I was asked recently why my website, online profile and business card all mention that one of my roles is that of a ‘debunker’. It stems from the years I have spent trying to clarify poorly researched media reports on issues about which I feel quite well-informed.
Sometimes the reports or articles derive from lazy or naive reporting. Other times it is because the data on which a survey or report is based is unrepresentative or starts from a false premise.
It’s been a while since I did any debunking but last week I couldn’t help myself. I saw reference to Top UK accounting firms Twitter rankings. The report in Accountancy Age quoted Martin De Saulles, marketing lecturer at the University of Brighton and founder of ColdLime, who put together the ‘Firms on Twitter’ research. Accountancy Age reported that he is “surprised” that 10% of the Top 100 Accountancy firms in the UK don’t have a corporate Twitter account.
The inference behind the piece was that firms are missing opportunities and need to beef up their twitter activity if they are to achieve any form of social authority.
I must admit I’m not surprised by the research results. I have been monitoring how accountants and accountancy firms use twitter for some years. Chasing follower numbers is a mugs game. It’s much more important to track and respond to any negative tweets and to engage with clients – if your key connections are themselves tweeting. To be fair the report does reference this facility to use twitter for reputation management. This is a potentially valuable use of twitter especially by firms with well-known names.
I curate a number of twitter lists. One shows all UK accountants who tweet in their own names. Another shows all those who tweet in the name of a UK accountancy firm. I add to the lists as and when I find new names.
At the time of writing there are over 700 accountants on each list. You can follow either or both lists to see the difference in tweeting styles. Those who use the firm’s name are invariably more boring with fewer followers – other than for the biggest firms where name awareness is more widespread. There is also more need to monitor what is being said about the firm so as to be able to respond promptly to limit the damage – especially if the media are monitoring and waiting for negative tweets. It is also clear that only a minority really understand how to make twitter work for them.
Few of the top 100 firms tweet more than once or twice a day and only the top 7 have more than a few thousand followers. I have more followers personally than do all bar the top 7 listed firms – though, as I said above, follower numbers are not worth chasing. How many people will be influenced by twitter when making their choice of a top 100 accountancy firm?
The research shows that these firms don’t see twitter as a key communication medium – nor do they need to in my view. To suggest that they are (all) at fault for failing to embrace twitter is to both misunderstand twitter and to misunderstand what motivates the firms. I have my own views as to what it is and what it is not worth such firms doing on twitter. Clarity of focus and of objectives is crucial. Simply being present and posting links to press releases is unlikely to serve any valuable purpose.