Introducing social media to accountancy firms to attract and retain clients and employees – #ICAEW award-winning essay by Mahmoona Begum
Mahmoona Begum, second year BSc Accounting and Finance student, at Bradford University School of Management won the 2012 West Yorkshire Society of Chartered Accountants (WYSCA ICAEW) Essay Competition. Mahmoona’s essay was considered the best out of submissions from 5 universities including York, Leeds, Bradford, Leeds Met and Huddersfield. The prize is £500 plus 4 weeks’ work experience. Mahmoona can be found on Twitter @moonabegum
Mahmoona’s prize-winning essay focused on how a fictitious accountancy firm, JPP Accountants could use social media to market themselves cost-effectively as well as looking at risks and ethical issues. Here are the key points from her essay
1. How can accountancy firms use social media to promote themselves?
Social media is now one of the most effective ways for businesses to promote themselves and market their products/services (Key Note, 2012) there are many features within these platforms, from customer reviews on Facebook to recommendations on LinkedIn that can be utilized which creates the need for organisations to become social media savvy and start getting noticed online.
As can be seen in the figures above, a vast majority of businesses are using Twitter and Facebook as part of their online activities and 57% are using business network LinkedIn. These trends are on the increase since the use of mobile and smart devices such as tablets make it easier for users to connect and communicate.
2. Which are the main social media?
The three main social media networks for accountants, explored here, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The opportunities presented by these three platforms are the most significant to win new customers and keep existing ones as well as staying connected with staff by providing JPP Accountants with new ways of finding and engaging with them. It is very likely that their current clients will also be using these platforms.
3. How to use social media for business development
As the Key Note research highlighted, the main challenge for accountancy firms in recent years is to stand out from the competition and generate new business. There are a number of ways within social media to attract new clients:
- Use Twitter to promote services and provide financial advice
Tweeting a link to their blog, case studies (of previous clients) or details of services that JPP Accountants provide is an effective way of educating prospective clients on their services. They can engage with those followers that re-tweet you by starting a discussion about it.
As a financial management lecturer would point out, issues such as taxation are important to all business owners – who are looking for accounting firms that are well informed on current tax law. By tweeting tax advice or links to tax-related news and articles you can advertise your knowledge and services to all those people who are interested in tax issues by using the hash tag function to optimize their posts (CheapAccounting.co.uk, 2012)
- Create a company profile on Facebook
No other social media site can compete with Facebook in terms of its user base. A Facebook page will broadcast information about your business in an official manner to those people who want to connect with JPP Accountants. When someone “likes” the page it appears in their entire friend’s newsfeed almost like a referral or endorsement which increases JPP Accountant’s potential business. Facebook ads can also help to connect you with potential clients.
- Connect with potential clients on LinkedIn
There are thousands of groups on LinkedIn and you can target the groups that would contain prospective clients such as a local business network. Once you connect with groups you can join in with discussions and start getting noticed. Recommendations from current clients are also likely to spark interest from potential clients. At the moment JPP Accountants only gains clients through word of mouth referrals or get referrals from other professionals, this can increase their scope significantly.
4. Improving client retention of accountancy firms
Holding on to existing clients is proving difficult for accounting firms during economic downtimes (FRC, 2012) and it’s even harder when competitors are constantly trying to take your business away. Social media can help cement relationships with your clients and reduce your attrition rates.
- Your clients are only a tweet away! JPP Accountants can utilize their presence on Twitter by engaging with their clients and answering simple questions or responding to requests quickly.
- More and more people increasingly fail to respond to emails and phone calls and are more likely to be logged in to their Twitter or Facebook account. A personal message via Twitter and Facebook can prompt business owners to get in touch to sign off important documents.
- Posting upcoming events and other engagements on Facebook will keep JPP Accountants clients aware of their activities and will also keep the dates in their “Events” tab to remind them of when the event is happening.
5. Social media to support recruitment
For accountancy firms their employees are their current and future source of wealth. Accounting lecturers say that in order to operate effectively, accountancy firms need to find the right talent. More and more people are using social media to find jobs now that they are beginning to recognize the value of having an online presence and the impact it can have on their professional careers.
- Recruitment campaigns can now be based on Facebook and Twitter rather than job fairs alone, JPP Accountants can answer questions relating to the job quicker and more people are likely to see their posts about jobs and placements.
- Tweeting links to their recruitment website/ online application page can prompt potential applicants to log in and apply, while those that have friends that may be interested can retweet it for their followers.
- LinkedIn has replaced the traditional methods of job hunting and recruiting, it’s easier to link directly with potential employees and have instant access to their online CV so that JPP Accountants can reduce the time it takes to request information and receive applications.
- JPP Accountants could post open positions in their status updates on LinkedIn- which will generate interest from those people who are already interested in their firm and linked with them.
Retaining current employees is just as important as recruiting new ones. Here’s how social media can keep current employees engaged:
- Having current and former graduates share their experiences within the firm on Twitter and Facebook as ambassadors can have a positive impact on employee behavior as well as giving outsiders a valuable insight into your business.
Training your staff on how to use social media will encourage them to use their Twitter accounts to interact with both existing and potential customers.
- Posting about top performing employees or recognizing their achievements on Facebook or Twitter will give them public recognition. This is seen as much more personal approach to congratulating your employees.
- Creating a group on Facebook or LinkedIn will enable employees to share views and news amongst each other as well as giving them the chance to collectively support each other, to give and receive help and to congratulate each other on their success.
6. Other social media platforms for professional services marketing
Effective communication is important in business dealings with employees and clients. Here are descriptions of other platforms that are being used for this.
7. The benefits of social media to accountancy firms
Social media tools offer a number of benefits, the most obvious of these are
There are a number of risks in using social media that we will now examine.
- Disclosure of proprietary information
When information is passed through social media websites the privacy of that information could be breached. In order to prevent such happenings companies should regularly review their social media content and train their employees on how to use social media effectively.
- Negative impact of social media on the company
There are risks that the employees of your company may not engage in social media professionally and there may be abuse or misuse of social media that could damage your reputation. To avoid happenings like this the company should have a social media policy in place that clearly outlines any unwanted situations.
- Theft of PII
If you’re using social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook there is a risk that internet fraudsters could steal your or your client’s personally identifiable information. However, there are a number of privacy options on all social media sites that can allow you to restrict which information you want to share with those that you are connected with.
9. How does the ICAEW’s code of ethics apply in social media?
It is important to consider the ICAEW’s guidelines on ethics before deciding to implement social media into your business practice. The guidelines help all members of the ICAEW (including students) to demonstrate the highest standards of professional conduct. We will now discuss these ethics.
1. Integrity: To be straightforward and honest in all business relationships
Social media can allow you to be open and honest in all aspects of your business, for example you would be able to share a post on your blog-which could be an update on your business practices- through Facebook and Twitter and it would reach a wider audience than just your mailing list.
2. Objectivity: To not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgments
Although social media can bring you closer to your clients and associates, the same rules apply to the way you communicate as it would to someone who you are meeting in person. You must have a social media policy in place in order to keep your interaction/engagement strictly professional.
3. Professional competence and due care: To maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional services based on current developments in practice, legislation and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards.
LinkedIn is a great way of keeping up to date with professional seminars and networking with other professionals that could be helpful in dealing with your clients. Twitter is another medium that could be used to follow current developments in practice and legislation- and tweet to keep your clients informed of these! The ICAEW have a twitter account that regularly posts tweets about current business issues as well as posting links to their discussion board- get engaged and stay informed!
4. Confidentiality: to respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose nor use the information for the personal advantage of the professional accountant or third parties.
Disclosure of private information is one of the risks you will face when using social media, however, you will never need to post about or share details of clients’ accounts or other information that could breach confidentiality.
5. Professional behaviour: to comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any action that discredits the profession.
Social media is a powerful tool for business communications on all levels but it can also do a lot of damage if your employees violate regulations. This links in with your social media policy, which must be comprehensive so that employees are thoroughly trained in order to be familiar with what is expected and what is allowed.
If you had to prioritise how an accountancy firm used social media, where would you recommend they should start? Have you got case studies to share?