How Growing Practices Use Social Newtorks

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How do the top local accounting practitioners use online social networks? There’s a simple answer, and it may surprise you.


The folks here at Practice Builder Publishing have been working with small and medium size accounting practices for years, and many of them are masters at the art of networking, locally.

These practitioners are smart, strategic, and forward thinking.

All of which raises the question: Why do they tend to avoid online social networking, and do they need help with it? There lots of reasons why they should be the very first ones to embrace online social networks as an extension of their classic new way of building their business.

Locally, the fastest growing practitioners are the most networked organizations in their market. Their networks include the the most powerful people in their community and in their target niche.

Their growth comes from their ability to make a phone call that influences the actions of major business leaders and thought influencers in their community. These practitioners are plugged in.

While most consider these professionals esperts because of their innovative business practices, the most basic business concepts of these practitioners were brought with them when they exited their positions in top firms.

They’re just following some of the most thoughtful and engaged social business strategists in the business world.

They keep up with what McKinsey’s Dave Edelman and McKinsey Global Institute, EY’s Chris Boudreaux, Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, and other consultants contribute to our understanding of how social networking transforms business.

So you might think these young turks would have jumped into social marketing with both feet.

But that’s not exactly true.

Advising executives of major local corporations is a sensitive business. These local practitioners are both excited by the prospect of cultivating relationships on social networks, but they’re also nervous.

Confidentiality of tax information is a huge concern.

So is reputation, and the risk of online musings being interpreted as one-size-fits-all management advice.

One local practitioner summed it up recently in a Practice Builder Publishing Brainstorming Session, “We know this is something that needs to be done, but we’re lost about how to do it.”

The Networking And Marketing Tool Of Choice

The choice for fast growing firms isn’t social publishing, social selling, social recruiting, or even social networking. It’s their LinkedIn profile.

The choice for fast growing firms is their LinkedIn profile. Click To Tweet

That’s right, their LinkedIn profile.

And, their LinkedIn Groups.

The reason is deeply rooted in the way fast growing firms communicate with clients and prospects. For these fast growing firms, the personal reputations of the partners are everything.

Managing partners in local practices, aren’t just the firms owners, they’re also rainmakers. They have to bring in the business, because they’re on their own, usually as sole practitioners. And, the best way to do it is to leverage their personal relationships.

And, don’t forget that not only are they supposed to make the sale, the client wants them as the product, not a clerk or junior staff member. The personal time of the owners of top growing firms is in demand.

The reputation of the individual partner is supremely important.

The firms’ websites usually have long winded description of the practitioner, with a listing of the successes, their families and their dogs.

But these practitioners are realizing that their LinkedIn profiles get much more traffic than the bio stuck under a link on their brochure type website. So the LinkedIn profile is gradually becoming the centerpiece of their online branding.

The results are not fast. Local practitioners are almost always involved in community activities, and usually shut their laptops off as soon as they leave the office. Their work hours are long, and their time is in demand. Getting a small practitioner to sit down, log in and network online, and keep their prifiles updated just adds to their load.

Silent Social

Successful accountants are careful about whom they connect with, follow, and friend online.

It’s not that they’re antisocial. On the contrary, the best practitioners are highly networked. But they’re not doing it online.

Successful accountants are careful about whom they connect with, follow, and friend online. Click To Tweet

The reason is confidentiality.

The top practitioners pride themselves on maintaining client confidentiality – partly an IRS requirement, and part marketing. Accountants work on sensitive projects (taxes, business strategy, etc.). The very fact that they are working with a particular client can send marketing signals to the competition, and even to the market.

Accounting firms also leverage confidentiality as a reverse-psychology marketing tactic. By emphasizing the secrecy of their client relationships, they create a hidden aura of mystique and hidden power.

Whenever I was opening a new office, prospects often asked me who some of my clients were. Since I was usually new in the market, and had not developed a substantial practice, my standard response was that I am prohibited by law from disclosing any tax client information, and the IRS takes that to include even the name of my clients.

The practical implication of all this is that if I wouldn’t even us a client as a reference, then I would also keep the prospects information absolutely confidential.

That applies in spades to social gestures like connecting on LinkedIn, following on Twitter, and friending on Facebook. Top practitioners won’t connect to clients unless the work is a matter of public record or the relationship is purely personal. Even then, they are likely to choose to err on the side of under-sharing.

Thought Leadership and Social Publishing

One area where the top practitioners aren’t at all paranoid is about publicizing their thought leadership. For a motivated accounting firm, it’s their primary form of marketing.

Top practitioners don’t generally care for traditional marketing. Many of them won’t even utter the word “marketing,” but talk instead about “reputation building” and “thought leadership”.

Large firms were doing content marketing long before it had a name, and they’re still masters of the art. Shining examples include McKinsey Quarterly, PwC’s annual CEO compensation survey, and Millward Brown’s annual study of Top 100 brands.

They attract new prospects through the power of their ideas, insights, and proprietary data. So they invest heavily in publish research, reports, surveys, and whitepapers.

These publications are a marketing investment. They’re usually made public or distributed to selective clients at no charge. Their strategic purpose is to enhance the firm’s reputation for thought leadership and to generate new opportunities from clients interested in the research.

These large firms use Twitter and LinkedIn to drive readers to their content. It’s a growing part of their distribution strategy, but on balance still much smaller than the good ole’ fashioned email blast.

Here again, it’s largely a structural problem. Most content marketing is fairly erratic. It happens at the level of the practice area (niche or specialization) when the owner is working to make themselves known.

The team member responsible for content marketing within each practice is relatively small, and often doesn’t grasp the relationship between social engagement and relationship development.

So by and large, most firms are just beginning to scratch the surface on social. You won’t find a lot of stimulating discussion or real-time insights being exchanged.

To find practitioners having open conversations about strategic topics, you have to look at the industry groups on LinkedIn. By and large they’re populated by employees of the firms in a particular industry or niche. Freed from the confidentiality constraints of active client service, practitioners are more inclined to speak their minds and share their knowledge.

That’s where you’ll find out what prospects are really looking for, and how the top practitioners are getting to know them.

Join us here at Practice Builder Publishing and become a part of the community, whether you become a contributing author, a peer recruiter, or merely a raving devotee of the Practice Builder Publishing resources, I'll work with you personally so you can reach the goals you set.

Best to you and yours,




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