It’s a professional thing
Service professionals – lawyers, accountants, superannuation providers and advisors, insurance and finance professionals – are not like everyone else. Not better, just different. Why? Because we have concerns about interaction with our clients that are not always relevant to other service providers. For instance, a hotel proprietor can make voluble claims and guarantees about the professionalism of their staff and their superlative guest amenities, but at the end of the day, this will be subjectively judged by guests. And those assessments will differ wildly. If proof were needed just look at Tripadvisor.
Guarantees of service, claims about results, and the sort of PR embellishments that are taken for granted in some service industries are imprudent for many professionals. Although many service industries are regulated, the regulation (at least in Australia) of legal, accounting and finance professionals is stringent. You cannot assert an expertise you do not have, nor can you raise expectations you cannot fulfill. You have at all times an overriding duty of care to your clients.
A website for professional firms is a good thing
Many commercial enterprises define what they do in terms of their products or services rather than by the benefit that the client derives from those products and services. Paul Sloane, the author of The Innovative Leader, reminds us that companies who believed they were in the horse-drawn carriage business were quickly wiped out by automobiles. Why? Because they failed to see the nature of their real business – transportation. Or companies that thought they were in the ice supply business – but were really in food and drink storage business – and so were eliminated by refrigerators. Or companies that thought they were in the CD business but were really in the music supply business – and so were replaced by digital downloads. Or companies that thought they were in the typewriter business but were really in the communications business – and so were steamrolled by the word processor.
Service professionals who do not recognise that they are in the business of communicating with their clients – and that means (at minimum nowadays) an information-rich website – will go the way of all other industries that failed to see the reality of overwhelming change in their business environments. And social media has bred generations of clients (not just the young ones!) who expect to be offered the opportunity to communicate with you online. As I have previously argued, many first impressions now take place online.
So you would think that every service professional should not only have a website with an accumulating inventory of content, but also the means for readers to have a conversation on the back of that content. In other words, a way for readers to offer and share comments.
Yes, but professionals are different
And herein lies the rub, because professionals are in fact different. Whereas professionals can often be accused of a staid inability to move with the times, especially in communication technologies, in this instance there is a case for caution.
If you want to build an online community, then the solicitation of readers’ comments is a valid strategy. If, on the other hand, your goal is to provide a place for clients and potential clients to have a window into your firm’s culture and expertise, then a more holistic strategy should apply.
Comments will not build a professional online content strategy. That can only be done with ongoing content provision, which you have to develop. Since the aim of your content marketing strategy is to get potential clients to pick up the phone or perhaps have them in for a free first interview, you do not need to develop that relationship online. Instead the best use of your website is to prepare the ground for a one on one communication.
Moreover, a professional firm’s website comments section requires rigorous moderation. Every professional understands the opportunity for defamation and inappropriateness with regard to sensitive professional issues, especially if the comments reveal private information. If you are prepared to undertake these intermediary tasks with the energy and seriousness they deserve, then still have a good think about it first, and get some advice. Make sure you know what you are doing.
As a professional you don’t need to take advantage of every opportunity afforded by the internet. Instead you need to use what is offered to the best advantage of your firm and your clients. That’s the criteria that matters.
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