CPA links

Chartered Professional Accountants were loath to adopt LinkedIn in its early days. But that’s changed, and while more are joining daily, they do not fully utilize the tool. Here’s how it’s done.

With more than 12 million members in Canada, the professional networking site LinkedIn boasts an impressive market penetration. And they’re not just passive members, either. “We see a lot of really great engagement here,” says Julie Dossett, LinkedIn Canada’s communications lead.

Not being on LinkedIn can be a liability these days, especially if you are working for a company and don’t have an online presence of your own, says Melonie Dodaro, author of The LinkedIn Code and owner of Top Dog Social Media, based in Kelowna, BC.

“If somebody is interested in knowing more about who you are or wants to do business with you or is thinking about doing business with you, what do they do? They Google your name,” says Dodaro. Landing in the top three search engine results, your LinkedIn profile is often your first online impression.

Like many digital darlings, LinkedIn grew from humble beginnings. Its seeds were sown in 2002 in cofounder Reid Hoffman’s living room. A month after it was launched in May 2003, it had 4,500 members. Today, it has 450 million members, more than 9,900 full-time employees and offices in 30 cities around the world.

But unlike marketers, who took to it like birds to flight, accountants weren’t early adopters of the social professional platform, which is touted for its ability to transform careers, facilitate hiring, boost client acquisition and amplify brands.

While there are more than 105,000 LinkedIn Canada members with the CPA designation in their profile, many don’t utilize the network to its fullest — whether it’s fine-tuning their profiles, joining groups or creating content on Pulse, the content platform the site launched in 2015.

Still, Dossett has seen an evolution. “For accountants, it took them a little longer but we’re seeing great activity now and I think what we’re seeing is a greater understanding among accountants for managing their own brand,” she says. “I’ve seen a real shift in the industry with accountants really understanding that they have to articulate their qualifications and their expertise and that this [LinkedIn] is a perfect platform.”

One accountant who has fully embraced LinkedIn is Toronto-based Andrew Wall, owner of Wall CPA and vice-president of CA4IT, which provides a variety of accounting services to knowledge-based businesses and other small businesses. His LinkedIn profile is robust, showing a detailed career history, active engagement on Pulse and membership in several groups.

“I’ve been on LinkedIn actively, say, five or six years,” says Wall. “We generate a lot of our business through staffing agencies, and [they] use it quite heavily, so we thought it would be a great place to generate leads.”

Wall’s primary client base is comprised of independent consultants, who are typically placed through staffing agencies, he explains. Initially, however, he wasn’t sure how to use LinkedIn to connect with his company’s target market. He started with a company page and joined groups to help build the firm’s professional brand. Clients didn’t immediately come running. The turning point was when he started to build his connections.

“I started to connect with all the people I knew that I had relationships with and also to connect with anyone else in the industry that I thought would be a good fit who I wasn’t directly connected with, but connected with through another connection.”

The effort paid off, propelling his connections from a paltry 100 back then to more than 5,000 today. “When I started to grow my audience, we really started to get a lot of value out of it,” Wall says. “The key is also making sure that you know the audience you’re looking for and who you are trying to connect with, and that you’re connecting with an audience that is relevant.”

Wall also focused efforts on publishing posts and commenting on posts with a goal of staying top of mind, “not necessarily to get a sale.”

Staying top of mind and having a really great presence on LinkedIn are goals that many of Dodaro’s larger clients, such as BDO Canada, also have for their LinkedIn activity. She believes it’s critical for anyone using the social network to set goals and objectives and really understand why they’re using it.

“Are you looking to build your business or are you looking to add more clients. If so, you’re going to use it as a lead-generation tool versus an accountant who’s got a very full practice and is just staying connected with his clients and colleagues and accepting the odd connection request invite that comes in,” Dodaro says.

While there are substantial similarities in how LinkedIn is used by professionals in different industries — creating a great profile, using the job board or publishing content — are there other ways accountants could use the site to advance their corporate and personal goals?

NETWORKING

“When I think about why I joined [LinkedIn], one of the things that’s really important for us in professional services is networking,” says Mark Vrooman, a partner in assurance practice at EY based in Toronto. “I view LinkedIn as a great extension of the type of networking that I think is important to be successful.”

Vrooman will network with alumni of the firm, clients or former clients and people he crosses paths with in his professional life.

Vrooman, whose specialty is the real estate industry, was another early adopter of LinkedIn and he’s fortunate to be part of EY’s team, where workshops on personal branding and the importance of social media are well-established. The workshops are facilitated by Erin Rogers, the brand, marketing and communications leader at EY Canada.

“What we try to do is really help our client practitioners understand the importance of their personal brand, and certainly social media and LinkedIn is one element of that,” says Rogers. “Ultimately we are trying to give our client practitioners that easy button for them to share their knowledge and their perspective, and to stay connected to their networks,” says Rogers.

EY takes a collective approach to LinkedIn to stay connected to alumni, promote thought leadership, build excitement around new advertising creative staff or to galvanize internal campaigns, for example.

“Every single person on my team — [from] public relations, the digital team that manages those tools, to our advertising team — has an accountability to integrate social media in his or her projects,” says Rogers.

Dossett cites EY as a leader in the accounting industry when it comes to its engagement with the social media platform.

“EY is a really interesting example of a firm that’s really discovering the value of publishing and engaging on LinkedIn,” says Dossett. “They clearly have decided to engage there and, what we’ve noticed particularly and they speak a lot about, is the fact that they’ve used the platform to connect with their alumni.”

The alumni angle is a real opportunity for CPAs and industry firms, helping them to forge connections that can have mutual long-term benefits and impact.

“There is a belief and a vision for the career journey in EY. It’s all about lifelong relationships and that is a statement that we make about the experience [employees] have when they are at EY and when they leave EY,” says Rogers.

The alumni remain part of the broader EY family, and can return with greater competencies and skills. “We do a really good job of keeping close to those alumni, because you never know,” she says. “In fact, one just came back to us, boomeranged back to us, and it’s been a fantastic experience to have another alumnus back on our team. These are relationships that are critical.”

CAREER ADVANCEMENT AND COACHING

For CPAs, LinkedIn can be an invaluable tool — directly and indirectly — for boosting industry knowledge or even tackling a critical day-to-day business problem. Few know this better than Larry Brownoff, a CPA, CA and director of professional and career services at CPA Alberta.

Brownoff is a connector — and maybe “a bit of a LinkedIn junkie,” he says. Among his key roles are member advisory and consultative services, and he facilitates connections between the organization’s members, nonmembers and people outside the industry who create products or services relevant to the accounting industry.

“One of our key goals is member relevance and member engagement, and a lot of our members are on LinkedIn,” says Brownoff, who started using LinkedIn when he was a recruiter with staffing firm Robert Half.

When it comes to promoting industry events to members — such as workshops, roundtables or CPA Alberta’s Elevate event this past spring, which celebrated the profession and achievement — Brownoff understands the power of LinkedIn.

CPA Alberta has 28,000 members and Brownoff has more than 7,000 LinkedIn connections, so he’ll promote events through LinkedIn using formal posts or the site’s feed. He also enlists other CPA members who have a good cross section of members on LinkedIn to help promote events. The combined effect is greater than sending emails or publishing listings in the organization’s quarterly magazine, Dividends.

Soliciting feedback is another activity Brownoff engages in. For example, he’ll post questions on LinkedIn to give his communications department insights that will be used in the magazine.

It’s another step toward meeting his organization’s goals of increasing member relevance and engagement. The social network is also part of a larger plan to position CPA Alberta as one of the top resources that members will reach out to if they have challenges in their career — whether it’s accounting or auditing standards, an ethical dilemma or taking over a client from a predecessor.

To Brownoff, the benefits of CPA chapter members and accountants using LinkedIn are clear: “One, career advancement. Two, as a sounding board, having a network of professionals at the level that I’m at that I can reach out to — and that network is on any device you carry around in your pocket.”

CONTENT IS KEY

An effective profile on LinkedIn is just the foundation. To create strong corporate and personal branding, as well as engagement, the extra steps of content creation and curation are essential.

The catch? Most accountants aren’t comfortable writing articles or don’t feel they have anything to say. Dossett disagrees, and suggests CPAs can publish an opinion piece, new research or observations on an issue in the industry.

“It’s a great way to put some colour around who you are — to really stand out from the crowd,” she says.

If you are still not confident about writing, Dossett and Dodaro both suggest posting other types of content, including slides, graphics, survey results, charts and so on. Curation is also an option: you can post thought leadership from your firm, for instance, or other noncopyrighted content.

Publishing content on Pulse is a strategic way to provide clients in your network with valuable information and position yourself as a leader in the industry. Wall doesn’t need convincing. He’s been active on the blogging platform since it launched and has seen a definite impact on his profile views and company’s bottom line. He says the key is finding “content that is interesting to the people who are digesting it.”

He also stresses the importance of publishing regularly to get noticed by your target audience and generate engagement. “We went through periods when we weren’t very active on Pulse, and I saw a direct correlation to the number of people who were looking at my profile and doing business with us as a result.

“If you’re not doing Pulse, the number of people who will be looking at your profile will drop significantly,” says Wall.

RECRUITING 2.0

Despite the tools and features LinkedIn has added over the years to enhance its value beyond recruiting, it’s recruiting that remains a cornerstone of the site. And its Next Generation of Recruiter, which launched in 2015, might also be the answer for smaller and mid-sized firms that don’t have big HR departments, says Dossett.

“It makes it super easy to identify potential talent, how to reach them and how to organize your search to find them,” she says.

Today, LinkedIn is also a go-to for recruiting firms such as Hays, which specializes in recruiting for accounting and finance jobs. According to Andy Robling, vice-president of client development for Hays Canada, the company had consultant profiles on LinkedIn when it launched in 2003. However, he admits there were some initial concerns about whether the site — once it introduced search capabilities — would usurp the company’s role.

“But as we engaged more with LinkedIn as a business — globally and in Canada — we started investing a significant amount of time and energy into using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool.”

Robling has been recruiting accountants and finance staff for about 25 years and says one of the interesting challenges is that having a designation or skill set isn’t the most important thing for employers.

“What most businesses are looking for is also the right fit with their business, and this is where you’re looking at more personal characteristics or personal competencies, rather than the technical finance or accounting skills.”

So, taking a cue from Robling, giving prominence to competencies such as commercial acumen, strategic thinking and team leadership in your LinkedIn profile is a smart way to trigger interest from headhunters and companies you’re actively applying to.

Brownoff agrees that behavioural competencies can give an edge, demonstrating not just what an accounting professional did for a company, but also the impact he or she had on the company. From his days with Robert Half, he noticed these attributes were often buried in resumés, but he says LinkedIn is an easy way to make them stand out.

Also, you can have endorsements from the company that you worked with or for that will speak to your skill set, says Brownoff. “One of the things I always looked at was if there were endorsements from supervisors or peers from that company — you’ve already got a soft reference there.”

Robling also gives weight to recommendations. “They’re a good indicator that not only [does] someone [have] something good to say about somebody, but that they actually want to do that.”

For more senior positions, Robling expects to see a more rounded profile to assess what candidates can bring to a company, not just a list of jobs and achievements. “You want to see how well-networked somebody is, what groups they’re engaged with. Some of it can be around their interests — not just designation and certification.”

Dodaro puts it this way: “Show me how you are different than the rest. It’s tough now to stand out from the crowd. Even if you’re in the early stages of your career there are ways you can articulate what makes you special and what you will bring to a fi rm.”

It’s even more crucial when you consider that 80% of jobs aren’t advertised and of the remaining 20%, 80% are filled through people’s networks, says Brownoff.

He suggests that job seekers reach out to companies they’re interested in through their LinkedIn connections. “Ask them if they’re willing to make introductions for you,” he says.

And don’t underestimate the importance of your photo. According to Dossett, “it boosts your profile views by about 21 times.”

SECRETS OF LINKEDIN SUCCESS

Add a professional photo

It should reflect the image you want to convey. Google Business Insider’s “7 simple LinkedIn photo tricks.”

Add tangible achievements

For instance, if you reduced accounting deadlines or added value to the company in any way, list those, suggests Andy Robling, Hays Canada vice-president of client development. “If people can see those quickly on your LinkedIn profile, they’re much more likely to want to engage with you.”

Create a prospecting plan

If generating leads is your goal, it’s critical: “Find the types of businesses that you want to be doing business with and connect with the owners or executives of those businesses and start to establish a relationship with them and ultimately move that conversation off-line,” says Melonie Dodaro, author of The LinkedIn Code and founder of Top Dog Social Media in Kelowna, BC.

Rally the troops

“We want our employees and our client practitioners to be our brand ambassadors for EY. They are the front line, they represent and embody our brand,” says Erin Rogers, EY Canada’s brand, marketing and communications lead.

Build relationships

“That’s where business actually comes from,” says Dodaro. If someone accepts a connection request, follow up with a thank-you message or send them a link to an article you think they might find interesting. Whatever you do, however, don’t launch right into a sales pitch.

KEY LINKS

2003: LinkedIn is launched in Delaware under the name LinkedIn, Ltd.; it becomes LinkedIn Corp. January 2005.

105,000: number of LinkedIn Canada members with the designation CPA in their profile, including candidates.

US$45: price per share during the initial public offering when LinkedIn starts trading on the New York Stock Exchange on May 19, 2011.

US$191.50: price per share on Aug. 19, 2016.

200+: number of countries and territories where LinkedIn has a presence.

24: number of languages available on LinkedIn

30: percentage of the Canadian population that uses LinkedIn.

2: LinkedIn’s rank among top social media engines used in Canada.

450 million: cumulative members as of Q2 2016.

21: number of times a profile with a picture is more likely to be viewed than one without a photo.

US$2,991 million: total revenue in 2015 for LinkedIn Corp.

US$1,770 million: hiring revenue in 2015, representing LinkedIn’s largest source of revenue.

61 million: mobile unique visiting members in Q2 2016.

80: percentage growth of Sponsored Updates (paid media campaigns) in Q1 2016.

Follow CPA Canada’s LinkedIn company page to stay up to date on the latest news and trends relating to CPA Canada and the accounting profession. With almost 20,000 followers, this is a great resource and an excellent way to stay in touch with other CPAs. http://www.linkedin.com/company/cpa-canada

About the Author

Andrea Neblett


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