Marketing for Accounting Firms: Social Media for Social Businesses

Although I’m currently working in an advertising and marketing agency, I have gained a great interest these past couple months in marketing for professional services.  If you’ve ever taken one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests, you’ll understand me when I say I’m an ENFJ, which stands for Extroverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging.  I’m a very empathetic person who also exercises thorough thought and judgement in all his decisions, and I love meeting and working with new people to provide successful long-term solutions and form lasting relationships with them.  This is one of the reasons why I love marketing so much.  It utilizes all of these different traits in a person over the course of just a day.

If we take a closer look at the different industries that employ marketing professionals, marketing people might not frequently be seen in professional services organizations, specifically, accounting firms, which I’ll be focusing on in this post.  However, marketing professionals provide invaluable services to medium- and large-sized firms, since they not only drive sales and develop relationships with key customers, but they enhance the value of the brand beyond the traditional avenues of marketing and commerce.

Here are some accounting firms that, in my opinion, “get it” in terms of maximizing brand image across digital platforms, and leveraging the customer relationship side of their business to create a more social, people-oriented company across all realms.

1. KPMG.  Perhaps the biggest reason why I took such a great interest in professional services is because of an interview Forbes did with Chris Goodman, appointed last year as KPMG’s Chief Marketing Officer after spending a few years at Young & Rubicam as the Executive Vice President.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lturSEbRjPU

He outlines the micromarketing strategy, which reflects a more client-centric approach to creating leads and driving conversion by tailoring the client’s experience of the company down to the specific industry of specialization, and even personality of the client.  He also brought up KPMG’s sponsorship of golfer Phil Mickelson and discussed how the company leveraged it by combining digital programs and direct marketing into the overall marketing mix.  I love this interview because he brings up so many great points about spreading the marketing process across all areas of a firm, from the partners down to the staff accountants.  As he says, “The partner is the brand.  They’re the primary face to the client every day.”  This is also relevant from a public relations standpoint because every member of the firm is responsible for developing the brand’s image through their interactions with clients, as well as their actions and representations on social media.  And as far as social media goes, KPMG has the second-highest number of followers on Twitter out of all the “Big 4” accounting firms, with 106,000 worldwide, and their tweets reflect the diversity of their portfolio of industries and also touch upon thought leadership with links to videos of the company’s professionals discussing practical topics.

However, as KPMG has the second-largest follower base of the Big 4, the largest goes to…

2. Deloitte.  With over 167,000 followers, Deloitte is also doing very well on the Twitter front through their curation of content from major business publications.  I follow David Redhill, CMO at Deloitte Australia, who is a great example of what I think the ideal C-level executive should be on Twitter.  His posts not only reflect insights relevant to Deloitte, but the display of his hobbies and his informal personal interactions with colleagues and other followers generates an image of the company that is more relatable than the typical perception of an accounting firm.  Thanks to him, I have a more positive, human perception of the company, and that makes all the difference to me because I personally want to do business with people.  That’s the great effect of using social media for commercial purposes.

This balance between commercial and human can also be illustrated through the company’s Facebook page, on which are prominently displayed lots of photos of industry events, community involvement initiatives, and valuable infographics.  The Deloitte YouTube channel is also transparent in expressing the values of the company’s employees and why they love working for the global brand.  Clearly, Deloitte’s social media plan is effective.  Not only do they have the largest number of Twitter followers across the Big 4, but they also have the largest number of Facebook likes with 188,000 (PwC is a close second with 185).  Also, according to Accounting Today, the company generated the largest revenue in Management Advisory services among the Big 4 in 2013, with over $5.8 billion, and came in second behind PwC in Accounting & Auditing services with a little over $4 billion.  All of these successes can be attributed to using social media in a firm’s marketing efforts in order to demonstrate consistency with its core values and brand image, thereby creating positive associations among a potential consumer base and eventually developing new leads from relationships.

Now, going back to YouTube, a smaller firm that does particularly well on that channel is…

3. ParenteBeard.  This Philadelphia-based firm, created in late 2009 from a merger between two firms, was especially effective in creating a series of videos last year that really brought out the humanistic aspects of the company.  Some of the videos depicted several members of the leadership team, including Chairman and CEO Bob Ciaruffoli, having a conversation around a table with coffee and pastries about the advantages their firm has in servicing middle-market clients.  One unique element of this video campaign is definitely the naturalistic aspect of the conversation, as it enables transparency into  upper-level management through off-the-cuff anecdotes, expressing why the management team feels ParenteBeard is a leading player among medium-sized firms.  There’s no direct address to the camera, no formal presentation, and no hard selling.  It’s just people talking, which I’ve never seen from an accounting firm before, but I think should be integrated more often because, as Ciaruffoli says, it’s “a business of people”.  Furthermore, the casual attitude the managers portray in the videos is consistent with the company’s slogan, “Confidence Through Clarity”, and it reinforces one of the firm’s points of differentiation, specifically, the value it places on the relationships it has with clients who would otherwise fail to establish a relationship with advisors and auditors in a Big 4 firm.  The video that mentions this particular point can be found below, and another one that discusses client relationships can be viewed below that one:

The company Facebook page prominently displays the workplace culture in Philadelphia, New York City, and all across its Pennsylvania offices, reinforcing the firm’s identification with the Mid-Atlantic region and all of the communities in which it holds offices.  I also appreciate seeing so many young professionals in these pictures, as I’m around their age, so it’s great to see them making strides within their firm and the surrounding community.  As a member of my local Chamber of Commerce, I understand and appreciate that kind of commitment inside and outside the office.

Finally, I’d like to discuss one firm that takes the humorous route in expressing relatability:

4. Brown Smith Wallace.  On this St. Louis-based firm’s YouTube channel, one will find several videos of Kyle Dodwell, an auditor with the firm, as part of his series entitled “Kyle’s CPA Video Blog”.  Although there are only six videos of him, there’s no shortage of offbeat humor here, as Kyle can be seen doing anything from using Internet meme-style techniques to outline why accountants are cooler than you think, to donning a Blues Brothers outfit and playing his rousing rendition of the “Tax Time Blues” on the ukelele, and finally, adding an inquisitive intonation to the end of every sentence.  You know what I mean?  Like when everything is phrased as a question?  Even when it doesn’t need to be?  Then it doesn’t make sense?  And gets kind of annoying after a while?  You get the idea.

The series is an incredibly interesting and refreshing method to attract a younger audience to the accounting world.  Even if they’re not in the market for the services the firm provides, young people can definitely relate to Kyle because people like him are on YouTube all the time, and especially because he’s terrific at engaging his audience.  Who knows?  Maybe someday that audience could be the specific targeted consumer base.  But the results for now?  Well, Brown Smith Wallace banked over $29 million in revenue last year, and ranked 3rd in Accounting Today’s Firms to Watch, so I think it’s safe to say that Kyle’s videos didn’t hasten the progress of the firm.  Check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/user/BrownSmithWallace

So there you have it, four firms that have maximized their involvement on social media to develop their brand image and generate revenue and relationships.  What role do you think social media plays for an accounting firm?  Is there another firm you think is doing something unique?  Let me know in the comments below.

And thanks again for stopping by.  I’ll catch you again next week!

Check out Accounting Today’s 2013 Top 100 Firms at http://digital.accountingtoday.com/accountingtoday/2013top100firms#.

Twitter: KPMG @KPMG, Deloitte @Deloitte, David Redhill @dredhill

Facebook: Deloitte https://www.facebook.com/deloitte, ParenteBeard https://www.facebook.com/ParenteBeard

YouTube: Deloitte US https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZV_jCLEP4vq7KLmbBqqu8g, Deloitte Careers https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQeQGXFeurXMrQ_zJ2FwpyQ, ParenteBeard https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkDpMzE01_BQf0Cl1Qg80cA

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