Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Five Things CPAs Need to Know About Social Media

No. 1: It could change how you do business. Next question: How do you define leadership in these turbulent times? Join the survey; get the answers.

November 9, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

No one would mistake Alan Vitberg for a wild revolutionary. But the ideas he’s bringing to bear on business strategies at The Bonadio Group in upstate New York could be.

Vitberg is a seasoned and well-respected professional services marketer, who, for the last seven years has been a part of some phenomenal growth at The Bonadio Group, which is based in Buffalo, N.Y., and now has five more offices along the busy corridor toward Albany, the state capital. Of course, he’s working for Tom Bonadio, who founded the firm in 1978 with one partner and his mother, and ever since has charted a course of expansion, innovation and leadership for his firm and the profession.

Vitberg has done award-winning work in marketing, and today he’s looking at the next frontier: social media marketing and how CPA firms can use it.

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“Except for the very largest of firms,” Vitberg notes, “accountants have generally lagged behind the curve when it comes to innovations in marketing and marketing communications. Now, we’re in the midst of a revolution where it’s highly likely that those firms who are early social-media marketing (SMM) adopters and innovators will gain competitive advantage down the road.”

Here he’s talking about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But he goes further. “Web sites as we know them today will disappear,” he says. In their place, Vitberg envisions companies migrating to a new era, call it Web 3.0, in which, “instead of just pushing information out to viewers, sites will be used to create communities where dialogue and engagement with all types of stakeholders will be the norm.” Imagine a cocktail party where all your clients and referral sources can meet and mingle. Your firm may already do it once a year. But now imagine it 24/7/365 online, with your firm as the host.

Firm’s like Bonadio are already doing it. “Webinars are replacing putting fannies into seats for an event; LinkedIn connections are replacing meets and greets, blogs and postings are replacing feature articles, and so on,” Vitberg says. “It’s just that SMM does it faster, with broader reach, more ‘stickiness’ because it will always be out there, more impact on corporate branding and lead opportunities as a result of its search engine optimization capabilities, and more opportunity to initiate conversations.”

For firms that don’t know where to start, Vitberg has five suggestions:

  1. Start by integrating video into your Web site. “YouTube is the second most-used search engine in the world,” he says.
  2. Institute upward mentoring. “Our younger, more social-media-literate staff should be teaching partners and senior leadership about social media marketing.”
  3. Start recruiting online. Social media will soon become the dominant channel for recruiting staff. After all, it’s in social media where you’ll find them.
  4. Begin with your own firm first. “Internal uses for social media are not being given the attention they deserve. Why shouldn’t we be using social media to engage and dialogue with employees?” In other words, social media may finally be providing the platform the profession has long sought in knowledge management.
  5. Social media marketing needs to be driven by objectives, not tactics. “Once the organization knows what they want to achieve — lead generation, customer service, or trends analysis, for example — objectives can be established and metrics identified.”

But where’s the return on investment (ROI)? In fact, digital marketing is the most measurable tactic available today. But Vitberg goes further even here.

“We face a series of uphill battles in bringing social media into our firms,” Vitberg says, citing intransigent attitudes, skeptics, budget and resource allocations and infrastructure and training requirements.

But the discussion must move soon beyond mere ROI measured by anecdote to solid, quantifiable research. “Perhaps the metric we should be using when discussing social media marketing is not ROI, but ROIn — Return on Influence.”

Interesting thought. But then, it’s always interesting talking with Vitberg.

NEXT QUESTION: What makes a successful leader in these tough times? Join the survey; get the answers.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, ideas or questions? Contact Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.