Keeping Social While Distancing

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about seismic changes in how we interact and do business. Neighborhoods, cities and states are under various levels of lockdown, storefronts are shuttered and business models that involve in-person interactions are not an option right now. According to a survey from the CNBC Technology Council, 85% of companies surveyed had at least half of their workforce working from home, while 25% of those organizations were entirely remote, with more getting to that point. As how we do business is changing dramatically, we also must rethink how we communicate and interact with our colleagues, clients and business communities. As we move to an increasingly virtual space, how we view, understand and use social media must evolve with the times.

Social media has been and continues to be a powerful business tool for marketing, networking and recruitment. Regardless of how you feel about it, more and more, social media is a way that people choose to interact and, sometimes, do business. You don’t want to be left behind, because you want to keep doing things the way you always have – you need to evolve and do business in the ways that your clients want. Too many cautionary tales of businesses gone belly-up include the business owner stubbornly sticking to what they have always done. You don’t want to be that dinosaur. For the last month or more, depending on where you live, even the most resistant among us have been forced to embrace technology in new and different ways, to connect with loved ones, to communicate with coworkers and, now, to interact with our clients. Social media is going beyond mere marketing.

Media agency Mindshare tracked American consumer sentiment and behaviors in March, while many have been stuck at home, and found that social media usage increased with every passing week. In the first week of March, 20% of those surveyed were using social media and, by the end of the month, that percentage had jumped to 48%. Simultaneously, this study found that people are feeling more “stressed”, “frustrated” and “worried”. As more people are logging on and seeking information and relief, this is an opportune time for Forensic and Valuation Services (FVS) practitioners to start conversations, build relationships and engage the public with useful content.

You know now that we have a lot of people spending more time online and using social media, but then what? Upon searching the term “social media”, results referred to as many as 65+ social networking sites that I apparently need to know about in 2020. You will be relieved to know that, although there are many social media options, you and your business will not need to use all of them to be effective and to reach the people you are trying to reach. To help you narrow down the sites that would work best for you, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who are you trying to reach, or, in other words, what is your target audience?
  • Where would that audience hang out and how would they use social media? Remember that, as more people are working remotely and having to learn how to use technology in new ways, they are also using their new skills to engage with social media in new ways.
  • What are you trying to tell your audience? What is your message?

Once you have answers to these questions, it’s time to evaluate the various social media sites and tools and decide which are best suited for your needs. Each social media site has its particular characteristics, audience and tools and, once you know what you want, you can see what will give you that. Some of the social media sites that are most commonly used by FVS practitioners are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, though don’t let that limit you. If you find another social media site or application that is perfect for your needs, dive in and make the most of it.

During times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently experiencing, our clients, and the public, are worried and seeking reliable information from a trusted advisor. Now is a perfect time to embrace social media and the many tools it has, in order to reach out, explain and inform. It is paramount to be timely and communicate in language that is appropriate for your audience. Remember what makes sense to a fellow CPA may sound like a foreign language to the general public. Right now, as well, the public is spending a lot of time looking to fill the void of uncertainty so be sure to keep contact regular. Some things to consider:

  • Continue to stick to your social media policy and, if you don’t have one, create one. Included in your policy, remember:
    • Posts should align with the values and mission of your firm and the profession;
    • Posts should also conform with the codes of professional conduct of both the AICPA and your state professional governing body;
    • Because of the confidentiality concerns of some FVS assignments, provide clear guidance regarding, what information can be shared and how to manage geolocation tracking in social media applications;
    • Use your grandmother as guide for how to post in social media. If it is something you wouldn’t say to her, it is probably something you shouldn’t say on social media; and
    • Remember nothing is anonymous, so remain professional.
  • All the major social media sites have video capability. Don’t be afraid to use video. The video does not have to be a professional, slick production. You can use your phone or computer to make a simple recording that is informative, funny or just sharing an insight. Especially now, with most people working from home, they don’t expect “slick” videos, they want content that will help them in one way or another. They want to connect with you in an authentic way.
  • So, be authentic. Your clients choose you because of your expertise, qualifications, and who you are. That means, when you communicate with them, as you share knowledge, you should be true to who you are. If they feel you are being fake, it will make it difficult for them to trust your content.
  • There are no rules about the length of your posts. Again, different media has different characteristics and you may find one of your pieces is more apt for LinkedIn, while a quick morning check-in is perfect for Twitter. Do that. Feel things out and see how your audience responds. Read other content and get a feel of what works there. Reading other content will also help you with material to share.
  • Your content does not have to all be original content. Follow and connect with your favorite thought leaders, associations and publications and share what they are sharing. Remember to credit the source of what you share and get permissions where necessary. There is a lot of information and misinformation in circulation – you can be a very important part of helping get the facts out there and exposing untruths.
  • Interact with others and remember that social media is a conversation, not a monologue. Listen to your audience and the public at large and use what you hear to guide you. Don’t forget to respond to those who connect with you directly.

Even though social distancing has taken us out of our traditional offices and the COVID-19 pandemic has many of us more stressed than before, this is also a great opportunity for us as FVS practitioners. You know that video call you had with your college friend who you haven’t seen in years? Social media can help you reach out further than you have usually done, and it can get you interacting with people in ways you had not imagined. You can share tips on how to protect your clients from cyber fraud or disaster fraud, you can help your audience find calm amid the chaos or invite them to a challenge. Start the conversation; it’s always a good time to hear from a trusted professional.

Rumbi Petrozzello, CPA/CFF, CFE is the Principal of Rock Forensics and a consultant at Aon's Cyber Solutions. She specializes in fraud investigations, shareholder disputes, and other forensic accounting matters. Rumbi is the incoming President-Elect of the New York State Society of CPAs and is a member of its Business Valuation and Litigation Services Committee. She is a former member of the AICPA's Forensic and Litigation Services Committee and co-authored its practice aid on Communications in Litigation and Dispute Services. She is currently a member of the AICPA's Fraud Task Force.