Which social network is right for you?
The pros and cons of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.
April 16, 2012
Now that tax season is essentially over, it’s time to focus on marketing your practice. Regardless of your niche area of expertise, social media marketing should be part of the mix. Social media use is different from search engine optimization (SEO) or getting on top of the Google search results. Rather, it is the latest form of word-of-mouth marketing. Social media do not replace traditional word-of-mouth, but expand it. With so many online networks, which should you choose?
The simplest answer is, all of them. A better answer: the networks your (current and desired) clients prefer. As social networks compete for users, attention, and your advertising preference, they become increasingly niched. Posting the wrong material on the wrong networks is similar to wearing a suit to your neighbor’s barbecue and handing out business cards. So here’s a quick rundown on the top networks, each one’s purpose and demographics, and recommended use for a CPA practitioner.
Facebook is the biggest. “If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest, after China and India and twice the size of the United States,” cites statistical lore by way of PC World. Thus, you can find nearly every kind of business person and individual through it. So, where do you start? Before you can start a business page, you must first launch a personal account, even if you don’t want to use it personally.
Promote your Facebook page by uploading your email contacts including clients. This is the springboard for them to “Like” your practice and essentially Facebook’s version of a testimonial. Why do this? Everybody in their network would immediately see that your contacts appreciate you, plus your contacts would receive an alert every time you update your page with articles, links, or other content.
LinkedIn is my personal favorite network since it is strictly professional without the silly games, photos, videos, or inane updates for which Facebook is well known. Moreover, the median household income of its more than 150 million users is close to $90,000, according to many studies.
Unlike Facebook’s business page, LinkedIn’s corporate page is awful. It is far better to focus on your individual account by completing your profile and then uploading your email contacts. Nobody will know the nature of your relationship, so don’t worry about having clients poached. LinkedIn, like all other social networking sites, isn’t about spamming, but is intended to help cut through advertising clutter and junk mail via personal introductions. Focus on LinkedIn Groups and Advanced People Search to target specific companies or job titles.
If Facebook is like a barbecue and LinkedIn is like a trade show, then Twitter is most similar to a press conference. It is very media friendly. Journalists, editors, producers, and freelancers use Twitter frequently to find and keep up with subject matter experts. So, if you’re a familiar face on the seminar or conference circuit, consider tweeting. You are limited to 140 characters (about the length of a text message), so most often you will need to link back to your website or blog to deliver longer messages. If you don’t have a blog, consider starting one using Wordpress.com.
Twitter is also meant to be a broadcasting platform. Facebook helps us peek behind the corporate veil into our “living rooms.” LinkedIn extends our business conversations online. Twitter is best used to provide information, retweet (forward to your network), and have ongoing conversations. It is meant to be short, but need not be off the cuff. Planning your marketing messages is essential.
Because it’s from Google, Google+ has received a lot of media attention. However, its active user base is still less than MySpace. Until it becomes more mainstream or becomes as focused as MySpace — which is still big among musicians and fans — it is a lost cause.
YouTube, Google’s other social network is often forgotten. Don’t fret if you’ve got a face for radio or lack the camera skills of James Cameron. YouTube videos are meant to be short (most users have a cap of 10 minutes); three-minute videos are ideal and you can easily use your webcam.
A simpler solution?
Audio record your next seminar right on your smartphone and paste that into PowerPoint (PPT), along with your seminar notes and your headshot. Inexpensive software like Moyea can turn your PPT into a YouTube-ready video within seconds after which uploading it to your YouTube Channel would only take minutes. Within the hour you can email a link to your video or copy and paste a shortened code (use tinyurl.com for instance) and have it appear on your website blog.
Pinterest has received a lot of interest lately. It’s the fastest growing social network in history according to Tech Crunch and Huffington Post. While it’s been around for a while, most of its growth has been in the past quarter. It is now beating Google+ in popularity, and its users spend more time on it than Facebook. It is very visual and focused: 70 percent of its users are women, whose interests (pinned to their home page) are related to fashion. Their average annual income is more than $100,000.
How critical is Pinterest to your practice marketing? Probably not much, unless your accounting practice is niched in the fashion, entertainment, food, or consumer markets. How long will Pinterest sustain this growth? Time will tell.
Surely, the most important aspect of social media is to help brand you as a subject matter expert. As in law, you simply cannot excel at every aspect of accounting for every type of individual or business. Email is still the driver of most social networks and is by far the most widely used referral marketing tool. So clean up your email contacts and launch a blog-driven newsletter. Your social networking will then be a natural expansion.
Vikram Rajan is the founder of phoneBlogger.net, a referral marketing tool used by CPAs and attorneys. He has taught marketing webinars for the AICPA and has been published by the Journal of Accountancy.