By Anna Faherty
It's five years since I first wrote the accountingcpd.net course Social Media for Accountants and, despite the fact that I have used social media more and more during that time, when I came to update the resource recently, I was surprised by how much had changed in the intervening half decade.
I knew I needed to update the specific platforms referenced in the course. Some, like Foursquare, have gone out of fashion. Others, like Instagram, have sprung from nowhere. I expected some of the links to thought-provoking articles to be defunct and any statistics to look a little dated. What I didn't expect – perhaps rather naively – was a shift in how we use social media and in how social media platforms themselves are evolving.
While the fundamental nature of social media hasn't changed – it still enables people to connect with one another online, to collaborate and to create, organise and share content – the way we access it has been substantially altered by the rise of the smartphone. When the course first launched, I didn't mention phones or apps at all; at the time most people were logging into sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter on their PCs. Now, we're more likely to interact with social media on our phone than on a computer, we expect our activity to be synced across multiple devices (including tablets) and the fastest growing social media platforms have been designed specifically for phones, exploiting their internet connections as well their ability to take photographs and capture moving images.
As for the platforms themselves, in 2011 most social media sites offered one distinct sort of service: Twitter was about microblogging, Flickr was about images, YouTube was about video and so on. Today, there's a convergence across the different social media platforms. For instance, Twitter now includes images within its feed (rather than as links to external files), video is now a growth area for Facebook and LinkedIn now allows you to publish content. The biggest social media platforms regularly add features that were previously only handled by other sites.
What do all these changes mean if you're using social media for business? Firstly, it's even more of an imperative. As more and more of your colleagues, clients and customers use social media, you're missing a trick if you don't connect, collaborate and share with them through social media channels. Choosing the right platforms is key and the convergence I mention above means you can no longer make a selection based on the sort of content you want to discover or share. Instead, you need to think about the platforms where your contacts (and potential contacts) are spending time and how they are using these platforms.
There are also new apps, like Instagram and Periscope, which offer new ways of engaging with people, through images and live video. And there are new tools to help you manage projects and work with others. One of the most exciting apps to have appeared since the course first launched is Slack, a tool for managing communication within teams. You only need to check out Slack's 'wall of love' on Twitter to see what a difference it has made in some workplaces.
I'm pleased to say that the newly revised Social Media for Accountants course refers to each of these new apps, while also considering the professional potential of growth areas such as live streaming and virtual reality. There are plenty of links to recent guidance and relevant thought pieces, along with some new examples of real uses of social media – from presidential chats and global health communication to high street banking and surgical training.
The main thrust of the course remains constant though: by working through it you'll consider and explore how social media can help you achieve your individual professional goals. Plus, you'll develop a personal social media brand, build an online professional network, identify new sources of information and encounter new ways of marketing, organising events and managing collaborative projects. If you haven't used social media in a strategic way before, it could be just the thing to get you started.