Debunked: It’s called social MEDIA not social MARKETING for a reason

If only everyone who seeks to educate accountants about social media would start with this observation. “It’s called social MEDIA and not social MARKETING for a reason”.

These days more speakers do make this point eventually, but only after accountants have first been reminded of the hype about the rising popularity of social media generally and of specific platforms generally.

Many social media speakers seem not to understand that few accountants are interested in using social media other than for marketing purposes. Many accountants have heard misleading stories about how some of their peers have won clients ‘through social media’ and they want to replicate this. The circumstances in which the clients were won are rarely examined, nor the real value of those clients (typically home based start ups) or how much time was spent on social media before winning them. Invariably more valuable business could have been generated through conventional means or by judicious use of Linkedin – which is quite distinct from the more common social media platforms.

Please note that I say all this as someone who has been active across various social media platforms since 2006 – which predates the launch of most of the current platforms. And I am routinely highly ranked as an online influencer of the accountancy profession. I have been watching, listening and talking to accountants who have been using social media for many years. Those who get it and understand it, enjoy it. Those who have misconceptions about what they need to do to get value from it, are frustrated and often give up.

When I attend accountancy conferences I am always torn if there is a speaker talking about social media. The reason I am torn is because of two conflicting emotions:

  1. If I don’t go I may miss out on some great new insights and tips. And yet
  2. If I do go I will inevitably get frustrated by the generalities being spoken about as I know these will mislead the audience.

So I go, but rarely hear anything new. Typically the speaker will be confirming the hype (often because they want to be engaged to provide social media related marketing services for more accountants). They share examples, tips and advice that work in their world of marketing and social media advisers. Sometimes they expand their talk to address content marketing and video marketing as the value of these activities can be amplified by effective use of social media (once you have established a following). Their advice may also work for some small proportion of accountants who satisfy certain unusual criteria. Most of their advice though, if followed, will simply absorb time and effort for little return as regards the majority of the audience.

Many of the accountants pointing to the success of their social media activity are themselves relatively new into practice and can relate well to start-up businesses.  I am also sure that accountants who offer tax or advisory services to consumers will have more success faster on social media than those who who want to be engaged by established businesses.

As a judge for many accountancy awards over the  years I have also seen many firms referencing their use of social media to justify their entry. In reality though this is typically wishful thinking. There is rarely an correlation between their (limited) social media activity and the success of the practice.

The starting point, if you are considering getting involved with social media, is to be clear about your objectives. And over what time scale will you judge your success or otherwise in achieving those objectives?  (One of the better agencies offering help here honestly says it can take 18-24m to get valuable payback on such activity). Oh, and is the investment of time and money, if you employ or engage someone else to do it for you, worth while? Remember you should also compare this investment with the alternative uses of your time and money.

Crucially you need to be sure that the people (as distinct from the business names) you want to target are active and engaged on the social media platforms you choose. And that you understand that you will need to search them out and engage with them. If all you do is post promotional or generic messages no one will be interested so you’ll get no value from this.

To make social media work for you you have to be ‘social’ rather than anti-social. It’s not a broadcast medium. If all you plan to do is active marketing then don’t waste your time. And don’t think you can successfully outsource your social media activity. That’s as likely to be successful for an accountant as employing someone to attend networking events on your behalf.

There are SOME good arguments for some accountants to get engaged in social media. But it’s not for everyone. The main misconception is that it’s a low cost way to market and promote your practice. Plenty of accountants make this mistake and try to use social media to broadcast their marketing messages. Those that try this typically give up – disillusioned with the medium, when it’s actually their approach that was at fault.

IMPORTANT PS: In my view, Linkedin is an online business networking platform. Some people use it for social networking and some people reference it as being a social media platform. I think it’s unhelpful to categorise it in this way. This distinction also means that surveys of social media use by accountants often give misleading results, as some include Linkedin and some do not.  Linkedin is the only online platform I recommend to accountants – but again, only when their target audiences are likely to be found here.,

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Mark Lee

Mark is a speaker, mentor, facilitator, author, blogger and debunker. Mark Lee helps professionals who want to STAND OUT and be remembered, referred and recommended using his 7 fundamental principles to create a more powerful professional impact, online and face to face.
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