Online communities are a well established way that accountants can interact with their peers to discuss issues and problems, and share experiences. Generally speaking this kind of collaboration is positive, and in the right circumstances can be helpful.
To my mind community collaboration is best suited to questions which are narrow in their scope, the more specific the better, and do not require detailed context or explanations. This will become clear as the article progresses.
In the context of app advisory there is one key risk to be aware of when you’re participating in discussion. Both from the perspective of an author and a responder. Principally, that is the risk of reputational damage or loss of goodwill through providing poorly fitting app recommendations.
In a typical community on social media or online, most questions and answers will contain less than 100 words. This makes them quick to read, but means that they will usually lack detail and context. This could be ok if you have asked a very specific question – the scope is narrow so the chance of misinterpretation is lower, although still possible. However if this is not the case then you kick the door wide open to problems, as I will explain.
A typical open question might go something like:
“I’m looking for an app for X business that does XYZ features and integrates with accounting platform or other app.”
This kind of question will not typically contain sufficient detail to give enough chance of getting a useful response.
What do I mean by a useful response?
Well to bore you with some characteristics of good information, it has to be:
- Relevant – to the context of your needs
- Reliable – from an objective source that you can trust
- Accurate – ideally with references to validate
- Complete – detailed enough to meet the contextual requirements
- Structured – in a way that makes it easy to understand
- Timely – you get a response when you need it
I’ll try to relate these back to the question:
The less specific the question, the less likely you’re going to get a relevant answer. Then you have a problem with volume – the more answers you get, the more you need to research to filter the relevant from the irrelevant. You also trust your peers as reliable, meaning you’re probably more likely to follow up on the recommendation they’ve made. That recommendation may have been right for their client, but it might not be for yours, and without good information it’s hard to tell.
Despite the poor question, some recommendations will hit the mark, not that you’ll know it. Without detail or context (completeness) within the response, the right recommendation won’t stand out among the others, and therefore doesn’t speed up the filtering process. You’ve still got to work out whether it is right, because you need to justify your app advice before you advise a client with recommendations, and be able to back up your answers.
This is why case-studies can be useful if they contain sufficient context and detail (they help to validate).
All of the above considered, if you take responses as gospel you put yourself at risk of wasting valuable time researching recommendations, or providing advice based on responses that are completely irrelevant for the context of the business.
There is a danger within communities that for these types of questions what happens is a discussion whereby as the author you may feel helped, and as the responder you feel as though you’ve been helpful, but nobody has stopped to question anything.
How to reduce the risk
1 – Make the question better
There are various ways to improve the question (see below). However, to ask good questions you need good information, and to get good information you need good process. That brings us to point 2 – Get a better system.
The components of a good question:
Here you need to give context including products &/or services sold, turnover, types of customer, staff numbers, job numbers, order volumes, physical location(s), currencies. Anything that is relevant to the situation.
Product features (problems that need solving)
Here you need to give detail. Simply saying something to manage jobs, or stock, doesn’t go deep enough. You need to know the exact problems, process and requirements for managing the jobs or stock.
Accounting integration or other app integration
Again detail is required. Accounting integrations can differ substantially. What does the integration need to do?
2 – Get a better system
In my experience accountancy practices largely have poor processes for managing systems related enquiries from prospective or current clients and converting them to chargeable systems advisory work. The result is that there can be a rush to provide an answer quickly, with little scope for quality control.
Our systems advisory process is designed to make sure that you have a methodical approach to supporting your clients with their systems where:
- You collect the right information at the right time
- Expectations and risks are managed
- You do not do research work for free
This means that you don’t have to rely on online communities for a quick answer.
3 – Get specialist help
Once you’ve got your question, if you need support, ask for it in the right place.
Online communities, particularly those on social media, just aren’t well suited for anything that is beyond narrow scope and where only a short answer is required to be useful.
We offer an App Support Help Desk where you can ask questions through your My Account and get support including a free initial discovery call.
4 – Better community management
A more proactive approach by online community management could help to support better questions and outcomes.
App Advisory starts with getting a process in place to deliver it profitably. Online communities should only play a small role in this process, if any at all, and you would only really want to engage a community for help once you know the client is paying you, or you will otherwise benefit from the research (see our article on when you should charge for app research).
If you would like support implementing a robust App Advisory process in your firm, feel free to book a call.