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Editor's letter: The art of social media

If organisations are still unsure as to the worth of social media in a business context, perhaps it is because the channel has not been around long enough for users to have accumulated a clear idea of what works, and what doesn't, when using it. There is certainly an art to using social media, and to ensure you are getting the most out of these important - and necessary - communication tools, The Accountant this month explores the 'do's and don'ts' of various platforms, as well as current trends and challenges facing the accounting profession as a result of their advent (turn to pages 10-13 for the full report).

As part of this investigation we have, for the second year running, surveyed the professional accounting bodies globally to see how they fare in terms of their social media reach on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The US and UK bodies continue to dominate the top ten lists, but there are also a growing number of smaller institutes stepping up their social media efforts, as their membership demands it and the need to engage with a wider stakeholder set grows.

The majority agree social media is a communication tool, not a marketing instrument to be used to push products or services onto your fans, followers or group members. Nevertheless this is a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, and each organisation must find its own place on that spectrum to be successful.

Social media platforms allow for communication in real time, allowing instant engagement, and let users gather data and feedback as they go to ensure they are providing the best service to members, clients and customers. They can also be used as a tool to drive recruitment and awareness of the accounting profession... or any other sector, for that matter.

However, the other major point to come out of the report is the importance of having a concrete social media strategy in place before launching on any platforms. Arming staff with knowledge of how to use these sites correctly and guidelines for how to follow up on online engagements is of particular importance for organisations looking to navigate these social waters 'safely'.

Remember, as has been seen in the UK at the time of writing (just google Sally Bercow and Twitter...) social media can be unpredictable at the best of times, and necessitates preparation for the unexpected. This is where a solid policy is vital.

During the writing of this letter I have stopped at least twice to check our World Accounting Intelligence twitter feed to make sure I haven't missed some breaking piece of news and our LinkedIn group to post a news article. This is just another example of how social media has become one of the most important means of communication to arise in the past century. I can only see the extent to which we use social media in our daily lives, both for business and pleasure, increasing in future.

In my book, any suggestion this is just a fad or a phase can now safely be put to bed. If organisations in or out of the accounting profession wish to stay current and not lose members, customers or clients to their competitors, they must sign up and get social. Luckily there are experts out there to help, so you can have your hand held right through from strategic development to launching.

Good luck!

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