By   Jan Haugo   Jan Haugo & Associates LLC

As an accounting professional, you have a wide variety of choices to help market yourself or advance your career, the most common of which is social media. But being a part of a professional organization has its advantages too.

So which is best?

Well, we know social networks are everywhere now. Social networks are unique to everyone based on friends, family members or a desire to network with similar individuals in your community.

The best examples are of course Facebook or LinkedIn; networks of people that group together to discuss, contribute and share information in closed or open group forums. While social media groups do give different perspectives on topics they can lead to being persuaded to taking a path that could be an opinion rather than fact. The group may or may not contain an expert on the subject matter that is commenting on the post.

The professional organization, however, is a group of individuals coming together for a common purpose with varied backgrounds. A professional community offers a unique perspective as members share information and feel that they can benefit from the cooperation of an alliance.

Typically, the professional organization goal is to give a voice to the members, to protect and guide the profession and create direction for the individuals. There is overlap between the two type of communities above, but understand one is geared towards a mutual interest the other is defined by the person and are unique to that individual.

Excellent examples of professional organizations are the AICPA for CPAs or the American Bar Association for Lawyers and, of course, the ICBUSA for bookkeepers.

Key Items to Look For in a Professional Membership Organization

Social Capital – Can the membership help link you or connect you to the right people? Is there the opportunity to get advice from peers locally and globally?
Education – Industry research, webinars, courses and thought leader insights into trends are going to be a big differentiator.

Giving Back – Some professional organizations are Non-Profits and provide opportunities to speak, teach or participate in ways to give back to their communities.

Develop Leadership Skills – Contributing content to the professional organization’s website, blog or newsletter will put you in front of your peers as a leader. Answering questions on the forum or at events for the group gives you the practice to help define your role as a stronger leader in the community.

As a professional joining an organization focused on your community will benefit you to help give direction in a career. Like-minded professionals offer different perspectives and opportunity for knowledge growth based on the common interest.

The professional community can help offset some of the unknown changes that will occur in the future through synergistic information and guidance. Professional groups are excellent training for the future. Look for groups that have physical meetups where you can socialize in person and get to network and create an in-person bond. The live networking is one of the best ways to learn communication and soft skills that will benefit you beyond virtual social networking.

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