This article was first published in the April 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

From cloud to search engine optimisation, recent years have seen the savvy CFO’s digital toolbox grow exponentially. But what of blogging? The big players have long packaged shareable content like reports as ‘Insights’ or ‘Viewpoints’ – but how does this translate for smaller practices and affiliated industries? 

Today’s blogging landscape is almost unrecognisable from its clunky beginnings – those angsty online diaries spearheaded by millennials in the mid 1990s. After the term was coined in 1999, blogs fast went mainstream. That same year, hosted platforms Blogger.com and LiveJournal were born, and the rest, as they say, is digital history: by the mid-Noughties, blogs were everywhere, adopted by political parties, news channels and, finally, business. The uptake drove the development of platforms: increasingly customisable, with mobile-friendly options, and partnered by a slew of social media platforms – not least the rise and rise of microblogging via Twitter, Weibo and the like.

The evolution has seen the entry point to blogging drop from an assumed fluency in HTML to, well, a device and an internet connection. But while the means and outlets for publishing content may have opened up, the increasingly intertwined and complex nature of today’s online ecosystem of social networks, news feeds and search engines means blogging alone is rarely enough. The digital success stories of today see individuals and companies drawing connections, curating content and cross-referencing channels for maximum reach. Where you post matters as much as what you post.

Why blog?

A well-managed blog can be a cornerstone of a company’s marketing strategy. First, the more visited pages a website comprises, the higher its search engine ranking. Arguably more useful than countless ‘meet the team’, ‘contact us’, or ‘what we do’ pages, a self-hosted blog integrated into a company’s website is a way to grow page count, all the while reaping less tangible benefits. 

Sharing industry insights and opinions can establish companies and individuals as thought leaders in their respective realms. And as ACCA members can attest, in a field as varied as accountancy, demonstrating niche expertise matters. That could be natural resources, or forensic, or in the case of financial professional Caroline Wood, food.

Her WordPress blog, ‘The Ingredients of Business’, represents the intersection of the Canberra-based accountant’s two passions: food and numbers. ‘I love food and small business; blogging and creating an online business that supported food businesses seemed like a great match,’ she explains. ‘Blogging helps me to build my credibility and make connections both with food businesses and others who are working with food businesses. It also gives me an opportunity to showcase small food businesses – I love chatting to the people running them and I am keen to promote them.’

More practically, externally managed websites can take time to update. A domain-hosted blog with a straightforward content management system (CMS) empowers businesses to quickly share information that matters.

What to blog?

Whether corporate or independent, quality matters, and content must be relevant to target audiences. For international organisations, regional insights are an obvious starting point, but how can smaller practices engage? Content specialist Felicia Crawford is blog manager at Moz, developers of inbound marketing software: ‘I think the best way to decide what to post is to research what’s going on in your world.’ This is where web monitoring services come into their own, through customisable searches of key words or phrases via free tools such as Google Alerts, paid services like Mention or, for specialist financial titbits, Bloomberg Professional. 

Moz’s own service is called Fresh Web Explorer: ‘[Use these tools] to see who’s mentioning key terms in your niche, read the recent articles that pop up, get a feel for what questions are being asked in forums. Any way you can measure that temperature is a place you can farm ideas. Speaking to the questions that are continually asked – or that haven’t been answered yet – can be key,’ advises Crawford.

In affiliated industries, blogs remind and reassure potential consumers – accountants – of specific skillsets and expertise. Case in point: New Zealand-based online accounting providers Xero, who recently shared details of several Asia roadshows, as well as regular practical solutions for digitally savvy CFOs.

How to engage?

The shift in how content is shared has been a game-changer. Social media has transformed possibilities for engagement, all the while connecting would-be clients with the right expertise. Global grasp aside, social networks are also ideal tools for focusing outreach on a regional basis.

Deloitte employs a range of social media platforms including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to publish bite-size abstracts of longer, location-specific posts, driving readers back to its self-hosted, integrated ‘insights’. In China, their ‘globalization’ goes one step further, through microblogging site, Weibo, where the firm boasts a respectable 26,741 fans.

Of course, when it comes to reach, quality trumps quantity. In today’s world of uniquely customisable social media feeds, this is the realm in which prospective clients, critics and future employees engage and interact. Wood explains, ‘The niche I work with [small food businesses startups] is pretty specific. Using social media enables me to widen my potential client base beyond my local area. Because I rarely get to meet clients in person, my blog acts as an extended business card.’

Crawford also endorses blogging’s social aspect: ‘I believe your community is your foundation, and that if you can get them to invest time, effort and even emotion into engaging with your blog, that’s a huge aspect of what can make it successful. Maybe that comes with being a thought leader, with offering free educational resources, with acting as a safe place to host discussions and ask questions, with engaging in the community in new and interesting ways.’

Should you blog?

Blogging’s detractors claim the medium’s role has been usurped in recent years by social media. True enough: in an age where many receive tailored news via customised Facebook feeds, a blog in isolation becomes something of an island, reliant on readers’ loyalty, not to mention SEO knowhow, for visibility. But when cross-referenced with the right social platforms – especially your own – blogs remain an apt platform for just the kind of long-form content that demonstrates expertise.

What does this mean for accountancy today? A cursory online search of industry blogs reveals a graveyard of ditched blogs. As Wood explains, content is key, but commitment is just as important: ‘I don’t think blogging is for everyone; it is time consuming. There are lots of [other] ways to connect with an audience. The big challenge of blogging is being consistent – both in terms of the quality of your blog, but also frequency, and making sure you are delivering worthwhile content.’

Frances Arnold, journalist