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Building a Professional Community Online

Joanne S. Barry

It's not every day that an earthquake strikes the East Coast, so when one did at the end of August, it took most New Yorkers by surprise. Even though we lack earthquake experience, when you're finally in one, it's hard to mistake for anything else. Still, a quick call to our building's office personnel was met with puzzlement. On the ground floor of 3 Park Avenue, they had felt nothing. But instead of turning on the television, I turned to another source, one I knew that would provide me with an immediate answer—I checked the NYSSCPA Twitter feed (twitter.com/nysscpa).

As soon as I logged in, I found the confirmation I was looking for: The Associated Press (AP) had confirmed a 5.8 earthquake had just hit not only New York, but nearly the entire eastern seaboard, with effects felt as far away as Ohio. Other news outlets we follow on our Twitter feed confirmed the same information or were retweeting the information the AP had just reported. I'm not referring to this experience because I want to promote Twitter (though if you use it correctly it's an amazing tool), but because it epitomizes how the way we receive, seek, and share information has changed. Smartphones, tablets, apps, cloud computing—these tools are no longer novelty items but necessary resources in our businesses and schools, and in our personal lives.

Embracing Change

For the first time in five years, the NYSSCPA has seen an increase in membership. However, the Society will not remain relevant to current members and will not be at all relevant to the next generation of CPAs if we fail to embrace these new tools and maintain the same programming and business models we implemented decades ago. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are on the cusp of an information revolution that will lead to a seismic change in our demographic, economic, and technological foundations. The biggest threat to our organization is to not take control of these changing forces. Imagine an NYSSCPA that continued to employ only typewriters and fax machines now that computers and e-mail have became available. For more than 100 years, the Society has implemented technical and institutional changes to remain relevant to its members, and it is just as important to embrace change now. College and high-school students have a different mindset, priorities, and ways of engaging in the marketplace than they did just 10 years ago. These students are tomorrow's CPAs. What will we offer them?

The “new normal” consists of a scarcity of jobs, fewer social support services, and an aging population with a reduced retirement safety net. This new reality will foster new specializations for CPAs. Professionals will seek out communities that reflect their own niche focus, not necessarily their geographic location. No longer do young CPAs need a traditionally structured professional organization to expand their contacts or advance their careers. They can find not only contact information but also entire communities online. A community can develop around a blog or social media contacts—any interactive space online that offers quality information on a particular topic as well as the opportunity to interact with those who provide that content. If the information is reliable and provided by respected experts in a particular field, people will flock to that community.

The NYSSCPA does not need to compete with these communities, it needs to become one; our members are our experts who have knowledge to share. Instead of providing quality information solely through the pages of The CPA Journal or the meetings of our technical committees, we can share that valuable experience and information in online communities—providing all of our members real-time access to authors, experts, regulators, and, perhaps most importantly, other members.

A digital revolution doesn't change the fact that human interaction is necessary for a business to thrive. The Society's 15 chapter locations were established in geographical areas that each have their own industries, economies, universities, and way of life—all levels on which we establish connection and community. Virtual communities can complement, but not replace, communities based on physical location by providing each member access to the same professional resources based on their interests, which may or may not always include geographical location.

Globalization, mobility, and technological developments will inform the Society's direction over the next five years as we establish a new member focus, the market position we will occupy, the business activities we pursue, and the capabilities we develop in this changing world. We can no longer plan for linear change; it must instead be a transformation that builds on a century of tradition while we become nimble and flexible enough to adapt to future generations, infusing the organization with a sense of purposeful action.

If you are excited by this proposition, why don't you reach out to me? As much as I enjoy reading the NYSSCPA's Twitter feed, I've launched my own: You can now find me on Twitter here: @joannesbarry. See you online.

Joanne S. Barry. Publisher. The CPA Journal Executive Director, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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