Regular readers will know that I am both very active on social media and highly ranked for my online influence (such as it is!) 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 apparent 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 few 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.

One young accountant I know started his practice about 2 years ago and has won almost all of his clients through his activity on ‘social media’. His social media platform of choice is Instagram. He regularly posts pictures on the site. His style and approach appeals to people of a similar age (under 30s) who are starting new businesses and who haven’t previously engaged an accountant. This is a very specific niche and, for the moment, it’s right for him. He has more than enough prospective clients approaching him – either via Instagram or through recommendations. So he doesn’t need to also become active on any other social media sites or on Linkedin.

What about you? Does this example mean that YOU need to start being active on Instagram or on any other social media platforms?

Let’s assume you want to secure a profitable new business client. Are the owners (or FDs or other decision makers) of the type of clients you seek active on any social media platforms? 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.

If the specific people you want to attract, influence and win as clients are not themselves active on social media you could waste a lot of time on the various platforms. Or you could choose to waste money paying someone else to ‘do’ your social media marketing for you. It will achieve almost as much for you as sending someone else to attend networking events to network on your behalf. That is, not a lot!

The other mistake I see is when accountants pay someone or spend their own time trying to build their brand on social media. This may work, to a degree, for multi-partner practices. But, in general, smaller firms will secure far more benefit if the practice owner shows their face and engages as themself online. Much better than effectively hiding behind a brand name and logo. People engage with and like other people.

And then there is the pressure on you to build the numbers of your followers, connections and views. I speak as someone who has been active, highly rated and ranked for years. And I can tell you that those numbers, of themselves, are meaningless. I currently have over 12,000 followers on Linkedin. I have long been choosy as to whom I connect with but very few have become mentoring clients or engaged me to speak at events. Maybe they will one day, when the time is right ;-)

Celebrating increases in these numbers without any context can be VERY misleading. Where are they based in the world? Are they prospects, sales people or scammers? Do you want to target simple increases in the numbers or a focus on ideal connections? And are you prepared to engage with them or are you simply going to wait for them to contact you 1-2-1?

What I see almost daily is accountants (and others) posting personal related items on social media to maximise the number of reactions, comments and views they receive. You may have seen these too and thought that perhaps you should do the same thing. Some inexperienced social media consultants even advocate this. What they seem to miss is that within hours, maybe even minutes, many of the people who reacted or commented will have forgotten the post – and may not even have taken note of who you are.  A more strategic approach is required to get real value from the time and effort you send on social media.

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.

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