Dive Right into Social Media
By Howard Silverstone, CPA, CFF, CFE
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
So said Harold Wilson, prime minister of the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s. The recent 2012 London
Olympics opening ceremony celebrated change. The pageantry paid homage to how major changes, from the
Industrial Revolution to today’s digital age, affect economic and social conditions worldwide.
As CPAs, our businesses are about relationships and people. And as the Industrial Revolution and the digital age
show us, when technology changes, so do relationships. Ultimately our success is measured by the service we
provide and the relationships we have with our peers and our clients. While we use technology to facilitate our
everyday work, historically we have performed these services in the privacy of our offices or our clients’ offices.
Business has come to us by word of mouth, advertising, or other traditional means. In the same way the Industrial
Revolution saw unprecedented change to economies worldwide, a social media revolution is changing how we CPAs
obtain business, conduct business, and how our information travels.
Consider these statistics:
Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, is at the
forefront of social media studies. In a YouTube video, Qualman poses the question, “Is social media a fad or the
biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution?” But the issue now, unlike the Industrial Revolution, is less about
equipment. Qualman points out that the social media boom is not about technology; it is about relationships and
Not long ago, clients and prospects had to learn to ask the questions, “Do you have an e-mail address?” or “Do you
have a website?” In 2012, we are learning the question, “Can I find you on LinkedIn?” LinkedIn is a professional
social media site where users can find past and present colleagues, and build or enhance their professional
networks. LinkedIn can be amazingly powerful. For example, my 520 contacts have the potential to connect me with
more than 5 million other professionals.
In a recent technology and business resource guide in California CPA, Tom Humbarger and Michael B. Allmon, CPA,
described LinkedIn as “your giant Rolodex.” They also recommended that users treat LinkedIn as a permanent
electronic résumé, where work, education, and interest profiles are as complete as possible.
For many, the objection comes down to the personal. They want to keep personal information personal, and they are
leery of putting this data into a LinkedIn profile or on something like Facebook. Privacy shouldn’t preclude
participation in social media. Not if you keep an eye on exactly with whom you share your information. Many people
blindly accept friend requests on Facebook, for instance: “Well, I’m not sure I remember them, but they are friends
with my brother, so I’m pretty sure I know them.” This does not have to be the case for all who use social media and
social networking. You can always, and in fact should, not allow people into your network unless you know them or
they are verified by a reliable source. In the same way you would not let a stranger in your office or home, proceed
carefully with social media contacts.
In the 2012 Annual Digital IQ Survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 62 percent of the nearly 500 U.S.
business and technology executives surveyed said they planned to invest in social media for internal or external
communications. However, one of the survey’s co-authors, John Sviokla, cautions that in the realm of social media,
“People are talking about you.” He adds that if companies do not integrate social media analysis and their call centers
in real time, they assume an “existential risk.” This point highlights that companies need to understand all risks
associated with social media plans and implementation, and must continually monitor and manage all such media.
The Sept. 10, 2012, online issue of Accounting Today included an article by Sarah Warlick titled “A Solid Social
Media Policy Is Essential for Accounting Firms.” The article began with these words, “Having a carefully designed
social media policy in place isn’t only a matter of establishing standards for politeness; it’s necessary to legally protect
your firm and its actions.” Employees need guidance as to the rules of engagement when it comes to social media.
The Accounting Today article not only emphasized the need for a social media policy, but also for it to be
How many times have you seen or heard the words, “The opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily
represent those of XYZ Network” or similar disclaimers? Warlick, in her article, raises the issue of when social media
speech is personal and when it reflects a company’s official position. The next question, therefore, becomes, “At what
point does social media speech become an offense that can justify being fired?” If you ever doubted the necessity of
having a social media policy, surely these issues can leave no doubt.
In a subsequent Accounting Today article, Kelly Googe Lucas emphasized the need for usage guidelines, content
standards, monitoring, and training, among others. Consider it logically. You provide training for personnel in other
aspects of your practice, why not social media? If a business can have a policy on clothing, shouldn’t it have one on
Another major item included on Lucas’s list was information security and the need to review and address potential
security risks from social media use. Consider a recent uproar in the world of Formula 1 motor racing. Lewis
Hamilton, a driver and member of the McLaren-Mercedes racing team, tweeted an image of a scientific telemetry
report to show his fans that he was slow during a qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix. Within minutes, rival
teams were able to analyze the sensitive data. Christian Horner, team principal of rival Red Bull Racing, stated, “One
of our drivers would not be able to do that [post the image]. It would be a breach of confidentiality.” That statement
implies that Red Bull Racing has a policy regarding social media, whereas McLaren-Mercedes perhaps does not.
Whether or not you personally ponder over financial records at pedestrian speed or hurtle along toward high-speed
curves, the need for companywide social media training and a comprehensive policy is a necessity in the new
You also need to be cognizant of who posts what, and you need to understand the issues and implications for those
who choose to exploit what is posted.
Take the recent example of two New Jersey defense lawyers who allegedly asked a paralegal to “friend” a plaintiff in
a personal injury case in the hope of obtaining information from Facebook that would not have been generally
available to the public. The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) claims the friend request was “a ruse and a subterfuge
designed to gain access to nonpublic portions of the Facebook page for improper use.” The OAE claims the conduct
violated rules of professional conduct that address communications with represented parties. The lawyers counter
that although they directed the paralegal to conduct general Internet research, they did not direct her to make the
friend request. An interesting aspect of this issue is that the paralegal was allegedly freely able to get information
from the Facebook page until the privacy settings were upgraded. She then sent a friend request, which the plaintiff
accepted. One must also ask the question, why did the plaintiff accept the friend request if it was not from someone
known to be a friend?
If you don’t have a social media policy yet, consider this: you are slower than the federal judiciary. Recently, the
federal judiciary released new model jury instructions that are aimed directly at jurors’ use of social media. These
instructions warn against the use of the Internet to research cases or discuss them on Facebook, Twitter, or any other
electronic means. A survey by The Federal Judicial Center found judges are concerned about jurors’ social media
usage. Specifically, the jury instructions will cover use of smartphones, text messaging, or any blog or website
(including Facebook, LinkedIn, and others). The instructions also permit jurors to turn in other jurors who do not
comply with the instructions. These instructions have been in use in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and other
district courts over the past couple of years.
In the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, lawyers specifically looked at what the prospective jurors
said outside of the courthouse regarding Jackson’s death. In a CNN Tech article, Thomas Mesereau, an attorney who
defended Jackson in a 2005 trial, noted, “This is the world of social media, and it directly impacts criminal trials.”
Potential jurors were given a questionnaire that asked whether they had posted any blogs or comments on any
Internet sites. It also asked if they “accessed or posted” comments about the doctor. Richard Gabriel, a jury
consultant, noted in the CNN Tech article that “any information you can get on a prospective juror is helpful, because
you have such a short period of time in which to evaluate who the person is that is ultimately going to be making a
very important decision in this case.”
The last comment seems like a difficult burden, but it generally applies to all spheres of business and life. You have
only a short period of time to evaluate a person who is going to be your business partner, is going to be a manager in
your practice, is going to be a client, is going to serve as an expert witness in a forensic accounting matter, is going to
help you get clients, or is the person who may ultimately cost you clients.
In an article published by www.thejuryexpert.com, “Friend or Foe? Social Media, the Jury, and You,” Leslie Ellis of
Trial Graphics notes, “Information is only valuable if the parties know how to use it.” The article also explains that
corporate litigants should search social media for references to the company. “People blog, tweet, and post about
their experiences with companies, as well as post recommendations for employees and employers.”
The enormity of understanding social media, harnessing its power, controlling its use, and training your staff cannot
be completely summed up in one article. The key issues, however, are probably best summarized by Qualman. In
hisSocialnomics, he notes, “Businesses and people are willing to have open diaries within social media as a way to
stay connected.” But this openness, he adds, brings responsibility for those businesses and individuals.
One of those responsibilities is exemplary customer service. Qualman notes that negative comments and posts go up
a lot quicker than the good, and they are easy to find with social media. Work hard at getting good company posts,
and “try to use social media to get hired vs. fired,” Qualman says.
He also points out that companies no longer have a choice as to whether they do social media; they only have a
choice in how well they do it. It is incumbent, therefore, on all of us to understand social media and stay on it, as it is
a constantly changing force.
Here are some important aspects of social media for CPAs to remember:
Most importantly, exercise good judgment. Do not say or do anything within the realm of social media that you
wouldn’t say or do in person.
Finally, if you are not sold that change has arrived, think about this: in 1891, Luther Cary, an American athlete, ran
the men’s 100 meters in 10.8 seconds. In 1968, Jim Hines ran the 100 meters in 9.95 seconds. More recently, Usain
Bolt took the record from his own 2009 time of 9.69 to 9.58. So, in 118 years, the 100 meters record has changed by
1.22 seconds. How has the speed of communication changed in that same period? How has the speed of technology
changed in the past 10 years alone? Where will it be in the next 10 years?
Howard Silverstone, CPA, CFF, CFE, is a director and co-founder of Forensic Resolutions Inc. in Haddonfield, N.J.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Use Social Media to Enhance Your Career
By Staci Bender and Cassandra Oryl
Ask a CPA how he or she was able to secure a new job, and credit often goes to a former colleague or classmate.
One’s network has always been integral to the referral system and highly influential in hiring. How people connect,
though, is a whole new ballgame. Social media is changing how people conduct job searches and career
management. For those willing to embrace LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, social media can be incredibly powerful.
LinkedIn is becoming the go-to social media channel for anything related to work or career. With over 100 million
people on the site, connection opportunities seem to be endless. Unfortunately, it is significantly underutilized, and
that is a lost opportunity.
The most critical aspect of LinkedIn networking is having a social media network that reflects a real-world network.
These will be the most powerful referrals for a job search and the most valuable. LinkedIn is also perhaps the most
valuable search engine for identifying potential employers. Professionals who have a clear idea of places where they
would like to work can find a lot of useful information on the network. Using the search feature or joining a LinkedIn
Group can provide a wealth of contacts. Starting with a question, sharing information, or responding to a post by
someone else are all great ways to start a conversation that could lead to employment.
Within professional services circles, especially those that have a technology bent, Twitter is often the primary means
of regular communication. For those seeking a job, it can also be a good way into a company. For instance, many
CEOs, CFOs, and human resource managers at companies have Twitter handles. A search on Twitter is easy, and is
accessible at www.search.twitter.com. Enter keywords such as “accounting” or “CPA jobs,” and Twitter will show all
postings about those keywords. Retweeting, responding, or proactively reaching out – about a relevant topic, not
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