“The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years.” says the author of eugdpr.org.
What is GDPR?
GDPR protects personal data of EU residents including name and surname; home address; email address such as email@example.com; location data (for example the location data function on a mobile phone); Internet Protocol (IP) address; cookie ID; the advertising identifier of your phone. The new rules go into effect on May 25, 2018.
A broad overview of the components of GDPR that could most impact professional services firms:
- Breach Notification: People must be notified of a data break within 72 hours of its discovery if it is likely to “result in a risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals”.
- Right to Access: People can request a written overview as to whether, how, and for what purpose, their personal data is being used.
- Right to be Forgotten (Data Erasure): People can request that their personal data be erased, stop being used, and not be shared with third parties.
- Privacy by Design: Data protection should be built into a process that collects personal data from the beginning, not layered on afterward. The minimal amount of information needed to provide the service should be collected.
GDPR is comprehensive and far reaching. Please note that I am NOT (repeat NOT) an expert on this. Please consult your firm’s IT director, lawyer, professional liability insurance provider, or firm advisor for actual guidance. This article is meant only to get you thinking – and is not intended as advice!
Does GDPR affect your firm?
Well… it’s hard to say. The GDPR is not intended for every business on the planet. US-based, US-focused businesses are not the target. However, if your firm offers services that are available to, and of interest to, residents or businesses in the EU, take note. Assuming you need to be GDPR compliant, let’s look at a few examples what to review in your online marketing program:
- Your firm’s website If your firm’s website uses Google Analytics (which it should and probably does) or cookies, then you’re collecting data on site visitors, meaning that your site is impacted by GDPR’s protection of EU residents’ IP addresses. Google has created new settings in Analytics to help with GPDR compliance so that’s a good place to start.
- Your firm’s email newsletter or ebook download is probably available through an opt-in process on your website. This means that someone from the EU may subscribe any time. An EU resident’s name and email address are both protected by GDPR, and once you have them, you need to keep them safe, be able to find them in your system, provide a history of how they were used, and remove them upon request.
- Your firm’s database probably has thousands of contacts in it. If any of them are EU residents, you need to know the intent the person had in giving you their information. If it was, for instance, to download an ebook from your website, then your right to use the data may end there even if you have 10 other ideas for how to market to that person. One note is that you have to tell people how you will use their data.
- Your firm’s social media profiles should be OK because it will be the role of the site (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) to comply with GDPR. Since your social media is probably intended to drive traffic to your website, keep in mind the website issues described above.
Growing Data Privacy Concerns Around the World
The EU is blazing this trail, but it’s not just EU residents who are interested in data security and privacy. I have a feeling that other countries (the US?) will follow. The penalties for non-compliance with GDPR are huge so it’s prudent to pay attention now. Consider continuing your education on this topic at the EU’s official page on GDPR or consult your firm’s professional liability insurance provider.
If you have questions, please reach out. We can find an answer together!
I had the honor of speaking at the Management of an Accounting Practice Conference hosted by the Mass Society of CPAs on December 1st. The attendees were an amazing group of firm leaders. Since I had a “speaker” badge I was often asked about my topic. In my mind “How the Fastest Growing Firms are Spending their Marketing Budgets” it is about firm growth and ROI in marketing. After all, I would tell them, slow growing and fast growing firms spend the same amount but their firm growth rates differ drastically. But that’s not the implication these firm leaders heard me say – which is fascinating to me and led me to write this article.
Everyone likes to seem smart – particularly professional services advisors who are respected and paid to have the answers. So I understand that these firm leaders wanted to “have the answer” as they start a conversation about marketing. What were the next words out of their mouths 90% of the time? SOCIAL MEDIA
And my brain comes to a screeching halt. SOCIAL MEDIA????
I mean no disrespect. OK. Sure. Firms need social media. But really? In my mind social media such a small piece of the marketing mix to be hearing it 90% of the time as a reaction to the idea of strategic marketing.
Let’s explore what practical role social media can play in a firm’s marketing mix.
LinkedIn: If you do nothing else, every professional services firm must have a presence on LinkedIn. This includes both a firm company page and profiles for your team members. In fact, I’d be quite satisfied if you only have LinkedIn social accounts.
- Your company page should be maintained with articles from your blog and other “alerts” that you see from third party news sources when there are law changes or events that impact your target markets. Occasionally you can share something about your firm culture like a photo from a volunteer day or a firm outing. You should post to your LinkedIn company page on a monthly basis at a bare minimum. Encourage your employees to visit the company page when they are on LinkedIn to “like” or “comment” on recent posts so that the articles are shared with the employee’ networks.
- Team members’ profiles should include a broad description of the firm but can represent the individual’s area of focus more specifically. The “Headline” and “Summary” along with the “Experience” list are the most important sections to focus on. Prioritize and limit the number of “Skills” since LinkedIn only displays three at a time. The two most important activities on LinkedIn are connecting with relevant people like clients and referral sources, and sharing firm news from the company page.
Facebook: If you want to add Facebook to the mix, you’ll need one post per week to share. You’ll also want to share more images and more “culture” building posts like firm news and employee-spotlight type posts since Facebook primarily focuses on engaging people not companies.
- Facebook’s algorithm makes it tricky to get displayed in people’s news feeds so many of your posts will not reach as far as you’d like. Facebook will allow you throw money at this problem, which you might want to do if you’re posting a job or other call-to-action type message like a seminar or webinar.
- Encourage your employees to follow and share your Facebook account and to “tag” each other in photos… the SOCIAL in social media.
- Don’t let an employee set-up your Facebook account on their email because if/when that person leaves, you want to be able to access to maintain the account. Be sure that multiple people are admin (including partners) on the account.
YouTube: If you can create video content (which anyone with a smartphone can do these days), consider a YouTube account. Expectations about production value are way down so you can do this without a camera crew.
- Aim for short videos – 1 – 3 minutes in length. With everyone’s short attention spans these days, match your content to their personalities. Any topic can be broken down into smaller pieces.
- When you write an article or when a new government rule comes out, make a short video about it in addition to written form content. Some people would rather watch/listen than read. You can even “tease” the article if you’re referencing something quickly that gets technical attention in the article.
- Videos are also great for posting on your other social media accounts and to your blog. Google loves video!
Twitter: Committing to a Twitter account will require time year-round on a daily basis. Be sure to consider the ROI before jumping in.
- You’ll want to aim for posting daily if you want to maintain a Twitter account. That’s a lot of content so consider where it will come from and how often it will be your own. You don’t want your feed to become an “aggregator” of other people’s content.
- That said, it’s important not to be perceived as having a soap box and only sharing your own content. You’ll want to comment and share tweets from other thought leaders. This is best done on a timely basis, which is another reason for the daily involvement.
Instagram and/or SnapChat: The only reason for a professional services firm to have these accounts is to appeal to Gen Y and Gen Z for recruiting purposes. It should not be managed by anyone over the age of 40.
- Find some young people you trust and let them loose. This needs to be purely authentic and anyone who is “doing it for work” will come across as robotic, forced, and awkward.
So, for all of this effort, what should you expect out of it? Here are my top five reasons to include social media as part of your marketing mix:
- Meet expectations: Clients and prospects expect you to have social media accounts (at least LinkedIn).
- Create gravitational pull: You’re allowing people to follow your firm without directly engaging in an active sales cycle. Someone may follow you for a while, read your articles, then sign up for your newsletter, attend a webinar, share an alert, and later reach out to discuss certain needs because they see you consistently sharing high quality information, proof of your expertise.
- Increase your reach: You’re enabling people to share good content with others they think might want it too – but whom you don’t know yet – adding people to your gravitational pull (#2). Your followers appreciate this because they want to appear knowledgeable and connected.
- Good for SEO: Your social accounts will rank in the top 10 in Google for your firm name, so your social media activity will be noticed by anyone exploring your brand online.
- Valuable Marketing Data: You’re creating data for your marketing team. Each view/click/share is tracked and measured so you can continue to hone your marketing efforts toward being even more effective.
So, social media? YES! Social media as 90% of the mind-share for professional services? NO!
If you want help with social media, or any other marketing adventure, contact me.
Next month I’ll be presenting on the topic of How the Fastest Growing CPA Firms Spend their Marketing Dollars at the MSCPA’s Practice Management conference. If you’re a CPA, I’ll hope you attend!
While the research this article (and presentation) is based on is from CPA firms, I believe the basic principles are true for all of professional services firms, so everyone, please, read on!
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