As executive director and CEO since 1997, Tom has helped MACPA achieve national recognition as a leader in preparing the CPA profession for the 21st century. Since 1998, he has been chair of the national CPA Vision Team, where he oversees the profession-wide implementation of new strategies to reposition the CPA for the demands of a rapidly changing domestic and global marketplace. Accounting Today magazine named Tom one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Profession” for his work on the CPA Vision Project.
ASSOCIATION ADVISER: Tom, your organization has been way ahead of the curve in terms of embracing social media and other forms of online member communication. Was that a tough paradigm shift for your organization and members?
TOM HOOD: As a profession, the web is still a little scary for us. We're in a highly regulated “rules & regs” environment. We're used to holding all the knowledge and carefully disseminating it. That all changes with the web and social media. Some fear that members won't need us as much. But, thanks to social media, now we have a platform to comment to members any time, any place, any way they want. And they can do the same with us and each other. It's like we're all at a friendly neighborhood bar full of CPAs. It makes information-sharing and networking between members a lot more relaxed and I think more effective.
AA: What prompted the big push to social media for MACPA?
TH: First, it gave us the ability to break news about new rules and regulations in real time. Keeping up with those changes is very important to our members. Second, we felt we had to be in social networks to be relevant to our younger members, as well as many of our older members who are pretty comfortable with new technology. Social media also opened up a whole new way for members to connect.
AA: Many association leaders tell us they love the power and speed of social media but worry about the loss of control.
TH: I say, get over it. If you're still worried about losing control it's too late. You already have. You're never going to be able to control everything that's said about you and your industry or profession on the web. If someone is bashing your brand, shouldn't you go out there and defend yourself in a professional way instead of trying to shut them down?
AA: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn get most of the media buzz, but MACPA is still a big advocate of blogging. How come?
TH: The keys are agility and trust. I've been blogging since the early days of 2006 [laughing]. You have to get members on board. It's dangerous out there. It's always better if you take that journey with someone you trust. Blogging is one of our most valuable tools and we work hard to earn readers' trust. We have several regular blogs and we post right away from legislative sessions in (Maryland state capital) Annapolis. We try to make them very timely but informal. It's not just a matter of getting quick posts out to your members, but can you get the posts out quickly with something valuable to add that really helps them in their daily jobs?
AA: So it sounds like you've managed to integrate social media into MACPA's overall communication strategy?
TH: Thanks. But, honestly we're still figuring it out. It's all about serving up meaningful content for our members. Like I said, blogs are the core of our communications foundation. We're breaking news and analysis about the new rules, regulations and tax changes that are affecting CPAs nationally, internationally and especially regionally. We have four regular blogs including the daily blog CPA Success, Legislative Insider and two blogs for young CPAs–New CPAs and Tomorrow's CPA.
Our website has a different purpose. It says, “OK, now you know the news about new rules and regs; here's what you do with that news. For instance, we won't just report new changes to the Healthcare Bill 1099 position but show comment letters that MACPA wrote about those changes in support of our members.”
Our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn sites are “communication amplifiers.” These tools help you get the information out in real time and remind members to check out our website and blogs for more in-depth information. On the other side of the equation you have content-creation tools like YouTube, SlideShare, blogs and podcasts. This is what we use to store all of our presentations, videos, etc. for communal viewing, sharing and commenting.
Our print magazine, The Statement, is still relevant, but it's now down to four issues per year. It's where we do our long-form features, profiles, member moves and in-depth analysis of things like new tax legislation. Many of the older members still like it and feel it gives them a tangible benefit of being a MACPA member.
AA: So, you're really touching your members a lot. How much is too much?
TH: We're working hard to resolve the issue of information overload. Social media is part of the communication solution, not the problem. Information comes to me all day long, but I only pay attention when it's from people I trust. I use Google reader and Twitter, for instance, so I can get an automatic perspective on things from the right people I trust. The key is not just aggregation of information (what it is), but what it means for me. If you're in social media, don't just be an aggregator. Be a trusted aggregator. That's what our blog is for. Your job is to be a filter, not a firehose!
AA: How else are you interacting with members away from the web?
TH: We're really changing how we serve our members. We only have a staff of 30, but we've created a full-time position for customer relationship specialist and we have five people who go out to our largest members' workplaces and help them with on-site training and professional development. That's been a huge member retention benefit for us–and members don't pay anything extra for it.
AA: In an earlier conversation with us you mentioned the importance of face-to-face interaction in the digital age.
TH: Yes. Town hall meetings have been very successful for us. We've done about 10 of them around the state. It's very important in this technology-driven world to get out there and see and touch your members. We managed to hit 15 percent of our membership in person this year and we're very proud of that. They trust us to look out for their best interests–”I got your back.” Technology is only a tool. At the end of the day, an association is all about meaningful relationships with your members.
AA: Where do you see MACPA five years from now?
TH: I hope by then we have made a major difference in helping CPAs ride the waves of change that are coming soon. We can't predict the future, but we can give members lots of tools and training to deal with four megatrends we see converging on us: globalization; technology; workforce demographics and changes to accounting regulations and standards. Our job is to position members to deal effectively with these megatrends.
AA: What's keeping you up at night?
TH: The four megatrends I just mentioned and what's our business model going to look like during the very slow economic recovery? It's the worst economy most of our members have ever experienced and we generally don't have a precedent for this kind of long-term anemic two to three percent GDP growth. How are we going to compete with India and China at that rate? How are we going to balance the present with the future?
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