Social Media Marketing
Social Media Marketing (SMM) is an effective and systematic way to market your accounting practice without spending any money. There are many social media sites, and SMM incorporates three of them: blogging, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
SMM marketing employs these three social media tools in a manner that when they are combined together, produce powerful results.
What is best is that SMM marketing is completely free to use. SMM was originally developed as a system for new small businesses and hobby businesses with zero marketing budget to effectively promote themselves. There’s no reason why it won’t work for your accounting practice.
And, yes, it does take some of your time – perhaps a considerable amount if you really get into it – though it need not necessarily be time during your workday. You can learn, implement and engage in SMM marketing anytime you feel like it … the Internet is open for business 24/7/365.
Your Personal Branding Tool
Blogging is the branding element. Select a niche that’s related to your practice, e.g. you understand all the tax ins and outs of 1031 exchanges, “green” architecture, local Enterprise Zones, etc. Produce and send out your blog. Build up a readership, establish yourself as the authority in your niche and reach new prospects.
An alternative is to first explore relevant sites and forums, participate, get conversations going with interest groups and then select a niche that fits nicely with the audience you have selected.
You can quickly gain a following on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be a big following for you to establish a “presence” in your market area. There are an ever-increasing number of people who regularly read blogs as a source for highly specialized information.
For your blogging campaign to be effective, the content must be fresh, technically accurate, interesting enough to attract readers and be good enough to get other accounting-related bloggers to link to the postings. [see Michelle Golden’s list of 124 accounting blogs]
These links are highly valued by the search engines. By establishing these interconnected relationships you become more visible to Google, Yahoo, etc. and this in turn increases the chances that you will be found by web surfers.
Blogs broadcast their content out to the web via RSS every time there is something new. Posting and syndication is almost instantaneous. It is easy for visitors to subscribe to a blog so they can view new postings as soon as they happen. Blogs encourage repeat visits with content being delivered to your favorite reader or delivery by email.
Blogs can be set-up for free. Free hosted solutions are the simplest and easiest to launch. Blogger.com or WordPress.com are among the most popular of these.
Your professional networking tool
LinkedIn is the professional networking element where you establish a broad network of business relationships.
LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool that everyone in business who is growing their business should be using. LinkedIn is social networking (similar to Hi5, Facebook, Friendster, etc, etc) but still very different. What makes LinkedIn different is that it has become the accepted norm as the universal business networking tool.
One of the keys for successful LinkedIn networking is to spend some time building up a complete profile. Your profile is one of the central ways that others will seek you out to network with you. The more information you share on your profile, the more searchable you become and more chances you will be able to make a real connection with someone. Again, focusing upon one or more niches is an important potential differentiator from other accountants you compete with in your market area.
Networking using LinkedIn increases your chances of connecting with the right people. People can search for services not only among their direct network, but also with the people that your network knows directly.
LinkedIn is the most accepted tool for connecting professionals. Facebook is making great strides, but does not have the same audience and number of business users. LinkedIn allows you to keep in touch with people that otherwise may drop off the radar a few years after leaving a position. It allows reconnecting with old contacts and colleagues.
One effective strategy to develop a social media SMM presence is to utilize LinkedIn in the following manner: First of all, what is your purpose? Are you seeking inbound links? Sign-up subscribers? Improve brand perception [remember, you ARE a brand]? Settle on one primary purpose and one or two secondary ones.
Then decide who your audience will be. Who cares the most about what you have to sell or what you have to say? What interests them? What are their needs? Once that is determined, then become a detective. Track down where the online conversations are happening [one key source are the 124 accounting blogs already out there], and one of the first places you look is LinkedIn Answers. Are questions being asked and answers being sought about your niche or area of expertise? If so, this is where you can start your campaign by joining the conversation, demonstrating your knowledge about the subject matter, and establishing your presence within that online community.
From there you can leverage your presence and following into a blog, Facebook or other social media.
If your niche is sufficiently esoteric, it is possible you can create a presence well outside your market area. This can lead to invitations to speak or even new clients from distant locations. For example, an attorney I know in Alaska has become somewhat of an expert on oil rig lease contracts. By publicizing his expertise, he has attracted clients from as far away as Norway.
Your social networking tool
Facebook is the social networking piece and works at a more personal interaction level. Facebook is about building relationships. Facebook is one of the most powerful social networking services available and is very popular with small business owners.
Your Profile: Build an attention getting profile that will make an impact. Think of this as your branding for your practice. Include a good photo, contact info, a link to your website, education, work history, personal interests, etc. Take the time when building your profile to include the city your business is in, your industry, and other networking information. Let potential business partners and clients find you and make yourself more searchable.
Facebook is not just for college students anymore. It has attracted the white collar business market. It is in transition and growing strongly and is poised to become a major B2B marketing site that attracts corporate executives and decision makers. To maximize a Facebook marketing campaign, you need to use a variety of tools and techniques. These include Social Ads, Groups, Events, Fan Pages, Share, and the News Feed. Again, these can revolve around a practice niche.
Facebook offers a way for businesses to have a presence in a way that is similar, yet different from the profiles of an individual. Businesses create pages or groups, while people create profiles. You attract people to you by sharing information, knowledge , and building up their trust in you until they have reached a point where they are open to engaging your services.
Add friends to build your networking. There are tools to find friends that are already on Facebook. Use Facebook tools to meet people with common professional interests, build a relationship and gather them as friends to build up your base.
Use the phone to contact “friends” you create to increase the interactions and better build business relationships. Don’t go in looking for prospects to quickly convert into a client. Go in with the idea that you want to build relationships. You can create many unexpected alliances that can cause your practice to benefit in unforeseen ways.
SMM marketing is a free marketing strategy that can be effective for building accounting practices with little or no money available for traditional [flyers, mailers, print or radio ads, billboards, etc.] marketing. Even without marketing dollars, it is possible to build and grow a thriving practice. It won’t happen overnight, but you can do this without spending one dollar on marketing.
Are there other areas of social media that can be used? Of course! But the premise of SMM marketing is to establish a core of strategies that can become your social media marketing foundation.
As you explore the accounting-related blogs, forums and Internet-based information providers (e.g. AccountingWEB, et al), you will quickly see that social media as a firm marketing tool is an evolving and uncertain methodology. Many are trying to figure out how to use it and out of that effort no doubt some “best practices” will emerge. For the present, the SMM approach seems to be a reasonably effective (as measured by effort vs. results) means to promote your practice. It is, however, just one means. It may eventually make some other forms of indirect marketing obsolete, but it will never replace face-to-face personal marketing.
This system doesn’t require the assistance of a computer/networking/IT specialist. The one over-riding principle is that your SMM is implemented by effectively utilizing existing social marketing mediums. You don’t have to invent, create or fund any infrastructure. With a sound plan that leverages off of what we know works in today’s social media world you can successfully promote your practice, build your brand, make some money and establish yourself as a formidable presence within your online niche. All without spending a nickel.
Beyond SMM (But Still Free)
There are more free marketing strategies that every accountant should consider using.
1. Google Places: This used to be called Google Local Business Center and any
business can get a free business listing on Google. These are Google’s local directory listing that appear next to the eye-catching map during searches for local businesses. They are known as the Google 7-Pack.
The Google 7-Pack is considered “prime real estate.” Best of all, it is free for any business to sign up for. Every accounting practice should have its own Google Places listing. Your practice doesn’t even need to have a website to appear in these results.
2. Yahoo Local: Get a free business listing on Yahoo. It is similar to Google, but
without the map.
3. Bing Local: Get a free listing on Bing. Business listings are returned in Bing’s
4. Squidoo: Are you looking for ways to bring more visitors to your website? You can add your own pages to a popular website called Squidoo. According to Alexa, squidoo.com is ranked as the 239th most popular website in the world. You can add a page about almost any topic to this website for free.
5. NitPickIt.com: This is a local directory listing and any accounting practice can add a free classified listing to produce a powerful back link to your website.
6. BestoftheWeb: (local.botw.org) This directory has free and premium (i.e. paid) listings to increase your business visibility.
7. Yellowpages.com Free and paid local business listings.
8. Craigslist: Service businesses (like accounting firms) are always looking for new ways to advertise their business. A free alternative is Craigslist. You will want to become familiar with their posting guidelines to avoid having your ads removed.
9. YouTube: Video is the hot growth area on the Internet. There are now more
video views than searches. Many of these occur on YouTube.com. Post an attention-getting video that includes your website URL and with a little luck you may suddenly attract a lot of attention.
Here’s an example: an accountant told me he was learning how to ski and was doing terribly. His wife took a bunch of video of him falling, getting tangled up in his gear and generally carrying on like one of the three stooges. To personalize his individual page on his firm’s website, he added a humorous paragraph about his skiing misadventures and a link to the place on YouTube where he posted his wife’s video. Not only did his clients and co-workers see the video, thousands of strangers on YouTube saw it. When he went to a local practice group meeting a couple of weeks later, a number of people told him they’d seen it. Word spread and even more people made a fuss over it. It certainly got him noticed and that in turn led to some introductions and networking opportunities that might not have otherwise become available.
10. Google Profiles: Your name is your brand. A Google Profile gives you one more place to promote your personal brand online. Using Google Profiles, you can control what people will be able to read about you because you control the content.
I haven’t included Twitter in this list. Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters. Obviously, few deep thoughts are transmitted in this medium … users almost invariably employ it to express textual exclamations of a relevant-right-this-moment emotional nature (“OMG, Buffy and Chip are holding hands!!!”).
There are accounting firm marketers out there who are experimenting and trying to figure out how to effectively employ Twitter. At present, I just can’t see its potential value for promoting your practice. If someone comes up with an effective way to use this medium, I’ll tell you about it on my blog ASAP.
I’m not suggesting you get involved with every social media outlet. No one (except, apparently, my grandson) has enough time to do that. But, social media is a brave new world for accountants and their firms, and there’s not a lot of competition out there yet. SMM is a good strategy to put your toe in the water and get a reasonable return for your effort.
Craig Weeks is located in Vancouver, WA and since 1996 has specialized in helping clients as diverse as sole practitioners and KPMG practice groups become more effective business developers. He believes all accountants can become highly effective rainmakers while maintaining their individual interpersonal style. He has a free blog devoted solely to accounting practice business development. There are 80+ informative entries you can peruse. He also published a how-to manual in 2009, which you can check out at www.cpaprofitplus.com.