Social media for professional services firms seems to have been around for an age. Now part of our everyday lives, it’s no longer considered a new technology. In consumer markets, take up of social channels was rapid and it’s now a well-established part of the marketing mix. But the same can’t be said for social media accountancy firms, where adoption has largely been a struggle. Why? Due to a number of common pitfalls, accountants have been at a loss as to how best to harness the opportunities that social provides, stifling any meaningful progress:Lack of ownership: who ‘owns’ social within the firm?
- Lack of solid business case: how can management buy in to social?
- Lack of social vision, goals and objectives: what does the firm need from social?
- Little focus on the client: how does social impact the client experience?
- Lack of knowledge of the social technology landscape: what is out there and what is relevant?
A lack of ownership
The reason why professional service firms are still failing at social media is often considered. A lack of ownership of firm-wide initiatives is commonplace among large accountancy firms. And when it comes to social media, it’s still often debated who within the firm should ‘own’ it. Social audiences – including clients and prospects – don’t actually care who or which department owns social – so this debate shouldn’t be a deal breaker, preventing progress. What’s important is that ownership must lie with someone in a leadership position. If not, there’s a real danger of social failing due to:
No management board buy-in or continuous participation.
Creating, developing and managing social media is synonymous with change. Gaining senior buy-in and having executive engagement is an imperative. Making changes to the way a professional service firm works or develops business means that the management board and the firm’s senior partners must not only buy in to it they must also support the social initiative with resources, and actively participate online themselves.
An unwillingness to be transparent and authentic.
When communicating and responding via social platforms, audiences are attuned and accustomed to knowing the difference between authentic communication and ‘corporate chatter’. While there is nothing inherently wrong with posting some corporate communications and announcements, firms must adopt a policy of truth and transparency, and promote thought leading content that ultimately leads to engaging, authentic, genuine, clear and direct conversations with target audiences.
Confusion about how to respond to audiences.
Partners and other professional practitioners tasked with interacting with target audiences must understand how social media works, and what their roles and responsibilities are. Management boards are generally fearful for the firm’s reputation and of what their firm’s partners and employees might say in these interactions. Of course, it’s natural (and important) to be protective of the brand, but this doesn’t mean foregoing the potential for positive brand development offered by social media.
By using collaborative, interdepartmental processes, firms can develop a unified message and tone when responding to audiences. Underpinning this should be a thorough social media policy and training programme, providing a consistent level and quality of support and guidance as to what is and what is not acceptable and ‘on brand’. Ultimately, it comes down to having trust in employees as representatives and social media advocates for the firm. The channels are there and free for employees to use; firms just need to provide rules of engagement to maximise business return.
Lack of solid business case
A solid business case is the most effective way of ensuring management understands the true opportunities and risks presented by social media. Firms need to provide a rigorous methodology to calculate ROI and compare various options. However, incorrect assumptions can invalidate any analysis from the outset:
Not understanding the ‘real’ risks.
There are real risks with ‘going social’; privacy and security being high on the list. The spontaneous nature of social media can also backfire on firms. And many professional service firms will worry that the conversational tone of social communications will undermine their carefully managed reputation and ‘corporate voice’.
These are all legitimate concerns that need addressing head-on in the business case to bring decision-makers on board and make them feel comfortable about pursuing and investing in social media.
Firms need digital strategists and a social media strategy to define those activities that relate to the core commercial activities of the firms brand. The management board needs to understand how the firm’s reputation will be managed through social media, how the firm’s brand will be transformed, and how social will contribute to the overall client experience.
Not understanding which metrics mean the most to the firm.
Management boards are reliant on knowing – in concrete terms – that the resources they have invested in and deployed are of value to the firm. There are many types of measures including activity, reach, engagement, acquisition and conversion measures. The business case needs to identify the criteria for success that are of relevance and significant to the firm. The best place to start is looking at the firm’s vision, goals and objectives.
A lack of social vision, goals and objectives
It’s a common error for firms to jump head first into initiatives such as social media, often without understanding how social should work, without having a social vision, or how their social media goals relate to the firm’s goals and individuals’ objectives. The risks of taking this approach include:
Social media not being seen as a credible contributor to the bottom line.
Firms should tie social media efforts to the firm-wide ‘bigger picture’ at the outset. What does the firm need social to do? Consider the strategic contribution that could be made based on:
- The firm’s growth objectives
- Client retention objectives
- Conversion of leads into new work
- Client acquisition
- A reduction in traditional marketing spend
- The firm’s brand online
Shortcutting or plagiarising.
‘Canned content’ is any form of content that a law or accountancy firm purchases or subscribes to that has been created by another company and is then ‘passed off’ as their own on the firm’s website, newsletters, eshots and social media platforms.
Many firms use these services presumably to ease the burden of creating regular professional services content, but it’s not necessarily a panacea. Often content companies sell the same content to a vast number of firms, it’s just ‘badged’ differently. Search engines don’t always like this ‘duplication’ and can often ‘de-rank’ a firms website as a result. Also, use of canned content in this way ruins the opportunity for meaningful discourse. It removes the honest and authentic nature of interaction that audiences seek online, particularly where they want to engage with the content writer.
The point is, what works for one firm won’t work for all. Firms should consider their approaches based on their own goals, culture, style, personality, resources etc. This is the most effective and sustainable way of standing out in the crowded online landscape.
Little focus on the client experience
Social media is first and foremost about the audience – the client, the prospective client, the intermediary. Not the firm itself. What firms do online must appeal to audiences if any results are to be achieved. Firms need to put their target audience at the centre of their social media efforts:
Listen to the client before deploying social initiatives.
Social media is all about people. Firms should begin by understanding their primary target audience – their clients – and how they behave and what their expectations are online. Firms can’t have any degree of social media success if they don’t know who it is they are wanting to speak with, what it is they should be saying, where they should be saying it.
By knowing what the audience wants, how they want it and how they communicate, firms can ensure their efforts are relevant and of interest – which is vital to online success.
Make the conversation productive.
While most people may feel comfortable with social media as a personal tool, firms should air on the side of caution and provide its people with a framework to make the most of social for business purposes. Firms must keep the conversations in its social communities productive, structured, and solution-driven. Strong social guidelines, and a skillful social media manager and moderator add significantly to prompting constructive dialogues between the audience and the firm. Firms should also preempt and address security and privacy considerations within its guidelines.
Little or no understanding of the social technology landscape
Most firms are making some use of Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, incorporating them as secondary marketing activities. But the various social platforms serve different purposes for different people and organisations, who interact and engage with them in different ways. And as social technologies, applications and tools continue to develop, firms can become even more confused about which of those technologies they should invest in and when. Firms should try to avoid:
Using every platform.
Selecting the right social platforms to prioritise is key. Firms must review each of the social platforms and understand the profile of each social audience. If targeting B2B organisations, does it make sense to operate a Facebook page? A clear value proposition for each social platform is needed. And content deployed will need to vary according to the social platform; can this be resourced?
Essentially, it’s a continuous programme of measurement – which social platforms are driving the most traffic and more importantly the most conversions.
Lack of social media integration within the CRM databases.
Many firms have strong CRM databases that they use to target their content through direct email. A growing number of firms also have robust Facebook or Twitter followings. But few firms have figured out how to marry the two. Firms must create a single view of their clients and their wider audiences, which includes their comments on Twitter, and how they interact with the firm on the web and through mobile devices.
Often the downfall among accountancy firms with social media take up is there is no formal initiative; firms have opted to ‘suck it and see’, resulting in a lack of ownership, no objectives and no real business case for the firm to ensure the resource and investment is placed to make a success out of social.
But social media has the potential to transform brand awareness and client experience, acting as a strong platform for lawyers and accountants to continue attracting attention and driving traffic to their thought leading content.
His passion for marketing and client acquisition has developed into a 20-year career, working for some of the leading professional service firms in the UK.
Graham can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile: 07715 413706.
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