Using Social Media to Build Authority
Becoming a thought leader is about establishing a reputation for expertise in your specialty area. With effort and discipline, accountants can use their online platforms to drive website traffic, build trust with clients and peers, and attract more referrals. Your goal is to become visible, credible, and an obvious first choice for your ideal clients.
Here is a checklist for building thought leadership online.
- Know which marketing phase you are in
Many accountants “burn out” on social media because they don’t have a clear understanding of marketing phases. Starting a blog or a business page on Facebook and experiencing disappointment because no prospects called to buy your services in the first week is a case of mistaken expectations.
Experts recommend framing social media marketing in terms of three distinct stages.
In the first stage, professionals should aim simply to build awareness. There is no selling or even softer invitations to intact at this point – professionals should be patient and steadfast in delivering valuable insights and sharing helpful information without any sales push at all.
The next phase is engagement. Now that prospects are familiar with the accountant’s business, they may feel comfortable interacting with him or her in a safe, risk-limited environment. Hosting a Twitter Q&A session or asking readers to share their stories on a particular subject may work at this stage.
Finally, there is acquisition. Prospects that have experienced a level of trust through awareness and engagement may feel more comfortable when the accountant reaches out to offer a complimentary financial statement review or a trial service package.
By knowing which marketing stage they are in, professionals can avoid a lot of frustration and expense.
- Choose the right platforms
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the three biggest social media platforms when it comes to your professional presence. Accountants should first evaluate how their clients, prospects, and peers use those networks, then select what will be the best fit for their market.
Yelp, Google+, Glassdoor, and other websites and applications may also be relevant for your firm. Reviews written by clients and prospects on those websites are web-searchable and will come up when someone runs an Internet query for your business name. It’s important to be aware of all points of your business online presence, look at it holistically, and be sure that all components support your overall brand strategy.
- Create valuable, relevant, and shareable content
Content quality and consistency are the cornerstones of your social media strategy.
Start with what you already know. Tie that knowledge into a persistent problem, recent trend, or a common desire shared by your audience. Your goal is to choose an area that will support your efforts over the long term.
Pay attention to your target market by observing and listening. What topics are interesting to your audience? What challenges do they face? What do they celebrate?
Be generous with your ideas. Accountants are often concerned that if they give all of their best ideas away, competitors might copy them (or clients might be able to fix the problem using a DIY approach). In reality, accounting professionals have spent years honing their expertise, methodologies, and ideas. No one can steal that, and no one can fully implement it independently.
Compile a content calendar to keep you on track. Your goal is to become a regular, reliable presence for your audience. Just as magazine editors and TV show producers do, plan your content several weeks or even months ahead. Think about themes and map out your editorial calendar so that you never have to scramble for a blog post topic again.
Here is a partial list of online tools to consider for publishing and sharing your content.
- Blogging in a specialty niche can be a great way to stay in touch with your audience. A blog editorial calendar is critical to putting out regular content.
- Use case studies to highlight a client’s challenge, solution, and outcomes in a way that connects with prospective clients and builds expertise and trust.
- White papers can contain original research on a hot topic of value to the audience, your thoughts, and recommendations.
- Video blogging is a good fit for some accountants. Videos can be hosted on the firm’s website or on a YouTube channel.
- Curated content from industry sources can add value by saving your audience research time.
- Expert guest bloggers in an area adjacent to yours can position you as a trusted advisor with a valuable and deep network of experts.
- Articles in relevant trade publications can add another layer of validation and recognition to your name.
Start with just one or two ideas. Focus on making them a regular part of your professional practice. As you get comfortable, consider adding more outlets and content streams if you like. Automate as much as you can through social media scheduling tools such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social.
- Leverage partners and centers of influence
No matter what platforms you select, spend time identifying partners and centers of influence to build relationships with them. Remember that center-of-influence marketing only works through patient effort, consistent value delivered over time, and investing time in getting to know the other professional.
- Promote across platforms
Simply publishing content is not enough to get the traction you need. Promote and share it through cross-platform posts, email campaigns, and newsletters.
- Collect endorsements and testimonials
Endorsements and reviews from clients and business partners are powerful tools for building a reputation. Prospects may not believe you, but they might trust others who have worked with you.
- Become a source for soundbites and quotes
If your skill-set includes the ability to quickly summarize what’s most important, challenging, and actionable in daily news, consider building relationships with editors and reporters. The ability to generate catchy soundbites is rare and valuable. Should you make yourself available on short notice to comment on recent developments, you may be able to develop connections that have the power to position you as an expert.
- Take it offline
Think of your professional presence holistically to round out your online efforts with what you do in the real world. Speaking and networking can supply writing topic ideas, promote your firm, and position you as an expert.
In closing, remember that social media is not about immediate sales. It’s about building trust and relationships that take time to develop. Think of social media as a permanent footprint. Your blogs, articles, and videos should continue to work for you long after they have been published.