How to use every new channel to create a new touchpoint to serve a client or attract a prospect, hire the best people, find new markets.
This is the first in a series by Becky Livingston, author of the soon-to-be-published Social Media Accountants Handbook. What kind of success is you firm having with social media? Tell Becky at Becky@Penheel.com and your firm's story might be included in a future article. – Rick Telberg, CPA Trendlines Research
By Becky Livingston
Social Media for Accountants
In today’s world of CPA firms, marketing has taken a leap from the back seat to a seat at the strategy table. With more and more firms focusing on marketing efforts, it makes a CPA wonder, “How does my firm continue to stay ahead of the curve to attract clients and move the firm higher on its journey to increasing lead generation?”
Marketing is one solution.
According to the 2015 Hinge Marketing Report, where over 530 professional services firms were surveyed, there were five marketing initiatives that firms were focusing on to compete for clients, including:
- Generating more referrals;
- Increasing visibility of the firm’s experts;
- Making existing clients more aware of the firm’s services;
- Increasing the firm’s brand visibility; and
- Implementing a content marketing program.
To assist them in every effort are social media and digital marketing. Social media has allowed firms to expand their reach to new prospects within industries, geographic regions, and new target markets. It has also provided them with a platform or stage to communicate with audiences interested in their products, services, corporate governance, and firm culture.
Digital marketing, on the other hand, has helped to increase touch points with existing clients and leads unlike anything in the past. Just think about the leads a firm gets when people download a whitepaper, refer a new client through an email drip campaign, or sign up to receive tips and tools they can use to do increase their internal control efforts, while reducing risk.
One thing to keep in mind is, that these new media offer you a chance to provide a value add to your clients.
STATISTICS AND FIGURES
Recently, the Hinge Research Institute completed an original study of 530 professionals services firms, of which 16.9% were accounting and financial services firms. The majority of respondents (60 percent) were owners, partners, or principles within those firms. Sixty-seven percent of those firms had an annual revenue of kless than $5 million. Twenty-six percent had an annual revenue between $5 and $100 million. The smallest segment, at 7 percent, had an annual revenue of over $100 million.
Some of the major business challenges firms stated in the report included attracting and developing new business, finding and retaining good staff, strategy and planning issues, along with innovation and new ideas. You may be experiencing those same challenges, or additional ones, like rapid growth in a new market, increasing your firm’s online presence with new technology, attracting the millennials, who are running so many start-up companies today.
In addition to business challenges, marketing challenges were also top of mind. How to generate more referrals, increase brand awareness for the firm, develop a more compelling message to leads and potential clients, and updating and / or upgrading the firm’s website.
If you are faced with the above marketing challenges, this series of articles is for you. I will share a variety of topics to help you accomplish all of those tasks, including tip sheets, worksheets, how-tos and more.
THE STATE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE CPA PROFESSION
In the past, potential clients leaned heavily on a personal referral for a professional service provider, such as an accountant or CPA. Things, however, have changed greatly over the past decade. More and more people are doing research about firms before making their final decision. They want to know more about your firm’s culture; how you’re addressing current trends within their industry vertical; and how relevant your firm is within a particular service line.
How are they conducting this research? Through search engines and social media, which give everyone a chance to investigate, research, and monitor what their top three firms of choice are doing.
In fact, according to the Top 10 Marketing Techniques for Professional Services, 80 percent of potential clients used online resources compared to 55 percent who used traditional references.
In many cases, firms that use marketing as a strategic powerhouse, are those specializing in an industry or niche market, and who use the social media and marketing tools common within those industries to reach their target market.
Even regulating bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) have begun to appreciate the power of social media and how it may be applied in the profession. In fact, FINRA Regulatory Notices10-06 and11-39 address social media use within firms specifically.
SOCIAL MEDIA’S IMPACT ON THE WAY FIRMS MARKET TO CLIENTS
From word of mouth to online engagement, firms are finding new and exciting ways to reach potential leads, target markets, and current clients. Social media has played a large part in that effort.
One of the biggest fears firm leaders are trying to overcome is the thought of losing control of their brand message and how their firm is perceived.
TWO WAY COMMUNICATION CHANNEL
Social media provides a two-way communication channel for those who are connected to your firm to stay abreast of current topics, information, and day-to-day activities at the firm. Consider for a moment that your firm specializes in Employee Benefit Plan Audit. Through social media, you can provide them with planning guides, best practices, and how-tos from reliable sources, like the IRS or the AICPA. Those resources may then be shared with people they feel would benefit from your information. Thus, providing you with a potential lead for the upcoming EBP Audit season.
Additionally, the client who follows you on social media may download the files, comment on them, and provide you with feedback about the value of the content you’ve shared.