc I doubt I’ll spend any longer here.

Google+

I spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

18m ago – n/a (Google+ didn’t exist!)

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

Now – I think I am more focused than I was 18m ago but otherwise little has changed beyond an increase in the number of people who follow me to 3,800. Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

18m ago – I have written an entire piece about how I use twitter.

Business social networks

Ecademy

Now – The time I can afford to spend here has reduced as my time on other online media has increased. I still blog occasionally and add comments to blogs (normally only those posted by people I know). And I attempt to reply and assist fellow members of a few key clubs. Total time: Upto an hour a week

18m ago – I use a bookmark on my browser (both on my macbook and my iphone) to keep up with things in my favourite clubs/groups  typically while I’m out and about. I receive email prompts re messages, key notifications and search results. I sometimes drop in to offer help, support and assistance where I can – this is less frequent than it was a few years ago. Sometimes I post requests for help, support or information myself.

LinkedIn

Now – I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across almost all areas of my business activities. It’s also easy to use to get back in touch with people in a business context. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. My time here has increased over the last couple of years as I’ve sought to practice what I preach. It’s the most valuable of all the online networks for me from a business perspective. I now have over 2,100 first level connections but never agree to connect with strangers unless they offer a good reason for so doing. Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I realise I have not been spending as much time on here as I should. After all this is the only serious online business network that crosses over into big business. Memo to self: practice what you preach!

4Networking

Now – I have started popping back into the business forum in advance of attending a new group meeting in the City.  Not sure whether I will have the time to continue being active here as well as on Ecademy where I know more people. (Note: Face to face networking can drive online networking which may not succeed in isolation).

18m ago – Have replied and contributed to various discussions. Seems very similar to Ecademy in some respects but I know fewer people here. I sense I may get bored of contributing into the ether.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

Now – I am now engaged to write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

18m ago – As Consultant Practice editor I check out the site every 2 or 3 days and add comments and replies to queries. I also write a couple of articles each month. Ignoring the articles I probably spend an hour or so a week on the site.

AccountancyAge.com

Now – I am a far less frequent visitor these days than I was previously. I occasionally read the stories that come through by way of email notifications or tweets and sometimes go to the website to add a comment or two. Total time: Maybe 20 mins a week in total.

18m ago – I scan many of the stories and add comments to 2 or 3 of them each week

ION sites (IT counts and Tax Faculty)

Now – As before.

18m ago – I tend to only visit by ref to email prompts and if something specifically interests me. Maybe 20 mins in total across a typical week.

Blogging

WordPress – blog for ambitious accountants

Now – My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it now.  Total time: Probably an hour or two per week to post a couple of items and to review and reply to comments.

18m ago – This may be an indulgence as I seem to post so many articles here. Probably averages upto 3 or 4 hours a week.

Blogger – accountant jokes and fun blog

Now –  As before.

18m ago – My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. Probably takes around 30 mins a week.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

Now – I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward. The traffic it drove to the Tax Advice Network website was not converting into business so I have suspended my blogging activity here.

18m ago – I post tax commentary and debunk tax stories in the media 2 or 3 times a week. The idea is to drive traffic to the Tax Advice Network website and to be identified as a key tax commentator.

Other blogs

Now – I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to Google Reader which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I dip in and out of blog posts when I follow links from twitter or when prompted by emails.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above for over 3 years.

How about you?

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Social media policies for accountancy firms (part two)

This is the second of a 2 part blog series in which I set out some practical, commercial and informed thoughts re social media policy making for accountancy firms. Part one is here.

Let’s start here with a couple of bizarre practices I have heard that some ill-informed firms have attempted to implement as regards Linkedin.

“We don’t want you to connect with clients” – This is normally due to the fallacious fear that such connections would reveal the firm’s client base to other firms of accountants who could seek to poach them. This fear is based on a misunderstanding of Linkedin and a lack of confidence in the strength of client relationships. Such a policy makes a nonsense of being on Linkedin. How will a competitor know who are clients and who are simply contacts and prospects? And what does the firm want to be done when a Linkedin contact becomes a client or joins a client business? Or what if a client contact tries to connect with a staff member/partner? how are they to explain their reluctance to accept the connection?

“When you leave the firm you must disconnect yourself from the firm’s clients” – Whilst I understand the desire I can’t see this as practical or enforceable. Better to ensure that the firm encourages more than one person to maintain a relationship with each client. When someone leaves it is upto the client whether they want to retain a relationship with the ex-member of staff/partner. Yes, Linkedin does make it easier to breach no poaching covenants. But equally it makes it easier to obtain evidence of a deliberate campaign to do do this. So it’s not all one-way.

What happens when someone leaves if they have loads of connections with key clients? I’m afraid that you need to face reality. It’s what you do before people leave that will be key. You can no more dictate to clients who they should and should not connect with on Linkedin than could King Canute hold back the tide. If you have no policy you have no rules and you have no cause for complaint.

I suggest that firms need to run regular (at least annual) in-house sessions to remind everyone re personal and corporate branding issues, effective and ineffective use of social media and how to protect themselves and their future career prospects by what they post on facebook and other social networking sites. Reviewing and setting their privacy settings appropriately is key. Another is to be careful what they post. Is it something they would be happy for their grandmother to read? The firm is interested in the well-being of its staff and partners. And also in their reputation as facebook profiles often mention where people work.

Remind everyone that it’s best to avoid saying anything that might be termed or interpreted as ‘inappropriate’. That includes political comments, coarse language, and especially any comments that could be construed as advice. Equally wrong would be any posting that could be interpreted as the disclosure of confidential information, bullying or harassment.

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Social media policies for accountancy firms – think MLR (part one)

I was interviewed recently to provide my views as regards social media policies that accounting firms might wish to institute in-house. I’ve summarised the key points I made and spread them over a couple of blog posts. Part one below. Part two later today.

There are two very different issues here.

The first is the extent to which the firm wishes someone to tweet or post other social media updates on its behalf. That’s a marketing related question – and one that most firms get completely wrong. Without side-tracking, let me just reiterate a point I have made many times on this blog.  Social Media is not something most firms can use effectively for broadcasting and promotional purposes – whatever the social media and marketing junkies tell you. Social Media only works when you recognise it relies on conversation and engagement.

The second and main issue I will address in these two blogs concerns the limitations and constraints that partners may wish to place on members of staff or partners who use social media and who are identifiable as being members of the firm.

I’m not a fan of including a standard note in online profiles that “All comments are my own”. Of course they are. Accountants are not in the same position as top independent journalists and broadcasters. I understand why THEY need to make clear that spontaneous status updates and tweets (personal views) are distinguishable from those that have been vetted and approved to appear in print/on air.

I can see an argument for treating social media training in the same way as anti-money laundering training. The Money Laundering regulations (MLR) impose obligations on accountants to operate specific procedures. It’s no good simply specifying these in a handbook, document or page on the intranet. Everyone has to receive training to ensure they understand their obligations.

I would suggest that the same is true re a firm’s social media policies. Indeed, regular updates are also required and these should be interactive and participative. They also need to avoid patronising anyone (That means talking down to them!) 😉

You need to address privacy issues and consider how important it is for everyone’s profiles to use the same description of the firm, their service areas and expertise. Who is to be responsible for establishing the firm’s business profile on Linkedin and, if considered worthwhile, on facebook?

There are employment law issues to consider too – in terms of what it is reasonable behaviour by employers, to what extent can new restrictions be imposed and what recourse employers can pursue if they feel they’ve been harmed by inappropriate social media activity. Also you need to consider how detailed you want to be in contracts of employment and internal procedure manuals. I tend to favour general guidelines and trusting staff/partners to apply common sense.

Will anyone in the firm take on responsibility for monitoring the linkedin accounts, facebook profiles and twitter accounts (as well as any other social media platforms) to ensure that everyone has included on approved ‘standard’ references to the firm? I would doubt that any firm has an automatic right to limit or constrain what staff/partners can include in their profiles. And i doubt that many firms are (yet) considering the implications either.

The second part of this blog post is here.

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Examples of good facebook pages for accountants

As part of my focus on how accountants can use social media I have not, to date, paid much attention to Facebook. I do compare key features and benefits of facebook with other social media sites during my talks and articles but that’s about it.

My gut tells me that spending BUSINESS  time on facebook might be worthwhile for some accountants. But only if you focus on certain niches – such as inheritance tax, landlords, the newly self employed or business start-ups.

I’m not convinced but, as always, I’m willing to be persuaded – by evidence rather than by hype. In this connection I was intrigued when I came across a tweet this week that linked to a blog post titled: “Examples of good facebook pages for accountants“.

The author of the blog post, Lara Solomon, had been trying to find great examples from the Accounting profession.  She claims to have looked at over 500 accountants’ pages on Facebook and was clearly unimpressed. She identified just 3 of these as being worthy of reference as good examples.  I’ve looked at all 3 of them. Well, I tried to. It seems only one is still there. That’s when I noticed that the blog was written in June 2010 and that the author is based in Australia. I also noted that, despite a clear request to ‘like’ the facebook page of the accountancy firm in question, just 145 people have done so. I don’t know how many had done so before Lara wrote her Blog post, but either way it’s not proved very popular over the last 15 months. This is a shame but may be evidence that my gut feel re the value of facebook to accountants is well founded. I’d like to find out.

I wonder whether much has changed since Lara did her research. Do let me know if you have your own accountancy firm business page or know of any accountants with facebook business pages.  Just like Lara I’m especially keen to find some ‘great’ examples that have proven worthwhile. Are there any? And are any of these in the UK?

Please post your links as comments on this blog post. If there is enough interest I’ll then write an article on the subject for my regular column on AccountingWeb where I am consultant practice editor.

[Edit: This post went live in September 2011. In the two years to September 2013 it proved to be one of the most popular items on this blog. But, to date, NOT ONE link to a good facebook page for a firm of accountants. This rather supports my original contention, but I’m still open to examples that prove me wrong]

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Managing your online reputation

It is becoming more and more common to ‘Google’ someone before meeting them for the first time – whether for a potential business meeting, to interview them or to be interviewed by them. If someone Googles you now or in the future what will be revealed?

I’ve just given an interview to a journalist who is writing an article about the possible uses of Facebook by certain professional advisers. During our conversation I outlined what I saw as some of the benefits and also the dangers of professional advisers playing around on Facebook. And I explained why my comments apply equally to other forms of online networking sites.

Possibly the 3 most well known and useful such platforms to professional advisers are:

  • LinkedIn – currently largely used by corporate job hunters, those who are headhunting them and those who know them;
  • Ecademy – mainly small businesses and corporate refugees who have set up their own business/consultancy; [Edited: Sadly Ecademy closed down in 2012]
  • Facebook – mainly used for sharing how much fun you’re having in your life. So this is seen as the main ‘social’ networking site.

Until September 2006, Facebook was only available to ‘college students’ but as they graduated so they wanted to continue to CONNECT with the people they knew. And everyone they knew and wanted to stay in touch with was on Facebook. It is now becoming ubiquitous but sadly a lot of people who are experimenting with Facebook or just playing around may be creating problems for themselves down the line.

I titled this blog ‘Managing your online reputation’ for a reason. These days Google is recording history in real time. Everything we post online is there for the future and can be found by Google and the other search engines. That means that when someone Googles our name – before meeting us, interviewing us or being interviewed by us, they can find out:

  • What we’ve said and written;
  • What we like/dislike;
  • What other people have said about us (good or bad);
  • Who we’re associated with and what other people have said about them (good or bad);
  • Where we’ve been and what we’ve done and who we were with;
  • And so on.

Thomas Power, the founder of Ecademy explains that the online networking sites are just like online magazines. Our profiles on the sites are just like adverts in a magazine. We’d always be careful about the impression we gave in an advert – so we should be careful about the impression we give with our profiles. And that presents an interesting challenge for ambitious professionals. On the one hand we want to control what Google finds when people look for us online. On the other hand we want to secure new profitable referral and work opportunities for our interactions on these sites.

If you just create a simple, professional profile on these sites, as your online advert, you will find it about as successful as waving your business card around in a dark room. No one will find your profile unless you shine a torch on it. You do that by interacting on the networking site, commenting on blogs, asking and answering questions, creating your own blogs, postings on the Facebook wall, joining and contributing to clubs and groups. Being seen to be a valuable person online. And this takes time.

Initially it’s best though to take it slowly. Join. Watch. Dip a toe in the water.Explore. Contribute. Help others. All this before you ask for help yourself. And all this whilst keeping in mind the need to manage your online reputation.

Incidentally – why had the journalist contacted me to talk about this topic? Because the editor of her magazine had seen my previous postings on the subject and was aware that I had established a number of groups on Facebook. My online reputation as a writer and speaker on this and related subjects for ambitious professionals is growing. Why? Because I’m managing it. At least as well as I can.

I’ll return to this theme in a future posting on this blog. In the mean time I’d welcome feedback and thoughts about what I’ve posted above.

Here’s a link to my previous blogs about uses of Facebook by professional advisers.

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