Twitter is 16 years old this year, evolving over a generation as a tool of both information and disinformation. Its users have communicated political, economic and social changes through its hashtags, sharing memes, pictures and breaking news.
Apart from messy background populism or cultural discussions, there are gems of information – insight, data points or experience – that only seem right on Twitter.
In among the Twittersphere is a strong cadre of accountancy and business writers who share professional insights with their followers, or opinions on economic issues, or data that cannot be found elsewhere.
#ICAEWROAR is an ICAEW project scoping the social landscape of accountancy and identifying the top accountancy Influencers online. The most recent rankings focus specifically on UK individuals using Twitter within the realms of accountancy. If you’re considering dipping your toe into the social water, here are some words of advice from those in the know.
Follow the leaders
Rebecca Cave FCA (@TaxWriterLtd), number 12 on the list, is a well-known commentator on tax issues. Cave said she uses Twitter to pick up on what other tax experts say and to reach out to contacts for the articles she writes. “It can connect you and give you some good insight if you’re following the right people who are saying sensible things,” she adds.
Sometimes a senior tax figure will tweet something vital and it will be worth reading; other times it’s to reach out with a particular tax case and see if anyone has a helpful opinion. “I keep an eye on various experts on there to keep up with what they’re talking about, although you do have to be careful,” she said.
Cave said she posted on one occasion about the losing party in a tax case, who then replied to her without being mentioned in her Tweet – reinforcing the public nature of the forum.
There is also a reputational risk if you’re running your own business on the platform, which needs to be navigated. “You have to be careful, especially if you are presenting yourself to clients. It’s not a terribly good idea to communicate with them over Twitter,” says Cave. “If you’re using it for your services, then you need to be careful with what you are saying and not let your emotions run away from you,” she warns.
Cave doesn’t shy away from tweeting about politics, but only because she doesn’t have accountancy clients and the majority of her followers are in publishing. “You have to be careful too about compacting your personal and professional lives into two different pockets – perhaps have two separate accounts and be careful not to mix them up,” she suggests.
She suggests a pen name, or an anonymous handle, that lets you voice personal opinions without getting into trouble with management, should you work for a large firm or work in a regulatory-compliant department. But this caution can equally apply to accountants starting out in their careers. “Employers will look at Twitter feeds, or they may get employment consultants to look at candidates’ Twitter feeds. Twitter is by its nature public – you can’t hide it.”
Being of use to other accountants will get you noticed and increase your following. Cave suggests summarising technical releases with the useful points for accountants, which are invariably in the body copy or buried at the bottom. “Trying to get them into one tweet is the challenge,” she adds.
Pick your battles
Maths teacher, author and TV presenter Bobby Seagull (@Bobby_Seagull) is another top 50 ROAR list tweeter. “The reality is that a lot of my tweets are quite positive, on education, maths, personal finance or the business world, but occasionally you have people that disagree and make a fair case for the other side of the argument,” says Seagull. “With those people you can have a reasonable discussion and it’s worth engaging.”
“But if people are making personal attacks on your appearance or personality, then they are not worth engaging with as they’re there to cause mischief. It’s up to you to decide which one is which.”
Twitter has become quite divisive, he says, and it can be quite hard to get across the nuance of arguments, especially if there are facts and figures in the discussion, and you’re trying to canvass opinion. “But it still is a quick and easy way to reach a lot of people, especially if you have a decent following,” he says.
Seagull thinks LinkedIn is another good platform for professional use, and tends to be where people engage in a more professional manner. “With Twitter, there’s an element of it being a professional platform, but I share things about what I’m doing on Friday night, or my cup of tea, so it’s got a bit of fun to it. If you’re purely looking for professional business engagement it can get a bit distracting,” says Seagull.
However, like many social media platforms, LinkedIn is going the way of Instagram where people post pictures of personal achievement and self-advancement, he says. Early on in your career you should focus on the professional side, Seagull advises; once you get more confident you can engage with other aspects of the platform. As you develop, your follower base will also be happy to expect non-practice or non-accounting-based tweets.
It is worth following thought leaders in your field, such as heads of accounting firms or industry publications. “Even if you’re not confident enough to tweet yourself, it is worth re-sharing or retweeting interesting posts that fit the persona that you’re trying to project,” he says.
Balance is key
Seagull has one piece of advice that stretches across all social media platforms, from the writings of productivity expert Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. Newport published a book called Deep Work, about how being able to focus on things is a superpower in the 21st century.
“Social media – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok – can distract our energies. It’s great for meeting and engaging with people all across the world, but don’t let it become something that you’re constantly engaged with, which can be easy to do as social media platforms are designed to become addictive,” says Seagull.
“You need to be quite disciplined; you have your day and your work – Twitter should be a supplement, a disciplined use where you check it a few times a day. It shouldn’t be glued to your hand.”
Rebecca Cave’s tweeting tips
- Exercise caution and use a pseudonym if you’re not sure when tweeting.
- Use the information coming out of your professional body for technical guidance.
- Twitter is a good platform for spreading awareness of your own business, but be mindful about communicating with clients on it should you use it to talk about other topics.
Three tips for new starters
- Try to make tweets engaging – use questions rather than statements to get people to engage with what you’re saying. If there’s a change in law or policy on something technical, try asking for people’s thoughts on the topic.
- Tag people in tweets who you think might be relevant, but use this approach sparingly, otherwise it proves an annoyance. Don’t include people who are wildly unlikely to reply.
· Pictures and media are worth a thousand words. Try using a picture with a caption to launch a post.
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