Number crunchers find social media a ‘tweet’ surprise

25 Jun 2009

Members of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) have begun using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to co-ordinate continuous professional education, says CPA’s Suzanne Shaw.

You wouldn’t expect a traditional organisation such as the CPA to be promoting social media. Why does it work for your members?

It wouldn’t be the space you’d expect to find accountants in, but for practical purposes and continuous professional education (CPE), our members are using these tools in increasing numbers.

As one of four institutes in the Ireland that train accountants and regulate them throughout their professional life, our members are predominantly split three ways: practitioners; entrepreneurs; and employees of businesses.

All of them are at the coalface of the current economic climate and many of them use tools like Twitter and Facebook to give one another practical advice about sustaining businesses and planning for a long-term environment. It’s a great way to get information out to people really quickly.

What kind of information are CPA members sharing via Facebook and Twitter?

Mostly articles and information to keep each other up to date. The beauty of social networking is it enables two-way communication or, if you want, one-to-many communication. The CPA uses it to gauge feedback on courses and products and adjust them accordingly.

How easy is it for a traditional organisation like the CPA to get to grips with social media?

From a pure marketing perspective, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are ready-made. You don’t have to worry about the technology or coding, you can just look at the business use of it.

In terms of CPA members using it professionally, sites such as LinkedIn come with closed forums, so information can be kept confidential between members.

We recently set up a space on Facebook for new students to get and share information.

CPA accountants are using Twitter as a way of relaying information or lobbying issues. Professional members make use of LinkedIn to keep in touch with each other, as well as business associates.

Not all of your members would be aware of social media. Do you see a role in teaching them new tricks?

It’s our job to support our members at each point in their career. Even if we didn’t bring these tools to them, eventually their clients would be pushing them to be more involved in online communication.

Have CPA members used tools like Twitter in a way that has surprised you?

Really insofar as how natural it has been. Many share war stories and know-how in the forums. With CPE seminars taking place across the country, people not only meet up but can also keep in touch.

Also, because people have hectic working lives and a home life to balance, they can’t get to every course or seminar, so they will use these tools to share notes and find out where the next course is taking place.

Do you have any plans to increase online education services?

Not every one can make it to the centre of Dublin after a day’s work, so we’ve started uploading video lectures.

Students themselves are recording podcasts of lectures and sharing on places like Facebook. We estimate about 10pc of our 5,500 members and students are using social media for CPE.

With Facebook, for example, they are truly engaging with one another. Many use it because they are that generation, others have begun dabbling. It can only grow from here.

By John Kennedy