‘The big four’ accountancy firms in the UK – KPMG, PwC, Deloitte and Ernst & Young – are global commentators on a whole range of business and social issues. Their presence on social media channels as brands is well established and acts as just another channel in their corporate communications armoury built on the back of their dominating presence and global reputation.
A few years ago, Grant Thornton broke the mould by realising that social media gave them the opportunity to champion their individual experts and demonstrate to clients that they were ‘human’. After all, in the B2B sector, it is often the case that people buy people, rather than products and services. Instead of creating a social media ‘rulebook’ for staff warning them against sharing sensitive information, they created an internal campaign that actively encouraged staff at all levels to get out there and network online, trusting them to act within their professional code of conduct whilst also having a bit of fun!
But what about smaller regional players? Is anyone really interested in what they’ve got to say about tax planning or auditing processes on Twitter? How can they stand out and carve a niche for themselves alongside the big players? And do their Partners have the skills, resources, time and inclination to integrate social media into their business development activity?
What we are finding increasingly is that it is the smaller players that are able to really engage when it comes to B2B social media. Their clients and customers are looking for someone that they can trust to look after their affairs and explain everything in simple terms, without charging them the earth.
Blacks Solicitors is a fantastic example of a small, regional professional services firm that has used Twitter to gain huge profile for the brand and its people – and other law firms have followed suit with varying levels of success. But we’re now increasingly seeing smaller regional accountancy firms catching on to the idea that social media, especially Twitter, gives them an opportunity to bust the myth that they are ‘boring’ and ‘faceless’ and demonstrate their ability to bring to life ‘dry’ subjects and offer top notch client service.
A case study that we are increasingly referring to in our in-house social media training workshops/seminars with professional services firms is Armstrong Watson, a medium-sized firm with a presence in semi-rural Northern towns including Carlisle, Skipton and Kendal, as well as a city centre office in Leeds. They pride themselves on being a top 30 accountancy firm that is “able to deliver the full range of services you’d normally expect from the Big Four, but with the personal delivery of a local firm.” But they don’t just say it on their website, they DO it through social media.
The firm has been well established on Twitter for over a year now and in the last few months, more and more individuals from the firm are setting up their own accounts which are aligned to the corporate brand but also allow them to get across their own personalities and interests. Whether it’s singing in a choir (@AW_HelenT), baking (AW_annamelia) or sporting interests (@AW_Stevenholmes), Twitter allows tax, payroll and other financial specialists to show that they are human and interesting and have something in common with their clients. It also means that their more ‘dry’ commentary on VAT, auto-enrolment or compliance are more engaging, passionate and down-to-earth.
This kind of success story requires a ‘perfect storm’ of buy-in from the top of the organisation and an innovative culture focused on customer service and people development. Twitter isn’t just an ‘add on’ for Armstrong Watson, it is fully integrated into their wider marketing and business/people development strategy and is complemented by a constant stream of expert content shared on its website, youtube channel and other social media platforms. It is clear from the language and images they use that the internal culture is one of collaboration, enthusiasm and fun.
My favourite recent tweet was from Val Vince (@AW_Valvince), Armstrong Watson VAT Consultant by day and keen runner in her spare time, who said: “I am that odd person who enjoys VAT so I’d happily swap an hour of my time for a coffee to discuss VAT issues #cumbriahour.” Who wouldn’t want to hire someone that is so open, approachable and willing to help that they could actually make your VAT return fun?!