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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Is it Fear of Facebook?

I’ve just penned the following letter to Accountancy magazine – and guess it’s self explanatory. My apologies that this then becomes another blog posting about Facebook.

  • In June I introduced the subject under the title, Facebook for professionals;
  • At the start of July I commented on the need to be aware that what you post on Facebook could work to your detriment when you’re looking for a job or to make partner – and equally that employers and managing partners might want to look at Facebook as part of their Due diligence check on prospective recruits and partners;
  • Later in July I picked up on comments about Facebook and professionals on the HR capitalist blog.

Anyway – here’s the letter to Accountancy:

I spotted the short item ‘Fighting Facebook’ in the September issue following the ‘Facebook Frenzy’ article that appeared in the August issue. You noted that a large proportion of City firms are reported to have banned staff from using Facebook in the office. The mainstream media seems keen to dramatise this issue and it is certainly starting to come up in my conversations with accountancy firms.

We’ve seen the related knee-jerk reactions before and it is, I think, all about Fear . Originally it was just ‘No personal phone calls’. Then with the advent of the internet it became ‘No personal emails’. More recently, ‘No instant messaging (eg: MSN/Skype)’ and ‘No texting’. Fear of the unknown perhaps? Fear of technology we don’t understand or use ourselves?

In practice restrictions like these are often imposed by responsible employers to ensure their staff do not steal time for which they are paid to work. Personnel handbooks make clear that non-business activities should be avoided during the working day but in reality as long as no one takes liberties, no one makes a fuss. The same rules should simply be applied to posting, emailing and communicating on social networks as this is no different really. And we must remember that Facebook is just one such site out of dozens if not hundreds that exist.

Total bans on accessing one or more such sites will be as counter-productive as would be confiscating all mobile phones from staff to prevent them reading and sending personal text messages.

Indeed, in the same way that some clients now text info to their accountants, so there is an increasing cross-over between work and social networking sites. This further complicates the position too.

Mark Lee

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